Preparing young children for Kindergarten

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A colleague tells of registering a 5-year-old for kindergarten and asking the basic questions on the form. Before she can finish, the mother tells her son, “Say your ABCs and show the teacher how smart you are.” With a bright smile and to the delight of his mother, the boy sings the “ABC Song.”

In another kindergarten, a mother brings in a crying child each morning stating that her daughter has had an upset stomach—again. (This problem has occurred 5 days in a row). By the second week, the father brings the child to kindergarten and without a doubt, the youngster appears fine. No upset stomach… no crying. The mother can’t handle her “baby” starting to school—and the child doesn’t want to disappoint her mother—therefore, she cries.

One activity that helps prepare a young child to start school is to “pretend” or “play-like.” Use this time as a first experience. Then, when it’s really time to know what to do, it’s like the second time around. These activities will make going to school a bit easier.

(1) Teaching Left and Right

Why teach left and right? This skill is necessary for pre-reading and pre-writing skills. Both subjects begin on the left side of the paper or page and proceed to the right.

What is the best way to help a child learn left and right? Young children learn best when learning is fun. Therefore, use games such as the following:

Play “Simon Says.” Stand with you back to your child so modeling is easy. Call out left and right body parts.

Play “Follow-the-Leader.” Cut out colorful footprints and tape them to the floor in a walking pattern. Sing a marching song, calling out “left-right, left-right.”

(2) Opening and Carrying Objects

Simple activities such as opening a box of milk make those first days easier. Prior to beginning school, purchase several small boxes of milk or juice. Point out the arrow on the top. Say: The arrow shows where the box opens. First, pull on this flap. Next, pop up the top. Now, you try it.

(3) Carrying a Lunch Tray

First, practice walking with an empty tray. Demonstrate that both hands must support each side. Hold the tray at waist level, near the body. Add a plastic place setting and a carton of milk. Practice walking and keeping everything balanced. Emphasize “walking” in the school cafeteria—never running. Remind children to pick up everything as she goes through the line. This keeps bumping into others at a minimum. Does your school use divided trays? If not, suggest that a parent-teacher organization furnish those to lower grades.

(4) Develop a Child’s Cutting Skills

Scissors are necessary for cutting and craft projects. Teach children to use them correctly.

Walk, never run when holding scissors. Hold points down when walking. Never point them at others. Keep points out of mouth.

Provide scissors that actually cut, not tear, paper. Plastic ones only frustrate young children.

First, hold the paper for the child to cut.

Model cutting on the line. Show, instead of tell.

Next, draw large circles for cutting. Move to geometric shapes.

After mastering shapes, move to more difficult patterns.

Offer praise and support for small accomplishments.

Build confidence by displaying work for family and friends.

Kindergarten sets the stage for a child’s entire school career. Children who make a successful transition from home to school grow into more capable, confident, and enthusiastic learners.

Carolyn Tomlin has taught on the kindergarten and university level. She writes for numerous magazines and newspapers.

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