What Your Child Needs to Know before Kindergarten

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It’s common for parents to feel anxious as the time nears for their children to begin kindergarten. A frequent question posed to educators is, “What should my child be able to do before he/she goes to school?”

It’s important to keep in mind that children are not expected to enter school with all the knowledge and skills they will learn in kindergarten, already in place. Kindergarten is a time filled with rich learning opportunities. There are some skills though, that support children’s transition to kindergarten and help get them off to a smooth start.

Many of the skills that will support your child’s transition to school are easily embedded into your day-to-day activities. Self-care skills, such as using the washroom independently, will help your child to be successful at school. Make sure handwashing is a part of this routine, too. Dressing and undressing for the outdoors are also skills that can be practised at home. This includes being independent with shoes (Velcro is a great option if your child can’t tie laces.) and doing up zippers on coats. For colder weather, it will be very helpful if your child can manage things like snow pants, boots, and mittens on her own. Although teachers will help with these tasks, there are far more students than teachers, so getting ready independently will help speed up the process. 

You can begin practising some skills at home that will help your child become comfortable with eating lunch at school. It is beneficial to explore lunch bags and containers that will work best for your child. It will be very helpful if your child is able to open containers on his own. You will also want to talk to your child about what types of foods he would like packed in his lunch. It might be fun and helpful to do a few “trial runs” where you pack your child’s lunch and have him eat it at home. You can also check with the school to see how many eating opportunities there are during the day, so you know how much food to pack. Don’t forget a water bottle, too!

In addition to self-care skills, there are social skills that can be embedded into your child’s day that will help her when she begins school. You may want to consider providing your child with opportunities to interact with other children, to get her used to being around groups of students in kindergarten. If your child has attended daycare, this may be something she is already comfortable with. Otherwise, consider opportunities for social interactions like playdates, day camps, or team sports. These experiences can help make the transition into a busy kindergarten classroom less overwhelming.

One of the social skills to focus on with your child is turn-taking. You can facilitate this when your child is with other children or even when the two of you are playing together. Along with turn-taking comes the important concept of sharing. These skills will be important in the kindergarten classroom and beyond. You can support turn-taking at home by playing board games together and can encourage sharing by asking to join in when your child is playing independently with his toys.

Another important social skill to begin teaching your child is compromising. With many students playing together in kindergarten, there are bound to be lots of ideas about what to do and how to do it! Navigating situations together where your child’s opinion is not the only one will help support their social interactions. It’s important for your child to have a voice but also important for her to know that others’ feelings and ideas are important, too. You can introduce compromising at home by choosing the game or activity yourself sometimes. Pair it with turn-taking, having your child choose the game or activity the next time.

It will also be beneficial for your child to know what to do when conflicts with other children occur. Support your child with expressing how he feels by helping him find the right vocabulary. Help him label feelings like “sad,” “angry,” and “frustrated.” Teach him that physical reactions, such as hitting or biting, are not okay. 

As you teach your child skills that promote her independence, don’t forget about self-advocacy. In kindergarten and beyond, it is important for children to recognize when they need help. In kindergarten, this may mean asking for help when they’re having a problem with a classmate that they can’t solve. In later grades, it may mean asking for a concept to be reviewed or presented in a different way so we can understand it more clearly.   

Supporting your child with self-care, social, and self-advocacy skills will help her to be successful in kindergarten. The other set of skills parents often wonder about is academic skills. While many of these skills will be taught at school, there are some that you can begin working on together at home. Early literacy and math skills are easily incorporated into your day-to-day activities at home and will support your child’s transition to school. Fine motor skills, which help with tasks such as writing and cutting, are also beneficial to work on at home. 

Alesia is a founder of PrimaryLearning.org, an educational website that helps elementary school teachers and homeschool parents with hands-on worksheets, activities and thoughtful articles.

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