Was it so long ago that kindergarten activities consisted of recess, coloring, and cookies and milk? We all fondly remember being excited to leave home and start school, and even more excited to see Mom again after two hours of learning to socialize, singing songs, and playing. Over the years kindergarten has evolved to be considered a crucial part of a child’s academic development. Thanks to Arizona’s new education standards kindergarten academics now include counting to 100, speaking and writing in full sentences, and reading and comprehending simple books.
The increased standards come with quite a “wow” factor when you consider that a single kindergarten teacher guides, coaches and leads more than 25 5-year-old children to achieve these standards in a 40-week school year. So what can we do to make sure that our preschool age children are prepared for kindergarten?
Did you know that 90 percent of a child's brain develops before they enter kindergarten? Kindergarten teachers feel most successful when children arrive ready socially for the classroom setting and eager to learn. Preschools and child-care settings are equipped to tap into children’s natural curiosity to foster kindergarten readiness. Parents can also do much to support their child's learning in the early years.
Some suggestions for helping your child get ready for the kindergarten setting include:
• Self-help skills are critical to a child’s success in school. Children should be able to dress and undress themselves, go to the bathroom and wash their hands unassisted, feed themselves including scooping food, pouring beverages, and using napkins and utensils.
• Children must develop the ability to listen. Teachers not only hope, but expect parents to be reading to their children every day. Children who are read to develop many skills which include the ability to focus their attention on what they are seeing and hearing.
• Children are natural investigators. Set aside some time each day just to answer those never-ending questions. Sharing in their natural curiosity will not only assist in your child’s learning, but also develop language and vocabulary skills.
• Provide activities with a purpose. Coloring and cutting build the hand muscles to improve fine motor skills, and recognizing shapes and colors and letters and numbers can be accomplished by noticing patterns and signs and discussing the scenery while driving or shopping.
• Playing in groups is important. Kindergarten children are expected to play nicely with others although teachers will remind children share, and wait in line, and take turns, and “use their words” to solve their problems.
• Parents should foster independence. Preschool children should be able to follow simple two to five step instructions such as “please put away your toys and wash your hands for dinner.”
Every day there are opportunities to maximize that 90 percent of brain development before the age of 5 while you are relaxing and enjoying your children or on outings. Early years are the learning years. Kindergarten may have gotten harder, but preparing your child can be easy.
Dana Vela is president of Valley-based Sunrise Preschools.