When your child is three to four years old, you may find yourself wondering whether you need to teach him or her something so s/he is ready for kindergarten in a year or two. What should you teach? And SHOULD you worry about teaching? After all, isn't that what kindergarten is for? Here are a few thoughts to get you started on this exciting journey.
Should I prepare my child for kindergarten? This basic question is one you'll need to answer for yourself and your family. Children who have opportunities before the first day of kindergarten to become familiar with basic social expectations, like keeping their hands to themselves and sharing toys, have an advantage in a group situation like kindergarten. Rehearsing and understanding letters and numbers from 1 to 10 is a minimum preparation. Remember being a kid? Kids learn best when it's fun, which usually doesn't look like flashcards and worksheets. Encourage curiosity, take time to help your kids learn new things, and practice seeing the world through your child's eyes: these basics will go a long way toward kindergarten readiness.
Is reading to my child really THAT important? Yes, reading together most days really IS important. Reading gives your child a firm foundation on which to build all other academic skills. As you read together, your child learns how to sit and listen, begins to understand that the pages of a book have interesting information, and starts making a connection between the words we hear, the written word, and ideas. Researchers found that children who listened to five books a day from birth to age 5 heard over a million more words on average than kids who aren't read to. This "million-word gap" is truly significant for children in the early stages of understanding and interpreting language. For more information on kids and reading, see the library's August blog post, Helping Kids Get Ready to Read.
Besides reading, what matters most? There are a wide variety of opinions on what skills make the most difference in easing the transition into school. Social-emotional learning is often mentioned as a key to feeling comfortable in this early group setting. Skills like taking turns, listening to directions, and waiting to get attention are part of this skill set. Understanding feelings and realizing that everyone has a different way of looking at the world, or empathy, is taught not as a class or by reading a book, but through experience and relationships with family.
Let's do this! Kids need chances to try lots of different physical skills as they get ready for kindergarten. From learning to hold a crayon or pencil to jumping and skipping, the more different things you try together the better. One skill that is surprisingly easy to overlook is showing your preschooler how to cut with scissors. There are blunt-tipped scissors made especially for young children. You can start by giving your child narrow strips of paper they can cut with one snip. Show them which hand to use for holding the paper, and how to angle it to get a good cut. So much to learn!
I've heard about STEM and STEAM, are those important? Helping your child stay excited to learn and curious about the world are the most important parts of preschool STEM. What's STEAM? It's STEM -- science, technology, engineering, and math -- plus ART! Sometimes creating something helps young kids understand the abstract concepts of science and math. Where to start with science? Think about what you know: maybe you know about pets, how an engine works, or weather. Perhaps you enjoy rivers and lakes or growing a garden. All those things are science! For math, consider the building blocks of early math: sorting, patterns, counting, identifying shapes, and measuring. Try to find ways to help your child see the numbers in what you do every day: cooking involves measuring, for instance. Groceries have receipts. Go on a Shape Walk and look for all the circles or triangles. Sort the laundry together. Need more ideas? There are lots of books and websites just for you!
Try making it a game! It can be tempting to think kindergarten readiness will look like flashcards and memory drills. But how about making learning a game? It doesn't have to be complicated. Challenge your young scholar to find red items, or to see the letter 'A' as you go through your day. A few rounds of 'Simon Says' are a great chance to follow directions. Create a "Letter Basket" and each week add some items (or pictures of things) that start with the letter of the week. See if your child can help!
I want to know more. There's so much to learn as a parent, it's easy to feel overwhelmed. If you need more ideas, ask your librarian to help you find the information you need, or see if storytimes are available near you. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the library programs may be online, but they can still help. See if there's a website you relate to. The folks at Scholastic have a website just for kindergarten readiness. The Child Mind Institute is another organization that can help. Join a group to learn more, like the Ready! For Kindergarten initiative sponsored by the Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children (Idaho AEYC). Idaho Public Television hosts Ready to Learn, weekly calendars of fun learning activities to do with preschoolers. Ask questions and find answers. Your child's education is their key to the future.