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Getting Ready for Kindergarten Language, Literacy, and Communication Learning through Play Mathematics

The 7 Minute Guide to a Stress-Free Kindergarten Experience

I call it nerve-cited.  That feeling of being nervous and excited all at the same time.  And I know that is the feeling that parents have when they send their little one off to kindergarten for the very first time.  The nervousness comes from being unsure if your child will be successful, if your child will fit-in and make friends, or if they will figure out going to the bathroom at school.  The excitement comes from all that he/she can experience at school–the wonder, the success, and the accomplishment.  Before I ever became a preschool teacher, I sent my oldest child off to kindergarten.  I remember the day like it was yesterday.  I understand that nerve-cited feeling. 

Fast-forward a few years and I was a preschool teacher.  Now, I didn’t just have to worry about preparing my own children for kindergarten success, I was now charged with preparing a classroom full of 4-year olds for success in kindergarten.  It was towards the end of my first year teaching that I spoke with a kindergarten teacher who let me in on a little secret.  She said that if children come to school prepared with these five skills they experience less stress and their teacher can focus on less rote skills and more higher-order thinking skills, like listening comprehension and early mathematical reasoning.  

So, I was intrigued.  What were these five skills that helped children succeed in kindergarten?  I was covering SO much in preschool and I know that all of those skills were important to the success of the whole child, but when this teacher mentioned “less stress” I was all ears.   

Your preschooler will experience less stress in kindergarten if he/she has the ability to:

  1. Write his/her first name.
  2. Identify and label letters by name.
  3. Identify and label letter sounds.
  4. Count 30 objects
  5. Identify and label numbers 0-30

Let’s break down these skills a little bit.

Write his/her first name.

Writing your name is a complex skill that is made up of many smaller skills. In order to legibly write his/her name, a child needs to be able to hold a writing tool, apply pressure to the paper, and properly form and shape the letters. Writing is a skill that develops over time and requires lots and lots of practice. A child will move through a number of different writing milestones before he/she finally arrives at writing his/her first name–making marks on a surface, scribbling, and writing letter-like shapes.

How Can Parents Support this Skill?

Sand/Sugar Writing
Grab a cookie sheet or shallow pan and create a thin layer of sugar or sand. Instead of writing with a writing tool, your child will write his or her name in the sugar/sand with his/her finger. A simple shake of the pan will smooth out the sugar/sand and your child can start over. Most children really enjoy this activity and will spend a lot of time writing his/her name.

Identify and Label Letters by Name

Just like recognizing numbers, identifying letters is all about exposure. Your child begins to connect the image of the letter to the name of the letter as he/she sees and hears it over and over again. Your child will move through various milestones as they work toward the goal of identifying all 26 letters by name–saying or singing letters, naming one letter, naming about 10 letters.

How Can Parents Support this Skill?

Refer to an Alphabet Chart
Referring your child to an alphabet chart is an easy way to support letter naming. Select a chart with upper and lower case letters side-by-side and a picture of an item that starts with the letter sound. You can hang a poster-sized chart at your child’s eye level and use a smaller chart to draw your child’s attention to the letters during a name writing or letter sound activity.

Identify and Label Letter Sounds

Mastering letter sounds is not done in isolation. In order for your child to know a letter sound, they have to be able to visually identify the letter, as well. Like identifying letters by name, children need exposure to the letter sounds and images. Each time they are exposed to the image and the sound, they create stronger connections. With practice, your child will master the letter sounds and move onto more advanced work such as blending sounds. 

Note: It is most effective to teach letter sounds and names in association rather than separately. This means whenever you say a letter name you also say the sound and whenever you say a letter sound you also say the letter name. For example, I Spy the letter T, /t/ ( make the T sound). You should also use this technique when using the strategies in the last section, Identifying All Letter Names. 

Here is a great video to help you model the correct sound when working with your child on letter sounds. https://youtu.be/CdhD4VM0Rls

How Can Parents Support this Skill?

Letter Puzzles
Play with your child with a letter puzzle. It doesn’t really matter the kind of puzzle. Each time you or your child picks up a letter to add to the puzzle, say the letter sound. For example, your child picks up the B to add it to the puzzle. You will say, “the letter B says /b/ /b/ /b/”. Follow this pattern the entire time you and your child play with the puzzle. Encourage your child to say the letter sounds with you or even lead the activity once he/she knows some letter sounds.

Count 30 Objects

Counting objects is a completely different skill than reciting numbers in order. Just because your child can count to 100 doesn’t mean that he/she will be able to count 30 objects. Your child does need to know the order of the numbers to count objects, however. Counting objects takes practice and concentration. When a child is counting objects, he/she must match each object with the corresponding number. As you practice counting objects with your child, he/she will move through a few milestones–reciting numbers in order, counting 5-10 objects, and counting 10-30 objects.

How Can Parents Support this Skill?

Building a Tower
Work alongside your child to create a tower with blocks. Once your child has finished building the tower, count the blocks. Remember, your child should be counting each block.

Identify and Label Numbers 0-30

Number recognition is your preschooler’s ability to visually recognize and name numbers. While related to counting, number recognition will increase through exposure to the different numbers. Your child will need to see a number and be able to connect it with the number’s name. Memorization is a large part of excelling in number recognition.

How Can Parents Support this Skill?

Reading Books with Numbers
Because number recognition is supported by exposure to numbers, books that include numbers are a great way to support children learning numbers. Chicka Chicka 123 by Bill Martin, Jr and Michael Sampson is a great example of a book that supports number recognition.

