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 sets the stage for how children view themselves as students and how they view learning in general. If children start school well below the skill level of most of their classmates, they may feel bad about not knowing what everyone else seems to know, and they might conclude that they are not as smart as others. Without encouragement, they may begin to misbehave in class, avoid participating in difficult work, and give up on learning. Here are some ways to help a little one you know get ready for this big transition:
- Print out this skill list and check off anything your child already does consistently and well.
- Pick one or two skills your child does not do well yet and practice the skill or skills for a few minutes each day.
- While the academic skills—like knowing the alphabet, numbers, and colors—are important, children can catch up on these skills if they are prepared to learn. The social skills—like sitting quietly while the teacher is talking, following verbal instructions, and working independently for short periods—are essential to learning well. Being able to use the bathroom, get your shoes on and off, and eat independently are important in the classroom setting because the teacher may have 20 to 30 children to work with and cannot help every child with each of these skills every time.
- Have your child participate in a group setting, such as a play group, a tumbling class, swimming lessons, camp, or a music class for a few hours each week, if possible. This helps children get used to working in a group and following instructions from another adult.
- Read books together that talk about what kindergarten will be like and emphasize how much fun it will be to learn new things and make new friends.
- Play games with friends or siblings that require following rules and taking turns. These games can also incorporate learning counting, colors, or shapes.
- Do tabletop activities every day that require the child to sit still at the table for at least 10 minutes. Examples include crafts, coloring, building with blocks, puzzles, and board games.
Learning to cooperate in a group setting can be very difficult for children. Here are some ways to help them learn this important skill:
- Avoid using a question when there really isn’t an option. For example, “Can you put your shoes on now, please?” If the child says “no,” you’re now in a battle of wills because you gave an option. It’s better to say, “Put your shoes on now, please.”
- Offering choices at the right time is a good way to build children’s abilities to make decisions and helps them feel they have some control. This is especially helpful with strong-willed children, but use this strategy sparingly and when it works for you. For example, “Do you want to wear the blue shirt or the red one today?”
- Prepare children to succeed before a situation occurs. For example, maybe you’re heading to the store and know that this has been a difficult place for your child to behave appropriately in the past. Before you walk into the building, stop and say, “When we’re in the store, I want you to hold my hand and not touch anything on the shelves. If you can do this, we will get you a little treat at the end of our time here. If you don’t do this, you will not get to play that game when we get home.” The expectations are clear, and it’s now up to the child to make the decision about his or her behavior and accept the consequences. Be very specific about what behavior you expect rather than simply saying, “I want you to behave,” because that may mean very little to a young child.
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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I wanted to thank you for explaining how to get a child ready for kindergarten. I’m glad you mentioned you should try to offer them choices at the right time. It sounds important to do this very early, especially if you notice a child may be indecisive at times.
I love your post! I also wrote a similar post about helping your child socialize before back-to-school. My son enters kindergarten this year and I found your tips to be helpful. I am also a special education teacher who specializes in behavior therapy and I also found this article helpful for my students, even though they are upper elementary. I like that you point out how to prevent the situation from happening before it occurs. Prevention is key with managing behaviors.