10 Non-Academic Ways To Prepare Your Child For Kindergarten

It’s a lot of pressure sending your own kid to kindergarten.  Pressure that comes from a public school system that makes kindergarten harder every year.  As a first grade teacher for 10 years, I watched first grade look more like second grade by my 10th year in the classroom.   And 25 years before that first grade was essentially kindergarten and kindergarten didn’t exist in many schools.

Yet today, there is pressure on moms to put our children in the best preschools where academic learning is a priority.  Although my son is 16 short months from starting kindergarten, we made the decision to keep him out of preschool.  Our decision wasn’t made lightly, but based on a number of decisions that I’ll save for another time….except to say this: I started homeschooling Cooper when he was 3 to help him, “get ready for kindergarten.”  And while he loved every minute of it and soaked up the learning, I soon stopped giving him structured “school time” because I felt like I was taking away his childhood because of my academic expectations for him as a teacher mom.  I still find ways to work academics into our daily conversations, but it’s no longer my focus.  We’ve replaced working explicitly on reading with non-academic activities.  And as a first grade teacher who prides myself on the importance of reading, this was a big step for me.

There are so many skills I see lacking in kids even in first grade…even if they were the highest performing students academically.  Maybe we’ve raised “smarter” 5 year olds over the last decade, but holistically speaking we are failing our preschool children.

Here’s how I’m preparing my preschooler for kindergarten (and life!) while still letting him be little!

1. Free Playtime

The single most important thing we can do for our preschoolers to get them ready for kindergarten is to let them play.  Play and learning are not enemies.  They are friends.  They can and should be done together.  Especially for preschoolers.  When a child “free plays” he is inventing, creating, engineering, problem solving, learning to cooperate with peers or learning to work independently.  Research is clear on play: it is a necessary part of early childhood learning.  Children who engage in play have better social skills, language skills, empathy, and self-control.  They are less aggressive and have higher order thinking skills.

Whoah. Did you hear all of those skills in there?  No, not many of them will show up on those performance tests in 3rd grade that many are so worried about preparing our preschoolers for, but those are some serious life skills.  And some serious skills that will indirectly affect those test scores in a significant way.

So, play with your preschooler.  Play with her.  Let him play alone.  Schedule play dates with friends. And don’t feel guilty about it.  Not one little bit. #steppingoffsoapbox

2. Doing the Dishes

This may seem silly, but yes it’s important.  You would be shocked at the number of first graders that know nothing about what to do with their cafeteria food at lunch.  I could always pick out the kindergarteners across the cafeteria during the first week of school that were responsible for putting up dishes at home.  Yes, eating in the cafeteria is different than eating at home, but there are enough similarities.  I can not tell you how many forks and spoons get thrown away in school cafeterias on a daily basis!  Preschoolers are old enough to learn what is trash, what is liquid and needs to be poured down the sink, and where silverware needs to go.  And it will do them good to have something they can feel proud they know how to do on their own!

So, do your child a favor and make them take their dishes at home and when you go out to eat!

3. Cleaning Up

In a classroom of 20 kindergartners, every little mess is magnified times 20.  And if your child’s kindergarten teacher is like me, messy just isn’t going to cut it.  Not only does it drive me crazy, but it’s hard to efficiently work and learn in a messy space.

So, resist the urge to clean up after your preschooler.  Before they move on to another task, make them clean up the mess.  If they spill something on the floor, make them get a rag and wipe it up.

My first year teaching I had a first grader that spilled her water bottle on the carpet.  She interrupted my teaching another group of students to tell me she had spilled her water…. “Well, what are you going to do about that?” was my reply then and every time after that.  I always had at least one student who was helpless when a mess was made around them.  So, every time my own preschooler makes a mess, we reply, “What are you going to do about that?”  Not only does it put the responsibility on him for his own messes, but it makes him problem solve.  And both of those are skills he needs!

4. Using a Mouse

A computer mouse.  You know, the thing that is used with real computers, but not laptops?  Or iPads, or iPhones or anything else we have around our house?

If your house is like ours, it’s full of plenty of screens, but none of them include a mouse.  Yet when our kiddos go to kindergarten they will be in a computer lab at least once a week and need to know how to use a mouse.  Even 10 years later, I still laugh every time I watch kindergartners tap on computer screens hoping it’s a touchscreen.  #itnevergetsold

Learning how to use a mouse isn’t difficult, but it is a skill that can be time consuming to teach 20 kindergartners at the same time.  Let your preschooler experiment for a few minutes with a “real” mouse and a laptop mouse (many schools have chromebook carts for kids to use laptops in their classroom as well!)  It won’t take much of your time and my own kiddo giggles like crazy when he gets to try out Mommy’s mouse!

5. Finding Letters on a Keyboard

This one may not be as big of a deal as the mouse…depending on how your child’s school handles kindergarten logins.  The schools I taught in required kindergartners to log in to their computer by typing in their name and a number the school assigned them.  It wasn’t difficult, but it was time consuming.  There is no way you will be able to find out your child’s login before hand, but you can help out by letting your kid practice typing on a computer.

