There are several important kindergarten-readiness skills for children to work on during the preschool years (age 3 and 4) which lay the foundation for success in the early years of school. If you are choosing a preschool for your child, you will want to ensure that they are working on all these areas. If you are choosing not to do formal preschool, keep these skills in mind as you plan your activities and move through your days with your child, so that they will accomplish them by age 5.
- Independence: Children learn to toilet, dress themselves, feed themselves, and clean up their toys. It often feels easier and more efficient for parents (or preschool teachers) to do these things for a child, but children only learn by doing things for themselves. (With gentle correction of their mistakes when needed.)
- Patience and Self-Regulation: Children learn to wait, take turns, share, stand in line, not interrupt, work to solve a problem on their own without always asking for help, and so on. Children in a group preschool setting simply have to do this. At home, parents may want to remind themselves to not always jump to meet a child’s needs immediately, but instead work on delayed gratification for the child. (Ask them to wait a few minutes for something. Require that they calm down and ask for something politely before giving it to them.
- Emotional stability: Children learn to control their temper, calm themselves down when upset, and move forward when they’re sad.
- Social Skills – Making Friends and Conflict Resolution: These are best practiced in unstructured playtime with other kids that’s not guided by adults, such as play-dates and playground time. Having consistent playmates over a long period of time helps to build these skills at a deeper level, so look for opportunities such as preschool, neighbor kids, church members, cousins, etc.
- Group Participation: Children learn to sit quietly for 10 – 15 minutes at a time, learn to pay attention to someone else speaking or reading a story, and learn to join in group activities like songs. Most preschools offer one or two “circle” times per class to work on this; parents can also look for story times at their library.
- Listens to and relates to non-family-member adult: To succeed in school, a child needs to be able to separate from his or her parent, to listen to and obey the instructions of another adult, and get support from another adult.
- Can answer simple questions about events or his/her environment
- Can follow 2 step directions. (Do this, then that.)
- Academic Foundations. The following is a sample list of basic skills for children to gain, all of which can be taught gradually in a relaxed, playful manner.
- Can say the letters of the alphabet, recognize them in writing, maybe write a few.
- Can say numbers 1 – 20 in order, can recognize written numbers, count 10 objects.
- Can draw a picture to express what he is thinking about / talking about.
- Knows basic ideas like colors, shapes, days of the week, seasons, and opposites.
- Can manage basic school supplies: crayons, pencil, scissors, glue, tape, blocks.
- Has basic computer / technology skills: can use a mouse and a touchscreen.
Note: all those categories are equally important… in many ways patience and self-regulation is much more important than the academic skills… If a kindergarten child knows how to sit still and listen, learning the alphabet is easy. If they can’t sit still, then learning much else will be hard!
Should your preschooler learn to read?
Parents can offer an environment that encourages literacy and basic math knowledge by simple things like: reading lots of books together, counting stairs, pointing out words on signs, singing songs and keeping the beat. If your child is passionate about letters and numbers very early, it’s fine to encourage that through more reading, math play, interaction, etc. Some children naturally learn to read or do math quite young.
However, it’s not essential that they do so! Although it is possible to use flashcards, worksheets and apps to teach children to read and/or do math at a very young age, there’s no need to do so. Although those children would enter kindergarten ahead of the other kids, the benefits all even out by midway through elementary school. And studies have found that the kids who were drilled early tended to have more anxiety about academics later on than those who were gently encouraged. (Learn more: http://trevorcairney.blogspot.com/2009/02/your-baby-can-read-part-2.html and http://www.todaysparent.com/family/parenting/earlier-faster-better-precocious-kids/_
If you live in Bellevue, WA, the Bellevue School District has a really nice overview of kindergarten readiness, how to prepare your child for starting school and what to expect: https://bsd405.org/wp-content/pdf/kindergarten/welcome-to-kindergarten.pdf