If your child is starting kindergarten in September, there are various skills that will be expected of him or her before making the transition to “big school.”
The early years at school often set the tone for a child’s educational experience. A young person who feels comfortable, confident and curious in kindergarten is more likely to embrace the challenges of learning how to read and eventually tackling topics like calculus and physics.
Thankfully, getting a child off to a good start in kindergarten doesn’t require taking formal classes or doing workbooks.
“All the tools you need to help your child are right in your home,” says Kerry Ballard, an educator who has taught kindergarten at Lower Canada College and St. George’s School of Montreal. She says that children are naturally curious and parents can help them along by taking the time to explain various items found around the house or in the garden. They can count the number of stairs leading to the front door, shape play dough into letters of the alphabet or look at which objects float or sink in the bathtub. Through these interactions, children develop skills that will serve them for life: confidence, an ability to communicate and a desire to learn.
Here are some other tips that will help your child with the transition to kindergarten.
- Read and talk about stories with your little one. Teachers can easily pick out children who have been read to — and not because these kids know all their letters or even how to read themselves. Children with good literacy skills have richer vocabularies, so they can express their ideas and feelings more easily. They know how to listen to a story and then can summarize it in their own words. They can sit still and focus for longer periods of time, an essential skill at school.
- Practice using the letters of the alphabet. As Ballard notes, the province’s kindergarten curriculum emphasizes letter recognition and use, so kids who don’t know the alphabet are at a disadvantage. So talk about letters — point out objects in the house that start with the same letter. Have your child write out name tags for his possessions. Buy letter-shaped magnets for the refrigerator door and show your child how to spell out different words.
- Reinforce social skills, or what Ballard calls “playing nicely”. A large part of the learning that goes on in kindergarten is social — how to get along with others, talk about your ideas and problem solve. Kids need to be able to listen to others, take turns and not interrupt. And by all means, encourage the use of “please” and “thank you,” which can go a long way towards promoting positive social interactions.
- Look for activities that develop fine motor skills, like arts and crafts. In kindergarten, children will be writing with pencils and cutting with scissors, which require good fine motor coordination. So pull out some paints or try making a bead bracelet (you can always use dried pasta). Art projects are also a great way to discuss colours and work on following instructions, i.e. “first, go get the paintbrushes. Then, let’s find the paper.”
- Use everyday tasks and chores to reinforce math skills. Teachers hope that children starting kindergarten will be able to count from 1 to 5 (or even up to 10) but kids also need to know how numbers work, in terms of adding, subtracting and even dividing. Ask your child to set the table and talk about how many knives, forks and spoons you need. At the grocery store, discuss how many lemons or cans of tomatoes you need and then help your child pick them out. When a child and sibling have to share LEGO, talk about how to divide the pieces.
- Encourage independence. In a busy classroom, teachers truly appreciate students who can perform simple acts independently, from blowing and wiping their noses to being able to zip up a coat before going outside. Start insisting that your child dress him or herself completely (except for tying shoes, which is often a skill that comes in Grade 1 so, in the meantime, think Velcro!). Also, your child should be fully independent when using the toilet, including wiping himself.
- Insist that your child start cleaning up and putting things away after playtime. In school, she will be expected to put away materials and keep her things neatly in a cubby.
- Make sure your child can open up the lunchbox, unwrap a snack and clean up afterward. It can be surprisingly hard for little hands to push a straw into a juice box or get the wrapping off a cheese stick. Practice at home so your child feels confident.
- Help children develop an ear for French. Because so many children do French immersion, it is a good idea to have your children listen to CDs and watch television programs en francais!
Related reading: How to deal with back-to-school butterflies