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This is a guest post by Sam Hermens, a public elementary school special education teacher with a master’s degree in Special Education from George Mason University.
Preparing for Kindergarten—Tips from a Teacher
Whether your child is five days old or about to turn five years old, chances are you are already thinking a lot about his or her future.
Obviously, there isn’t much career planning going on yet, and you have no idea what your child’s interests will be when he reaches adulthood. But no matter what the future holds, school is guaranteed to play a big role in it.
Some days you can’t wait for your little sweetie to hop on the bus for his first day of kindergarten (Free childcare for seven hours five days a week? Sign me up!), but thinking about your child’s impending academic experience can also cause a lot of stress.
Will he be ready for kindergarten? Can he keep up with the fast-paced curriculum? How will he perform compared to the other kids in his class?
It is completely normal to feel some stress about your child starting kindergarten.
Regardless of whether he has already attended preschool or not, kindergarten is a big transition for every kid. However, there are a few things you can do as a parent to make sure your tyke has the knowledge and skills that he needs to be the most successful kindergartener he can be—no educational training or teaching certification required!
In fact, preparing your child for kindergarten is easier than you think…
Take Advantage of Your Environment
There are teaching and learning opportunities everywhere, if you know where to look.
Are you and your daughter sitting in the corner booth of a restaurant waiting for your food? Ask her to count how many chairs are at the table next to you!
What if you’re sitting in the waiting room at the doctor’s office? Look around the office, at the magazines, or even at other patients’ shirts, and see how many letters Junior can identify.
I am an educator who has spent a lot of time in kindergarten classrooms, and I bet you would be shocked at the number of kids who start the school year unable to successfully complete either of those tasks. I have seen an alarming number of students who have difficulty counting even a small group of objects, and students who look at letters of the alphabet as if they were ancient runes copied from the Rosetta stone.
Unfortunately, these students often get further and further behind as they progress through their school years. Perhaps even more unfortunate is the fact that parents don’t need to train themselves in fancy instructional techniques or deliver complex lessons to prevent this—just look for opportunities for your child to learn wherever you are!
Exposure is Key
It is a truth universally acknowledged that your child notices everything you do—for better or for worse.
I can almost guarantee you that your child absorbs a lot more information each day than you think, just by being exposed to that information. In other words, you don’t always have to explicitly teach something for your child to learn it.
Did you know that reading to your child from a young age (really, from the moment they exit the womb) has been proven to predict reading success for them in the future?
Of course your infant won’t be learning how to read words quite yet, but you are still exposing him to reading, and that will help him more than you know! And while you’re at it, don’t limit his reading exposure to children’s books—even if you’re reading a James Patterson thriller or a vampire romance, read it aloud to him!
Exposing kids to a wide range of vocabulary in early childhood has been shown to improve their vocabulary later on, which will serve them well in school.
Now, before you think that this exposure method only applies to reading, you should know that it is pretty much effective across the board! For example, if you’re doing your budget or trying to figure out how many paper plates to buy for a family gathering, think aloud. That way, your child has the opportunity to hear you going through the problem-solving process—another very important skill in school (and in life!)
Background Knowledge Goes a Long Way!
Want to know a huge predictor of success in school? Background knowledge.
I know that sounds like an incredibly general term, and that’s because it is. When I say background knowledge, I’m basically talking about general knowledge about the world. Children gain background knowledge from a variety of sources and experiences, and this knowledge will help them be successful in every academic area.
Here are several ways to increase your child’s background knowledge:
- Enjoy fun outings with your child- trips to the zoo, walks through the park, nature hikes, visits to local landmarks, etc.
- As your child explores her world, let simple questions lead into educational conversations. For example, if your daughter asks what a certain tree is called, don’t simply answer her question. Continue the conversation by naming some other types of trees, and if she’s really curious, you might even end up talking about how trees get water through their roots!
- Expose your child to a wide variety of topics in media. For example, your kid might love to watch a cartoon about pirates (which is fine!), but make sure that isn’t the only thing she watches. Shows like Sesame Street are great because they deal with a wide range of topics and provide kids with a great deal of background knowledge (and they might lead to some interesting conversations, too!).
Make it Fun!
This might be the most important tip I can give you: make learning fun!
Instead of simply quizzing your child on shapes and colors, play “I Spy…” when you’re out and about. Don’t just teach your child the ABCs—sing the ABC song and put some fun hand motions (or dance moves) to it! Rather than simply practicing counting, get competitive and challenge your son to see how high he can count, then see if he can break his record! It has been proven time and again that when kids have fun learning, they will retain significantly more of what they are taught (and it will be more fun for you, too!).
Thinking about the first day of kindergarten for your child is exciting, but it can also be stressful. However, you don’t need to get a teaching degree or hire a professional tutor in order to prepare your youngster for school and put your mind at ease! Take the easy way…you already have all the tools you need at your disposal! By simply taking advantage of learning opportunities in your everyday life, exposing your child to a wide variety of information, providing enriching experiences, and making learning fun, you can rest assured that your pride and joy will take off running in his or her first year of school!
***By the way***
If you are the parent of a child with special needs or learning difficulties, I don’t want you to ever feel like you’re not doing enough. As a special education teacher, I work with both kids and their parents every day, and I have to tell you—it is not unusual for parents to blame themselves if their child is behind. Work with your child’s teacher, be involved in their IEP, and ask about what you can do at home to help your child flourish. For a great resource to get you started, check out Understood.org.