|Ready? Set. Go!
Author: Jennifer VanBure
In Texas, a child who turns five by September 1st may enroll in kindergarten. How can parents know if their child is ready? There is no exact science to this determination, especially when skills seem to appear overnight at this age. Peggy Gisler, Ed.S. and Marge Eberts, Ed.S. developed a checklist to help determine kindergarten readiness. Parents can check off the skills already mastered and select skills that could probably be picked up pretty easily with a little help.
Pay attention to stories and directions for short periods of time
Follow rules and recognize authority
Show understanding of general times of day
Cut with scissors
Use fasteners (buttons, zipper)
Trace basic shapes
Bounce a ball
Begin to share with others
Be independent with bathroom needs
Separate from parents without being upset
Speak understandably and use sentences of five to six words
Look at pictures and tell stories
Identify rhyming sounds and beginning sounds of some words
Identify some alphabet letters
Recognize some common sight words like “stop”
Sort similar objects by color, size and shape
Identify groups of one to five objects
Count to 10
Here are some ideas to develop cognitive, motor and social skills needed to start school.
Motor skills are required to coordinate and plan movement. Gross motor skills refer to big movements that generally involve muscles of the torso, legs and arms. Can your child hop, skip and jump? These skills are usually easy to develop because they are fun! Playground climbing, kicking a ball and games like hopscotch develop gross motor skills. If your child is unsure, go slowly. Hop over a chalk line, step up and balance on a curb and then jump off.
Fine motor skills involve the small muscles of the fingers, wrist, tongue and toes. Can your child handle fasteners like buttons, snaps, Velcro and zippers? Can he pick up small items like coins? If a child has difficulty with fine motor skills, working on them can be frustrating, but you can make it fun by using his interests. Put his favorite toy in a bag that zips or snaps or in a jar with a screw lid so he has to practice the skill to get the toy. Cutting playdough with safety scissors or a plastic knife and stringing beads (or even more motivating, cereal or candy with a hole) are good tasks, too.
If you’re concerned that your child’s fine or gross motor skills may be significantly delayed, there are some amazing professionals who have tricks like you would not believe. Occupational and physical therapists know how to use a combination of play and structure to help even the tiniest tots.
Social skills It is rare for a five-year-old to have mastered social skills such as listening quietly, following directions and sharing. However, in order to have a successful year, children should be well on their way. It is also important for a child to get along with other children.
During play dates, give your child and his friend a chance to play unsupervised. Give plenty of opportunities to practice sharing, negotiating and to use words to communicate feelings, needs and desires.
Local libraries and bookstores host story time. This is a perfect chance for your child to practice the skill of sitting and listening. If he is a wiggle worm, start with sitting through one story and then work up to more. When you are reading one-on-one, encourage participation, questions, pointing and commenting, but when in a group, teach that it is time for listening.
A child entering kindergarten should be able to separate from parents without too much fuss. If he has trouble leaving your side, practice by not following him everywhere he goes on the playground and encourage independent play at home by starting him on an activity and then stepping away. When you leave your child with other adults, you are sending the message that you trust his abilities and that he will be fine without you.
Parents sometimes underestimate a child’s potential for independence. While it may be tempting, do not do for a child what he or she can do for himself. Ask him to do simple chores such as putting dirty laundry in the hamper and setting the table. Kindergarteners will need to put up their backpacks, open juice boxes, clean up toys and take out supplies on their own. There is no way a teacher can help each individual child like a parent sometimes can, so it is important to help a child be more independent before starting school.
Cognitive skills are associated with learning. Flashcards, workbooks and directed learning activities are generally unnecessary (and relatively ineffective) for practicing skills best learned in the child’s natural environment and through play.
Kids love making choices, so play it up. Hold out your hands, four raisins in one and five in the other. “Do you want four or five?” They will learn practice counting while comparing the greater amount. “Do you want the red jelly bean or the green? Do you want your sandwich cut into triangles or rectangles?”
Sound! Can your child come up with words that rhyme or words that start with the same letter sound? Play the rhyming game and don’t worry if their words are made up. Encourage silliness. Sing songs and encourage them to sing along. Mix cognitive skills with motor skills by counting trampoline bounces and singing the ABC song while pushing him on the swing. Stop at random times of day and say in an excited voice, “Wait! Shhhh! What was THAT sound?” Even if there is nothing special happening there is always a sound to identify, even if it is just the dryer.
In evaluating a child’s readiness for kindergarten, it is important to take all three skills into account: social, motor and cognitive. Sometimes adults believe their child is ready for kindergarten because she can read, count, add and has known her letters since she was three, but is important to consider her physical and social maturity as well.
Once your child is ready, there is one more important question to ask. Are YOU ready to leave your “baby” at the door?
Jennifer VanBuren, a Georgetown educator, and her preschool-aged son are both (almost) ready for kindergarten to start!