Today I’m excited to share a guest post from Kate Dowling, a former kindergarten teacher who shares my passion for literacy and teaching preschoolers at home. She also happens to be my sister! It’s such a blessing to have Kate guest post at The Measured Mom while I’m busy with our new baby girl.
Is your child entering kindergarten this fall, or in the next year or two? Then this post is for you! Do you wonder if your home activities or your child’s preschool will be enough? Kindergarten readiness surely includes social skills such as sharing and being a friend, but those things are hard to measure, and they depend on your family’s values. This post will give you helpful, concrete goals that every kindergartner needs to meet.
The purpose of this post is not to alarm parents with a list of skills their child does not have. Instead, it’s to empower them! It’s fun to teach our children basic skills, like counting and the alphabet. We’re not recommending that you buy workbooks or push your child to do things he or she is not ready for. Instead, approach these basic skills in fun and engaging ways. You’ll find links throughout the article to help you.
Based on my years as a kindergarten teacher, I’ll tell you what’s most common, what’s at the top of the class, and what needs improvement — as well as HOW to improve. I’ll share with you a few red flags you should recognize… and what kindergarten teachers love to see in their students.
Plus, at the end of the post, download your free Ready for Kindergarten Checklist.
On Target: Your child is doing great!
Mastery: Your child is doing even better than expected on this skill.
Red Flag: No need for panic! But it’s time to find some playful learning activities to help your child grow in this area.
- On Target: Counting to 29 or 39
- Mastery: Counting to 100+
- Red Flag: Counting to 12
In a class of 18 kindergartners, I can predict that one or two children can only count to 12, several can count to 100, and all the rest will get stuck at 29 or 39. If your child can count to 29 or 39, he’ll likely have no trouble counting to 100 before the year is out. If he can count to 100 already, congratulations!
Bonus: Count back and forth with him to 1000 sometimes. He’ll remember it with a big sense of accomplishment.
Red Flag: If your child gets stuck at 12, that’s a normal developmental milestone…that he should be past before starting kindergarten. Otherwise he might not reach 100 before the year’s end. What to do?
Count anything and everything, and just count aloud without counting things. You are the model. Speak those teen numbers slowly and clearly: thirteen — fourteen — fifteen — and so on. Your child will soak it all in, and one day he will go from 12 to 29 with no mistakes! Here’s a secret: sometimes use an abacus. No choking hazards for the baby, and no clean up for you. Check out this blog’s Teaching Math page for many learning ideas.
- On Target: Names all capital letters and some lower case letters. Names half the sounds.
- Mastery: Names all capital and lower case letters and every letter’s sound.
- Red Flag: Names only a few capital letters and very few lower case letters. Names only a few sounds.
It’s completely normal for young children to have trouble with certain small letters that look similar (p,d,b), (f,t), (i,j). If these are the only problems, they are quickly resolved in the first quarter of school. Don’t panic.
Bonus: If your child has mastered letters and sounds, it’s time to work on reading. Some parents believe it’s not their place to teach their children to read. I disagree.
As a kindergarten teacher, I was always thrilled for the few children who entered school reading (usually one per class). These kids still enjoyed every group activity, with the bonus that they could quietly read real books while the other kids worked on phonics. They always enjoyed this, and it never led to a behavior problem or a child feeling “bored.” How do you teach your child to read? I recommend This Reading Mama’s Reading the Alphabet. You can get the parts separately for free, or order it all together for only ten bucks.
Double bonus: For the child who can already read, what’s next? More reading!
Reading builds vocabulary, background knowledge, and enjoyment, and if you don’t know what to give your child, look up the “I Can Read” books. These include favorites such as Little Bear and Frog and Toad. They are clever stories with charming illustrations, and sure to be loved by your family.
Red Flag: If your child hasn’t picked up letters and sounds yet, this is definitely something you should work on.
But keep in mind that it’s FUN for little ones to learn letters. Don’t think of it as work. This blog is packed full of great letter ideas. My number one tip: Read alphabet picture books together. Get stacks from your library. Read alphabet books every day until your child starts pointing out letters he sees on food packages, books, and signs. Enjoy seeing it all come together.
- On Target: Is comfortable wearing his or her school clothes and operating the buttons, snaps and zippers independently.
