As a kindergarten teacher I often hear from parents who are concerned about whether or not their child is ready for school. My feelings about this are that if a child is legally old enough to attend kindergarten and is excited about going to school, then that child is ready. However, I do realize that doesn’t answer the question for most parents.
There are some things that make kindergarten teachers very happy if children come in already knowing. That said, a child not knowing these things certainly isn’t cause for concern. They’ll learn these things in kindergarten.
These things don’t need to be explicitly taught or drilled to children. They will learn them best through conversation and activities done together.
Academic skills that are helpful for kindergarten include being able to identify letters, both uppercase and lowercase. When you read books together, notice letters and talk about them some. When you’re at the store, point out letters and name them. If you help your child notice letters they will be interested in learning about them.
The same holds true for numbers. Letters and numbers are symbolic. There’s nothing about an S that is inherently s-like. There’s nothing about a 5 that suggests five. They are symbols children have to learn and memorize. Being able to identify and name numbers from zero to nine is exceptionally helpful. Numbers are everywhere around us. Notice them, share them with your child.
In addition to identifying letters and numbers, children have to learn more than just their names. With letters, children need to learn the sounds they make (no easy feat in English as some letters make multiple sounds and even more sounds when attached to another letter). With numbers, children need to learn the quantity that is represented.
Counting objects can be done frequently. Count carrots as you put them on a plate, count toys as you put them away, count cars you walk past as you go into the library, and so on. Counting to ten is wonderful, counting to twenty is astounding. Those teen numbers are a real pain as they don’t follow a pattern closely. As a result, children often struggle with the rote memorization of them.
One last idea is rhyming. There is research to show that rhyming plays an important role in children’s literacy development. It can be a challenge to understand so playing around with rhymes is a wonderful thing to do. Rhyme your child’s name, even if it means making up nonsense words. Rhyme words your child likes to say. Anything that works!
All of these things, letters and their sounds, numbers and their quantities, rhyming, will help your child in kindergarten. None of them are as important for a child’s development as talking with them and reading to them. Preschoolers ask a ridiculous number of questions every day. It can wear a parent down. (I know, I have two daughters. They are past this age but the memory is still strong.) Listening to those questions and responding, with answers or with your own questions, supports a child’s oral language development as well as their larger understanding of the world.
The more things children have discussed, the more background knowledge they carry with them. This, too, will help them as they become readers and writers and more mature thinkers.
Children are natural learners. It begins from day one. They learn so much about their world and themselves in their first few years. They learn to walk and talk and play in many different ways. Children are ready for school. They’re always learning.
Jennifer Orr is in her 18th year of teaching. She currently teaches kindergartners and has also taught first, fourth, and fifth graders. She is mom to two daughters, a third grader and a seventh grader.