By Celeste C. Delaney, author of ABC Ready for School: An Alphabet of Social Skills
In many ways, kindergarten is the most important year in a child’s education. It is not only an exciting and challenging milestone for your child and you, but it sets the stage for how kids will view themselves as students and how they will view learning in general. So, it’s important for them to begin their first school year as prepared as possible.
Here are some fun ways to help get that young learner ready. Pick one or two skills to work on each week, and keep practicing until your child has mastered the skill. Review it every so often for reinforcement. All these skills will be needed in kindergarten, but don’t worry if they are not perfected before the first day of school arrives—kids will keep working on these skills with their teachers and classmates.
Identifying the letters of the alphabet, the numbers 1 through 10, six colors, and four basic shapes
- Make a trail through the house using flash cards with a random order of letters, numbers, colors, and shapes. Place a little prize at the end of the trail (a sticker, a piece of candy, or a fruit snack), and have the child pick up one card at a time, name it, and move on to the next one before getting the prize at the end.
- For those who like to go quickly, make a stack of the flash cards and time how quickly the child can go through the pile naming each card.
- Look for letters, numbers, colors, or shapes on street signs or license plates as you travel around.
Writing their own name
- Fill a baking tray with a half-inch edge with a quarter-inch layer of salt. Shake the tray to distribute the salt in an even layer. Have the child write letters and then her name into the salt.
- Have the student use a glue stick to write her name on paper and sprinkle glitter on it.
- Have the child make letters out of modeling dough or clay and use them to spell her name.
Cutting with scissors
- Draw a line across the eight-inch width of a piece of paper and have the child cut along the line as closely as possible. Repeat to make one-inch strips, then have the child make a chain with the strips by taping one into a circle, linking the next strip on and taping the ends together to make another circle, and so on. Note: At first, you may have to help the child get the scissors onto his hand correctly—thumb on top in the smaller hole. Hold the paper vertically at first if this helps him maintain the correct position during cutting.
- Roll modeling dough or clay into long, thin “snakes” and cut them into pieces.
- Cut out snowflake patterns by folding a square piece of paper diagonally (corner to corner) several times and snipping out shapes along each folded edge. Unfold to see the snowflake.
Following verbal instructions consistently
- Play Stop and Go. Make a green sign for GO and a red sign for STOP. Have the child walk toward you and obey the signs as you hold up one or the other (stopping when it says STOP, going when it says GO). Add a verbal cue at first to help her understand. This can be played inside or outside and in combination with other skills. For example, each time the child stops, she has to follow an instruction, such as “do three jumping jacks” or “bounce the ball four times.”
- Play Simon Says, having children follow the commands.
- Give multipart or multistep instructions and see if the child can follow them correctly. For example, “Put the blue car inside the yellow box” or, “Fold the paper in half and put it on the floor.”
Going to the bathroom, eating, and getting shoes and socks on and off independently
- Make a chart and put stickers on it whenever a task is attempted or achieved independently.
- Act out the task with a child’s favorite toy while the child attempts it.
- Take a trip to the store to choose a reward when the task is achieved consistently, like special underwear, a new lunchbox for school, or socks and shoes that the child can put on and take off independently.
Taking turns and sharing without getting upset
- Play board games or ball games that involve taking turns.
- Have one or two friends over to play so your child has to share his toys with others.
- Take turns during a daily task, like stirring the dough while baking cookies or using the broom to sweep the floor.
In addition to these fun activities at home, it can be helpful to have kids participate in a play group or class like swimming or tumbling so they get used to being in a group setting and listening to other adults. This is good preparation for school.
Always encourage kids with praise. Remind them of skills they’ve learned that were once difficult for them so they can keep working on new ones and not give up.
Above all, have fun playing with your young learners, remembering that the goal is for them to enjoy learning and feel confident in their abilities to learn and grow. This will serve them well in the many years of education ahead of them, as well as deepening your relationship of love and support.
Celeste C. Delaney grew up in New Zealand, where much of life is lived outdoors. As a child, she loved playing at the beach, reading, playing piano, writing stories, and drawing. She left New Zealand after earning a degree in occupational therapy and has since lived and worked in many countries including the United States, India, Malaysia, China, and Mexico. Celeste enjoys traveling, teaching, art projects, and writing. She works as an occupational therapist with children, which challenges her to be patient and flexible and rewards her with smiles, hugs, and the joy of seeing children grow and learn. Celeste lives near Portland, Oregon, with her husband Chris.
Celeste is the author of ABC Ready for School: An Alphabet of Social Skills.
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