Another great way to practice this would be to write out your child’s name or a word and let her type it into the computer.  She doesn’t have to know letter names to do this and it’s fantastic hand-eye coordination which is an early writing skill!

6. Following Multi-Step Directions

Multi-step directions are a super important language skill.  A typical preschooler should be able to follow 2 or 3 directions given at the same time.  But it is a skill that takes practice.  If I only ever give my preschooler one direction at a time, then he will not develop the skill to follow multi-step directions.

So, give him the opportunity to develop this skill.  This is something that doesn’t take any extra time for you and it’s an invaluable skill.  Instead of saying, “Go brush your teeth,” before bed time, I tell my preschooler, “Go brush your teeth, go to the bathroom, and put on your pajamas.”  This requires him to remember all 3 steps and concentrate to follow through with them.

If your child is not able to follow multi-step directions, then start with two directions.  And when you give the directions, get eye level with her and say them slowly a few times and keep it simple:

“Brush your teeth.  Then, use the bathroom.  (wait a few seconds) Brush your teeth. Then, use the bathroom.  (wait a few seconds)   Teeth.  Bathroom.  What do I want you to do?”

Make her repeat the two steps back to you and then send her off.  Giving her wait time will help her process each step and keeping it simple will help her stay focused and not get distracted by extra words.

7. Using Scissors

If your kindergarten experience is like it is here in Arkansas, there will be lots of opportunities for arts and crafts.  And cutting.  Your preschooler doesn’t need to perfect cutting before kindergarten by any means, but it will help him to know how to hold scissors and how to hold the paper and cut at the same time.   My little guy LOVES cutting.  He actually begs to cut “big boy lines” at least once a week.  I don’t force it on him at all, but I’m happy to oblige when he asks! 🙂

This is all we do to practice.  It’s simple.  It’s easy.  And results in tons of giggles every single time.

I get construction paper and draw 4 lines in a thick marker (I use an expo marker).  I always draw 4 different types of lines: straight, curved, zigzag and a loop or circle.

Then, I let him go to town!  The thick lines make it easy for him to see how well he followed the lines.

And I try to encourage him to cut the line in one piece instead of lots of little pieces (which turns into a messy nightmare in kindergarten! ha!)

8. Holding a Crayon or Pencil

Again, this isn’t something to master, but most preschoolers can begin to hold crayons and pencils correctly.  It’s not necessary that you make your preschooler write with a pencil or even hold one.  But whatever she is holding (crayon, marker, pencil, pen, paintbrush) should be held with a “pinch grip” as I call it.

Too many littles start kindergarten holding a crayon or pencil with a “fist grip.”  It’s not good for handwriting and it’s a hard habit to break once it’s formed.  Do your preschooler a favor and break that habit as soon as you see them holding a crayon with the “fist grip.”

9. Speaking in Complete Sentences

What’s so important about complete sentences?  A lot!! This is a skill we STILL work on in first grade.  Kids who speak in complete sentences are better writers.  Hands down.  In primary grades, we teach kids to write by telling them, “If I can say it, I can write it.”  So, if you speak in fragments, you will write in fragments.  If you speak in complete sentences, you will write in complete sentences.

Here’s what it looks like:  Let’s say we are learning about writing our opinions and I ask kids to write what their favorite food is and give me a reason why they like that food.

A kid who isn’t in the habit of speaking in complete sentences will write:
“Pizza because it’s cheesy.”

A kid who is in the habit of speaking in complete sentences will write:
“I love pizza because it’s cheesy.”

It is possible to teach the first kiddo to write in complete sentences, but it sure does take a lot of extra practice for him!  Modeling complete sentences and making your preschooler use complete sentence is a way to help her be a better writer without ever having her pick up a pencil!  I have a silly sentences packet in my store that is perfect for practice this in a silly and engaging way.  Even though I used it as a writing activity with my first graders, I just use it orally with my preschooler when we play it together.

10. Read, Read, Read

This may be the closest thing on this list to academics, but it’s so important.  I’m not asking you to teach your child to read.  That is not necessary.  I’m begging you to spend at least 20 minutes a day reading to your child.  Don’t play a book on tape for him (although there’s nothing wrong with that during other times).  Don’t replace story time with a video story.  Instead, open up a real book and put it in between you and your child and read out loud to him.

Talk about the story.  Point out interesting things you see in the pictures.  Ask what her favorite part of the story was.  Tell him what the story reminds you of.  Read fantasies.  Read mysteries.  Read non-fiction books with photographs.  Read stories that teach lessons.  Read stories that make you both laugh.  Whatever you do…just read.  Research tells us that reading aloud increases a child’s vocabulary, concepts of print, comprehension and interest in reading.  All of these things are crucial to helping our children be successful readers in school!

So, don’t stress out about preparing your child for kindergarten.  He will be okay.  She will make it and will learn at the developmentally appropriate time for her.  Take a deep breath and know that your child is worth more than a future test score.  Invest in your whole child.  Read, play, talk and repeat and you will have a successful kindergarten year!

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