Preparing to master kindergarten

10 essentials kids need in order to succeed in big kid school

It’s hard to believe it, but my son will start kindergarten in August. So school readiness is top-of-mind in our house. He attends preschool and practices writing letters. We read together and work on letter sounds and number sense.

Of all the many skills kids need in school, the most important ones can be hard to pick out.

Perhaps surprisingly, many experts say some of the most critical kindergarten readiness skills aren’t necessarily academic but have more to do with social and emotional development. Sarah Hardinger, a former kindergarten teacher and a Lee’s Summit mom of two preschoolers, believes very strongly in this.

“Parents should be honing in on the physical well-being first,” Hardinger says. “When you have a properly functioning brain due to sleep, diet and supplements, the body can work at it’s prime…In my mind the physical is the foundation work to having proper social and emotional skills going into kindergarten, and learning through play would be the largest piece of social and emotional development.”

To this end, Sarah recommends pretend play, role play, board games, puzzles, I Spy games and real-life problem-solving games as good kindergarten preparatory activities.

To break down some of the top skills needed for school readiness, here’s our list of 10 essentials children need when entering kindergarten:

1. A sense of physical well-being.

A child needs plenty of sleep and a well-rounded diet in order to learn properly. Hardinger recommends plenty of protein for breakfast and having children of this age get between nine and 11 hours of sleep a night.


2. The ability to be empathetic to others.

Children will interact with many others at school, and to learn best, they will need to know how to function as a part of a class. This involves being kind, courteous, treating others as they want to be treated and having the ability to understand how someone else might feel.


3. Understanding the art of a conversation.

As a child attempts to interact in a class, she needs to know how to carry on a conversation. Learning to strike a balance between talking and listening to others is important. Does a child really listen to what others have to say?

Local kindergarten teacher Laura Krueger also says it’s important for a child to have basic social problem-solving skills and understand how to resolve a minor conflict with a peer without having to always tell the teacher about the small things.

With these conversation skills, children need to know when is an appropriate time to have a conversation and when it’s time to be quiet and listen.


4. Having good self-help skills.

Can a child do things like zip his coat, pack his backpack and open his own lunch container? Often, more than 20 children are in a classroom, and they all need to be able to do basic tasks for themselves.


5. Being a self-advocate.

Does the child have the courage to speak up in a respectful manner if she has a question or if she is being overlooked? Does she also know how to tell another child she doesn’t like how that child is acting toward her?

Also, saying no to peer pressure is a learning process throughout childhood and adolescence, and kindergarten is a good time to start learning that it’s okay to not do what everyone else is doing.


6. Having reasonable amounts of attentiveness.

Childhood was meant for play, and 5- and 6-year-olds sure aren’t designed to sit all day! Recess and play are critical parts of kindergarten, but attention is also required for time in the classroom. Does the child have the ability to sit long enough to read a story and hear a simple concept explained to him?

The ability to follow multi-step instructions is important as well, as teachers expect children to follow various instructions.


7. Learning visual and auditory alphabet recognition.

Prereading skills are essential. The ability to recognize what the letters look like and start to understand what sounds they make are necessary framework to learn to read.

Local kindergarten teacher Sun Santon says other language skills, such as understanding rhyming words and opposite and positional words, are important and often a topic of discussion in the classroom. Comparison and sequencing skills also come into play.


8. Mastery of motor skills.

Both fine and gross motor skills are important. Fine motor skills involve things you do with your hands: grip a pencil or crayon, use scissors, open a bottle of glue, etc. In a world that is so technology driven, fine motor skills often suffer, but they are no less important.

Gross motor skills involve jumping, skipping, hopping, running and other movements that will be put to use on the playground and in other physical activities.


9. Working on beginning writing skills.

A child needs to know how to write her name and have a basic introduction to writing letters. This skill involves a significant amount of fine motor dexterity.


10. Being introduced to math basics.

Recognizing basic numbers and understanding what they mean is a skill that will be built on in kindergarten, as adding and subtracting small numbers will be introduced. Hardinger says this number sense involves not just recognizing a number, but understanding what four, five or six of something looks like.


Also, recognizing shapes and colors is something children are expected to know.

In the midst of all the important academic skills that must be learned in early childhood, the social and emotional life skills are often the framework for everything else.

“When (children) are socially and emotionally ready, they are going to be quicker learners,” Santon says. “Things are going to come easier when they don’t have social and emotional struggles. They will be ready to learn.”


Starting school with confidence: A true/false quiz on kindergarten basics

  • In kindergarten, academic skills are more important than social and emotional skills. FALSE
  • Kids who have good social and emotional skills will often find other academic and life skills will fall into place. TRUE
  • Play is an essential part of learning. TRUE
  • In a technology-driven world, fine motor skills aren’t needed anymore. FALSE
  • Teaching children to do things for themselves is part of preparing for kindergarten. TRUE

Allison Gibeson is a freelance writer from Lee’s Summit who is having fun teaching her 5-year-old these kindergarten readiness skills.

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