Whether your preschooler is 3, 4, or 5 years old, progressing toward mastery of these skills will set him/her on a path to school success.  Many of these skills are called for on the 60-month Ages and Stages questionnaire–a parent-reported development assessment that you can learn more about here.  Learn more about what your preschooler should be able to do in my 3-Part Series, Kindergarten Prep.  You can tailor your work with your child to what he/she is ready for developmentally.  

Would you like more quick and easy activities to specifically support these five skills?  If so, I’ve got something just for you.  Download the Ultimate Kindergarten Readiness Starter Kit and receive 20 additional activities to support these five foundational skills. The starter kit will provide you with play-based activities that can be done in 20 minutes or less. Set your child up for school success with no worry, struggle, or stress!!!  

Categories
Interest and Engagement Learning through Play

Play: The Easiest Way to Prepare Your Preschooler for Kindergarten

I read an article the other day detailing the competitive nature of kindergarten admission among private schools in NYC.  The article detailed the lengths that parents would go to to get their preschooler in the “perfect kindergarten”.  Among the tactics were hiring private tutors and donating to the school.  

As I read this article, I wondered if these children were able to immerse themselves in play before they were sent off to the world of modern-day kindergarten with computer-adaptive tests and walking in single-file lines. 

I get it!  Parents want to give their best to their children and most children will go to a kindergarten classroom (mine all have!)  But we should all take advantage of the preschool years and give our children the freedom of play.  Allowing for play doesn’t mean that we aren’t teaching our children, it just means that we allow play to dominate the way that they learn.  And since we know that the minutes before they enter a traditional classroom are ticking closer and closer, we can find ways to let them immerse themselves in play.

The Benefits of Play

We don’t have to think of play and learning in an “either/or” way.  Research shows us that play, especially child-led play, supports SO MUCH learning.  

I tried to paraphrase this but the American Academy of Pediatrics says this so much better than I ever could.

“Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength. Play is important to healthy brain development. It is through play that children at a very early age engage and interact in the world around them. Play allows children to create and explore a world they can master, conquering their fears while practicing adult roles, sometimes in conjunction with other children or adult caregivers. As they master their world, play helps children develop new competencies that lead to enhanced confidence and the resiliency they will need to face future challenges. Undirected play allows children to learn how to work in groups, to share, to negotiate, to resolve conflicts, and to learn self-advocacy skills. When play is allowed to be child driven, children practice decision-making skills, move at their own pace, discover their own areas of interest, and ultimately engage fully in the passions they wish to pursue.”

https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/119/1/182

Harvard University has completed research that co-signs this same idea:  play supports intellectual development, social development, emotional development, and physical development.  Yep, playing supports all domains of learning.  When you preschooler plays he/she is:

  • Counting
  • Sorting
  • Patterning
  • Writing
  • Telling stories
  • Problem solving
  • Noticing social cues
  • Listening
  • Seeing things from other people’s perspective
  • Self-regulating
  • Following norms
  • Practicing being a leader and a follower
  • Strenthening muscles
  • Developing muscle control and coordination

Five Ways to Encourage your Preschooler to Learn Through Play

1.  Play with Your Child

There is no better way to encourage your child to make choices and follow his/her interests than playing with him/her. Join in games, pretend play, or draw pictures.  Play second fiddle to your child.  Let him/her guide you.  Follow his/her rules and play a role.  Allow the play (plus your interaction) to be the teacher.  

2.  Figure Out What Your Preschooler Likes

If you want to become a pro at helping your preschooler learn through play, figure out what interests your child the most.  Lucas LOVES dinosaurs!  If I sit down and play with Lucas with dinosaurs I can teach him counting, colors, patterns, whatever.  All because I have tapped into his interests.  

3.  Use Manipulation to Your Advantage

Sitting down to write on lined paper or being drilled with flashcards does not conjure images of fun for anyone.  Most kids aren’t going to consider those activities their favorites.  Children often engage more when they are able to manipulate materials and interact with another person (that’s you, mom and dad).  When you allow preschoolers to make and build and create they are able to learn and engage at the same time.  You can even use common objects that you have at home instead of buying new toys; boxes, kitchen utensils, paper clips, post-it notes, or coins.

4.  Plan for Play

Set aside time for your child to play.  It often works best when you make play a regular part of your daily routine.  Even if it’s just 20 or 30 minutes per day, encourage your preschooler to participate in child-led play with some of his/her favorite materials.  Stay nearby and be ready to join in if your child asks or take on any pretend role your child suggests.  

5.  Allow Your Child to Take Risks

Play supports physical development.  Children strengthen their muscles and develop coordination and body awareness when they run, jump, and climb.  Parents can sometimes short-circuit these benefits by being concerned about cuts, scraps, and bruises.  No parent wants their preschooler to get injured while playing, but if we stay close and monitor, our children can gain all the benefits of play and still stay safe.

Two Ideas for Playing with Your Preschooler RIGHT NOW!

1.  Go on a scavenger hunt!  Grab baskets or bags and look for items that are the same color or shape or incorporate a letter.  Collect the items, line them up, and count them with your child. 

2.  Role Play with Your Preschooler!  Lucas’ favorite super-hero is the Black Panther.  He often asks me to play Black Panther with him (he always gets to be King T’Challa).  I follow directions and play the role he suggests.  We also do the same thing when he wants to play dinosaurs (and I never get to be the T-Rex).  You might be surprised at the complexity of language your child exhibits during pretend play.

If you liked those activities and you want more quick and easy ways to play with your child, download The Ultimate Kindergarten Readiness Starter Kit. You’ll get 25 activities you can do in 20 minutes or less. You’ll teach your child important skills and your child will have fun learning.