Walk through any big box store and, already, you can see the Back to School banners, and like every new school year, some parents of five year olds are anxious and unsure whether they are ready to send their children into the unknown world of academic kindergarten.
I am not a parent, but I am an auntie, and I am a teacher in an elementary school, working with students in kindergarten through grade four. Kindergarten is not the developmental kindergarten of years passed; academic kindergarten has significant cognitive demands and high expectations of social and emotional behavior.
Whether you agree or disagree with the trajectory of American education, the reality is that this is the climate of kindergartens in the United States, and in schools and districts marked by poverty, the rigidity of curriculum is inescapable.
Every year, parents, in genuinely wanting what is best for their children, ask what they can do to prepare their kids for school success.
In my opinion, the best way to prepare children for the demands of an academic, standards-based kindergarten is through engagement.
Here are some ideas to help.
1. Engagement in literacy and numeracy.
- Read to your child and model reading with your child...let them see you as a reader and the value you give to reading. Children can "read" the pictures, even if they can't read the words...and no, they do not have to come to kindergarten reading...but, they have to leave kindergarten reading.
- Can your child identify upper and lowercase letters and sounds? Can he or she identify the numbers one through ten?
- Vocabulary development is critical to literacy. Call objects by their names. Add descriptors related to size and color and degrees of comparison.
- Play with synonyms and antonyms and shades of meaning. Provide other ways of saying words. For example, explore shades of color and other ways to express various actions and emotions. Play with opposites and precision of language in self expression.
- Count forwards and backwards and skip count (by 10s, for example) and begin the concepts of adding and subtracting.
- Notice patterns and comparisons (for example, bigger or smaller, faster or slower) and make predictions based on those patterns.
2. Engagement in conversation and social skills.
- Meal time and drive time is the perfect time for conversation. Ask open-ended questions, like how, why, or why do you think that. Ask them to explain something to you and ask you questions.
- Talk about reading. Ask them to retell stories and make predictions.
- Allow them to make choices and encourage them to explain themselves.
- Allow them to play with others, unplugged and try to stay out of conflict as much as possible, allowing them to find resolution through words and logical consequences.
3. Engagement with their community.
- Visit the local library and take advantage or story and craft time.
- Use museum passes to local museums.
- Expose kids to experiences and build their cultural literacy.
- Travel as much as you can. Be a tourist in your own local community, city, state capital or region.
4. Engagement with nature.
- Allow children to play outside, unplugged from technology and media.
- Let them get dirty and use their imaginations.
- Ride bikes, climb mountains, splash in puddles, grow gardens (and cook together), play in snow, and in wind, and at the beach. Learn to swim.
- Visit local farms or farmers' markets and teach them the connection between farms and food.
- Teach kids how to respect the natural world and plant seeds of stewardship. Recycle and clean up litter.
- Learn how to approach animals safely and treat animals with respect and kindness.
5. Engage with themselves.
- Allow kids quiet play, read-to-self time, and time to entertain themselves with imaginative play.
The reality is that parents are their children's first teachers. The experiences children have with their parents and siblings set the foundation for their future learning. It's not all or nothing. Do what you can and we'll take care of the rest.
Enjoy the rest of your summer.