By Amy Ball
As a kindergarten teacher, I teach much more than just academics. I work to foster independence in children and help them become motivated students. Kindergarten is the year that will set the stage for their future as learners, and their social and emotional growth is every bit as important as learning letters and numbers.
Anyone who has raised young children is used to doing everything from tying shoes and bandaging scrapes to cutting up food and buttoning shirts for their youngsters. These seemingly small and quick tasks may seem like no big deal in the home, but for teachers, multiply those responsibilities by 30 kids, and what was small becomes a big barrier to learning. A child’s self-sufficiency has to start in the home – otherwise kindergarten teachers are tasked with educating a room full of students who can’t sit in one place for more than a minute, use the restroom themselves, or follow age-appropriate directions.
Kindergartners learn everything from early reading skills to taking responsibility for themselves and their belongings, and even how to be a learner, but their social and emotional growth is critical to long-term school success. You can do simple, everyday things to help ensure that your kids are ready for life in the classroom.
If you want to give your child a leg-up on the learning process, my advice can be summed up in four words: let them do more. Specifically, look for easy chores so that they can help take care of themselves and your home, which will create a sense of autonomy and ability. You’ll be surprised at how much they can handle.
You don’t need to have formal lesson plans or rigorous course study, just weave a few simple things into your day. For instance:
- Find seated activities that your child enjoys and help build their stamina to sit for 4-5 minutes at a time. This is a skill that can be practiced and will help immensely in the classroom.
- Encourage autonomy by allowing children to learn to tie their own shoes, zip jackets and other dressing activities. When they arrive home, don’t grab their jacket or shoes, but rather ask them to put their belongings away. One-step chores are great practice for following directions.
- Use daily reading time to let your child turn the pages and ascertain how to treat a book appropriately. A love of reading is one of the most important things you can instill in your child, and your teacher will thank you if they come into the classroom with good book manners.
- Boost the development of manual dexterity and fine motor skills by giving your child daily opportunities to use a pencil and scissors. It’s fantastic for their development and can create some fun creative opportunities.
Keep in mind that all projects should be age-appropriate. Kids this age naturally have a short attention span, but they’re learning in leaps and bounds, and will benefit from tasks that have been broken down into one-step fragments.
From an emotional standpoint, the early years of school are formative. Here are a few ways that you can prepare your little one for school life:
- Don’t be afraid to say no. Teachers might not tell you this, but we can quickly identify which kids don’t have clear boundaries at home.
- Encourage verbal skills and ask kids to use words, rather than actions, to express themselves.
- Find opportunities for your kids to work with others and learn to cooperate in groups, play together, and share.
And don’t forget the basics! Students entering kindergarten should be able to:
- State their full name and recognize their first name as it is written
- Count to 10
- Identify upper and lower case letters
- Identify most letter sounds
- Use the bathroom on their own, including closing the door, flushing, and washing hands
While most parents know to review colors, shapes and letters with their kids, fewer consider how social skills and independence factor into a classroom, but these are a crucial part of development and will truly help your child succeed. We don’t expect you to have an unbiased view of how your child is progressing – part of the joy of being a parent is the pride in each and every accomplishment; however, try to take a step back and consider whether you’re actually doing too much for your children. If you can help your kids grow in confidence and self-reliance, their teacher will thank you, and their grades will, too.
Amy Ball is a kindergarten teacher at Madison Traditional Academy. She is currently serving as the president of the Madison District Classroom Teachers’ Association and was named a 2018 Teacher of the Year Ambassador for Excellence by the Arizona Educational Foundation.
By the end of their kindergarten experience, your child should be able to:
English language arts and literacy
- Follow words on a page from left to right, top to bottom
- Identify the names and sounds for each letter of the alphabet
- Understand the sounds that make up simple one syllable words
- Recognize common and one syllable sight words
- Count to 100 by ones and tens
- Add and subtract small numbers
- Compare two groups of objects
- Solve word problems using addition and subtraction of small numbers
Their success starts in the home. You can support your child at home by reviewing sight words and letter sounds, reading for at least 20 minutes every day, writing your own stories and asking them to count items around the house. Keep this list as a reference to ensure that your child’s learning is on track and work with their teacher to help set goals for future growth.
For more tips and to find out what students are learning in future grades, visit ExpectMoreArizona.org/parents.