- Mastery: Can easily operate all kinds of fasteners on clothing without assistance.
- Red Flag: Needs help removing and fastening clothing to use the bathroom.
Let’s take a break from academics and discuss the bathroom, shall we? You might think, “My child is fully independent in the bathroom.” Well, maybe at home that is true, but you might be surprised by something unexpected.
School uniforms or school clothes: I know you want to keep them clean, but please have your child wear these around the house to get used to them. Some buttons, belts (please avoid belts!), and so forth are tricky for little ones. I saw this as a teacher, and I personally still remember the panicky feeling I had when I wore button-fly pants for the first time. I pulled and pulled and thought I would wet my pants, because I didn’t realize these were different. What shock and relief when I accidentally undid the button just in time.
Whew! I am stressed out just typing it!
- On Target: Uses all capital letters (first name).
- Mastery: Begins with a capital letter and follows with lowercase letters (first name).
- Red Flag: Cannot recognize her name, cannot spell it, or cannot write it.
Name writing is FUN! Kids are so proud when they write their names all by themselves. Why let the teacher have all the fun? You deserve to enjoy this experience with your child.
Bonus: Write first and last name.
There is no need to stress about this one. It’s just something to work on if your child is ready.
Red Flag: If your child cannot write her name correctly, it’s time for daily practice.
How to do it? Start with a pad of large, unlined paper. Each day have your child write her name exactly one time. Each day, flip to a new page. In the beginning, hold your child’s hand while saying each letter. Soon she will be doing it all on her own. Eventually give her large-lined paper, but don’t rush. Follow The Measured Mom’s Name Activities Pinterest board for more ideas.
- On Target: Enjoys listening to a stack of picture books. Makes personal connections to stories and answers simple questions. May be recognizing a handful of familiar words.
- Mastery: Asks to be read to every day. Will listen to a large stack of picture books and beg for more. Enjoys listening to simple chapter books with good attention. Makes personal connections to stories and answers both simple and complex questions correctly. May be reading some books independently.
- Red Flag: Does not sit for more than 1-2 books at time. Does not talk about books or ask basic questions. Cannot answer simple questions about a story. Usually prefers a screen to a book.
My husband and I were charmed when our three-year-old started calling his stuffed animals his “very eager helpers.” This phrase came from Paul Galdone’s The Little Red Hen. It is hilarious, surprising, and simply incredible what kids pick up from books. You need to read aloud to your child from infancy. This really cannot be stressed enough. But if you didn’t start at the beginning, take heart! You can start today and still do great things.
Bonus: If your child is already reading by himself, you still need to read aloud. Try chapter books with your preschooler!
In fact, you should read aloud to your children as long as they live in your house. Really! My favorite moments in college were when my Children’s Literature professor read to us the historical fiction novel, Letters from Rifka. My mom read Where the Red Fern Grows to her five teenagers when we were on vacation. My mother-in-law read Animal Farm and The Hobbit to my husband when he was in middle school. He still remembers that she took the time to explain the political meaning behind Animal Farm.
For over 50 chapter books to read to your preschooler, visit this post from What Do We Do All Day?.
Red Flag: If your child does not enjoy being read to, put more limits on screen time and make use of your library card.
Vocabulary development comes from language, not images. So turn off the TV, computer or iPad, and read! If one child is given a story by video and another child hears the book, the one who heard the book heard many more words. The brain is passive while watching, because the image is right there. The brain is active when reading or listening, because it must create images from words.
Combine the best of both worlds with the LeVar Burton Kids Skybrary app, which you can use on mobile, desktop, and laptop. We absolutely love the high quality books and narration!
Get your Ready for Kindergarten checklist!
Please remember that whether or not children have mastered these academic skills, it’s important that they are ready socially, emotionally, and behaviorally. For more information, check out this excellent post from a former kindergarten teacher at Fun-a-Day.
So what do you think? Do you now know how to prepare your child for school? I hope this post gives you the confidence that you, the parent, can teach your child. I’d love to hear from other kindergarten teachers about what they’d like to see in their new students. Feel free to ask me questions in the Comments as well!
Before having children, Kate Dowling taught school for seven years in California, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Beijing. Four of those seven years were in kindergarten. Now she lives in Canada with her husband and children. She homeschools her kids.