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What Kids Really Need to Know For Kindergarten

Kindgergarten bulletin boardI taught kindergarten and first grade as a Teach for America corps member and later, at a charter school in Los Angeles.  Like many teachers, I was often asked by parents of incoming kindergartners what their child really needs to be successful in kindergarten.  In LA, there are many school choices that range from progressive or developmental to traditional, from private, independent or parochial schools to neighborhood public schools to magnet schools, pilot schools, independent charter schools and affiliated charter schools.   While each school will have its own philosophy of education and guiding principles, here’s some overarching skills that would be helpful for your child to know or learn no matter which type of elementary school you ultimately decide to send your child to.

Here’s my top 10 things I think all children should know before entering kindergarten.  You’ll notice that this is a mix of social-emotional and academic goals to work on with your child before you send your child to school this fall.

1.  Teach your child to share, take turns and listen respectfully and quietly to others.  Play dates with friends or cousins and trips to the park are a great way to provide socialization for your child.  If your child is currently enrolled in a preschool, your child’s preschool teacher is already investing a lot of time working on these skills.

2.  Your child should be able to sit on a carpet for circle time and keep their hands to themselves.  Circle time in kindergarten is usually short, typically 10-15 minutes for mini-lessons on reading, math, social studies, art, etc. or for story time.

3.  Teach your child to take care of their basic needs.  Your child should be able to tie their shoes and use the restroom without adult assistance.  Teachers will typically remind children to wash their hands with soap but are not allowed to assist with wiping.  Your child should be able to zip their jackets, open a lunch box, pull up their pants, snap a button closed, fasten their clothing and tie their own shoes.  If your child can not tie their own shoes yet, please consider sending your child to school with shoes with velcro–imagine that you’re a kindergarten teacher and have 20-24 shoes to tie and retie each day.  It’s time consuming!

4.  Your child should be able to print their first name using uppercase for the first letter only.  Kids love practicing writing their name on a white board or using stencils on a sheet of paper.  You can also use shaving cream and a cookie sheet to teach your child to write their letters!  It’s messy but kids love it.

5.  Your child should be able to hold a pencil, use crayons, glue and scissors.  Break out the arts and crafts!  Don’t be afraid to let your child stain their clothing or make mistakes.  Kids need a lot of time practicing their scissor skills and using a variety of art materials.  I love shopping at Target, http://www.target.com,  or Lakeshore Learning store, http://www.lakeshorelearning.com for creative teaching ideas, projects, school and art supplies to use with my own two young daughters at home.

6.  Letter recognition.  While many schools do not require this, it is helpful if your child enters kindergarten knowing the names of the letters, upper case and lower case.  Don’t feel pressured to teach your child all 26 letters before starting school as the kindergarten teacher will often teach a “letter of the week.”  Your child should be able to identify letters out of sequence.

7.  Know some letter sounds.  This is called phonemic awareness.  It is not necessary for your child to know all 26 letter sounds but it is helpful if your child knows some of the letter sounds before entering school.  Begin by teaching your child the letter names and sounds for the letters in their names.  Then move on to teaching your child the letter names and sounds in their siblings names, mom, dad, etc.

8.  Numbers 1-20.  Your child will likely be given an assessment at the beginning of the school year by his or her teacher to see what prior knowledge your child enters school with.  The assessment will cover the basics like letter recognition, sounds and numbers.  For example, a teacher will show your child a list of numbers 1-10 out of order and will ask your child to identify the numbers.  If your child is able to identify 1-10, the teacher will likely continue the assessment by asking your child to identify the numbers 11-20.  Your child will eventually learn their numbers 1-20 during the school year and many kids enjoy learning how to count and identify numbers to 100 by the end of kindergarten.

9.  Color and shape recognition.  The basics colors:  red, orange, yellow, green, blue, pink, purple, brown and black.  Your child should be able to identify basic shapes such as a circle, square, rectangle, triangle, oval and diamond.  When you are in the car or on walks, point out the shapes on stop signs, street signs, billboards, etc.

10.  One-to-one correspondence with counting.  Have your child use simple household items like beans or crayons to practice counting.  When you go to the grocery store, have your child count the bananas or apples you buy.  Make it fun!  Consider letting your child help you pay for items at a cashier so that you can teach him or her to identify coins like pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters.

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