Whether your son is starting kindergarten at 5 or 6, that fateful day will be here faster than you think. You know you’ll never be truly prepared to let him go but you want to make sure he’s ready.
Kindergarten brings with it all kinds of new experiences, expectations, and interactions for your son. It’s also the beginning of his academic career, a new stage of life that will extend 12, 16, or more years beyond his first day of school. Success in kindergarten lays the groundwork for success later on.
Before you put him on the bus or drop him off at his classroom, what skills can you start practicing with your son now to help him do well in kindergarten?
We asked educational consultant Carol Kilan to tell us the skills she looks for when evaluating a child’s readiness for kindergarten. We also offer tips on how to develop these four critical skills in children that aren’t quite there yet.
Skill 1: Your son can self-regulate.
To do well in kindergarten, your son should be able to sit still for 10 to 15 minutes without being distracted. If he has to constantly move around or talk with others, he may not be ready.
“For your son to learn, he should be able to focus and pay attention to the teacher or to an activity,” Carol says.
This skill, Carol says, is called “self-regulation.” The National Association for the Education of Young Children compares self-regulation to a thermostat. By kindergarten, children should be able to take the temperature of the room around them and adjust their behavior accordingly.
Here are a few tips from Today’s Parent on helping your child learn to self-regulate.
Skill 2: Your son can follow simple instructions most of the time.
Kindergarten—and certainly the years of school that follow it—involves a lot of listening to directions, understanding them, and following them. Will your son be able to take in what the teacher says and act on it?
Your son doesn’t need to understand “big SAT words,” Carol says. Kindergarten teachers know to talk clearly and deliberately, using simple words and sentences. But your son should be able to follow along when you tell him stories or give him instructions. If he seems lost when you or other adults speak with him, it could be a sign he still has some difficulty understanding language.
To help your son develop his listening skills, the experts interviewed for this Scholastic Parents article recommend reading to him every day, pausing to ask questions like, “Why do you think that happened?” and “How would you feel if that happened to you?”
Skill 3: Your son has mastered age-appropriate fine motor skills.
Crafts and handwriting projects remain classics of the kindergarten curriculum for good reason. Cutting, assembling, drawing, and writing will give your son’s fine motor skills a workout, training him to master the many tiny muscular manipulations that will give him independent control over his world.
Opening doors, buttoning up his clothes, packing his bag, organizing his desk, brushing his teeth — all these things require fine motor skills. Writing his name, drawing a picture, and operating a computer do, as well.
This Parents article lists some of the fine motor skills your son should perfect during his preschool and pre-kindergarten years. They include pasting things onto paper, building a tower of 10 blocks, and using pencils and crayons well enough to draw a picture. With these skills under his belt, your son will be ready to take on the more difficult challenges of kindergarten.
Skill 4: Your son can play with other children, not just next to them.
When children are very young, they may enjoy being around other children, but they tend to play individually. This is called parallel play.
Parallel play is an important developmental stage. It helps children get used to being around each other and, once they’re comfortable, take the first tentative steps toward interacting with each other.
“You see parallel play most often in the early preschool years,” Carol explains. “Two children are sitting next to each other, playing with clay, but they’re not really engaging. One doesn’t say to the other, ‘What are you making?’”
In kindergarten, your son will be asked to work and play in groups with other children. So he should have advanced past parallel play by the time he starts.
If your son is still in the parallel play phase, be sure to schedule frequent playdates for him as the start of kindergarten approaches.
“It’s important that your son spends time in the company of other children for several reasons,” Carol says. “It gives him the opportunity to negotiate conversations, it teaches him how to behave as a friend, and it gives him practice working and interacting with others his own age.”
Where to give your son a head start on the skills he’ll need to do well in kindergarten.
In addition to practicing these skills at home, you can help your son prepare for kindergarten by enrolling him in a high-quality pre-kindergarten program. As the kindergarten teachers at The Fessenden School have found, boys who have attended a quality pre-kindergarten program are often primed for success in kindergarten.
Read more about how a year in pre-K can help your son start strong in kindergarten in “A Teacher’s Perspective: 3 Reasons Pre-K Students Do Better in Kindergarten.”
If you’re looking for a good kindergarten or pre-K program, be sure to get a free copy of the Pre-K & Kindergarten Private School Visit Checklist to aid you in your search.
How do you help your child practice the skills he’ll need in kindergarten? Share your tips with other parents in the comments section below.