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Preparing for Kindergarten: How to Promote Your Child's Readiness

Submitted by Heather on Tue, 12/18/2012 - 12:09

 

What skills will my child need to succeed in Kindergarten? The purpose of this blog entry is to provide a broad (but not comprehensive) overview of these skills and some more concrete information about how these skills are best supported at preschool and at home.


For those of you who have been with our preschool for over a year, you have had a parent-teacher conference that covers your child's development in 6 different domains.  These areas focus our observations and curriculum planning.  We implement what is called "Developmentally Appropriate Practice" to scaffold children's learning and development across these domains.

As your children get closer to graduating from Caterpillar Cottage, they are gaining skills in each of these areas. Many parents are interested to know which skills allow children to be ready for Kindergarten. What skills will my child need to succeed? There are also questions about how parents can best support their children in these areas at home. The purpose of this document is to provide a broad (but not comprehensive) overview of these skills and some more concrete information about how these skills are best supported at preschool and at home. If you are interested in activities that you can use to support your child's areas of development, we can send you age-specific activity suggestions as well.

Social Emotional Development

·         self-help skills

·         emotional regulation

·         positive relationships with peers and teachers

·         social problem-solving

·         perspective taking

Goals:

Our work at Caterpillar Cottage is to provide a community where children feel safe and socially confident. This is a place where children gain the tools over time to negotiate with their peers, listen to the needs of others, and feel that their voice and feelings are respected and honored by their teachers and their peers.

Preschool approach:

We take all children's feelings seriously and work hard to provide empathy and support as well as to celebrate with children in their successes. When conflicts arise, we work to help children find their own solutions that work for all children involved. Two approaches are central to our work here, empathy and facilitation of conflict resolution. We help children build a safe community where they know their needs are important, where they learn how to communicate these needs with their peers and teachers, and where they know their peer's needs are important too.

What you can do at home:

Play-dates with children from preschool help to further grow and develop peer relationships. These strong bonds are so important for children and help them gain perspective-taking skills, communication skills, cooperation skills, and to develop their own voice. Sometimes it is helpful to have play-dates with children your child doesn't usually interact with at preschool, helping to grow their preschool community in new ways.

Physical Development

Goals:

Children at Caterpillar Cottage are supported in the development of both large and small motor skills. Engaging in active outdoor physical play allows for children to develop strong coordination and movement skills, as well as supporting their cognitive development. Social skills and decision-making skills are benefited by a variety of large motor play opportunities. In addition to the vast benefits of physical play and activities, children are supported through numerous opportunities to develop fine motor strength in different scenarios and activities at preschool. These fine motor skills are essential for Kindergarten success, as they are important precursors to writing skills.

Preschool approach:

The large motor activities in our program include riding trikes, kicking and throwing balls, climbing, sliding, running, balancing, hopping and skipping. We have had many structured games such as duck, duck, goose and obstacle courses for the children to participate in. Over time, children gain more and more sophistication and ease. Fine motor skills are developed through a variety of art activities, play dough, bead stringing, cutting, using glue and glue sticks, sensory activities, manipulative and building activities, puzzles, and more. The eventual goal is for children to refine the muscle strength needed for holding a pen or pencil for writing and to be able to use classroom scissors and glue. Next to social emotional development (which encompasses a broad range of readiness skills), this fine motor strength is rated among Kindergarten teachers nationwide as very important.

What you can do at home:

At home you can encourage large motor skills in your own backyard or go to a variety of parks that provide different types of gross motor challenges. You can also encourage active play such as tag, soccer or other games with you or with another child. For fine motor development provide opportunities that are aligned with your child's interests. This can mean helping you with baking or food preparation (washing and peeling fruit for example), building things with blocks, using legos, play-dough, clay, as well as art activities (including different kinds of markers, crayons, pens or pencils, and providing supervised opportunities for using scissors and glue), digging in the mud or sand, water play and more. Helping to support your child in learning how to button a shirt, put on shoes, or zip a jacket works towards this fine motor goal as well.

Language Development

Goals:

We support children's development of a strong foundation in language skills at Caterpillar Cottage. Language development includes many skills such as listening to and understanding others, vocabulary growth, sentence structure, and learning to communicate clearly with others. Clear and concise communication with others is an important foundation for future literacy and life success. As children communicate with more complex statements, questions and vocabulary, these skills will contribute to their later success in reading comprehension and writing skills.

Preschool Approach:

Our teachers support language development through each activity throughout the day. Our frequent group discussions and more spontaneous conversations about the variety of activities and social interactions the children are having, children are gaining comprehension skills, the ability to understand and follow directions, express their thoughts and needs, listen to their peers, and understand the social and grammatical rules of language.  Children are given regular opportunities to contribute their ideas and answer questions in formal and informal settings.

What you can do at home:

At home you can provide frequent opportunities for your child to talk to you about things that interest them. Encourage a conversation by asking open-ended questions. It is important to give your child the time to say what they want to say. This practice might require patience as children are learning to speak and often need added time to put their thoughts together in spoken words and sentences. Talking with your child about what they think might come next in a story book is another way to build on their expressive language and cognitive skills. "Why?" is a favorite question for preschoolers and a great opportunity to start conversations about a variety of topics. You may not always have an answer, but taking the opportunity to talk about what you do and do not know will help to expand their language as well as their thinking skills. Don't be afraid to use new vocabulary words with your preschooler, they will learn these words quickly, especially if you take the time to explain what the word means.

Cognitive Development

Goals:

Our goal in facilitating children's cognitive development, is to provide an environment and interactions that support children in developing positive approaches to learning, and to strengthen children's abilities: to connect and remember experiences; to classify; and to think symbolically.

Preschool approach:

We are big supporters of play and exploration at Caterpillar Cottage. The research is clear and extensive that regular opportunities for high-quality dramatic play with peers is linked to cognitive competence. Dramatic play supports children in developing memory, thinking skills, problem solving skills, language skills, and academic proficiency. Some of the ways that we support cognitive development in play and in more structured teacher-directed activities are:

·         responding to child discoveries and explorations with enthusiasm and interest

·         supporting children in pursuing their own interests

·         taking the time to answer questions in ways that young children can understand

·         playing memory and pattern games

·         using sorting activities

·         having children respond to questions about how something might work or what might happen.

What you can do at home:

There are many ways you can support your child's cognitive development at home. Sorting laundry, jewelry or office supplies with you is one easy way to help build classification skills. Memory games are another fun way to engage your child's thinking skills. In addition to matching cards in a memory game, one way to do this is to start a game by saying say "Let's pretend we're going on a trip and we packed a pair of shoes." Encourage your child to think of another item. Then say "We're going on a trip and we packed a pair of shoes and (a jacket)". Take turns adding items to see if your child can remember them.  Engaging with your child in dramatic play is another way to build cognitive skills. Pretend scenarios are ripe with opportunities to help children grow their understandings of a variety of topics. Another fun activity is to make up fun stories with your child. Encouraging them to take part in this will support their cognitive development as well.

Literacy Development

Goals:

At Caterpillar Cottage we are dedicated to supporting children's early literacy development and love of books.  There are many areas that support the foundation necessary for reading and writing success. Recognizing letters and understanding what they represent (parts of words and sounds) seems easy to adults but these are actually complex concepts for many young children. This requires a level of abstract thinking and discrimination that takes time to develop. We support children in developing knowledge of the alphabet and the sounds that letters make, and provide a literacy-rich environment with opportunities for children to refine their fine motor skills as well as writing their names and opportunities to write within the context of their natural dramatic play.

Preschool Approach:

At preschool, our children are:

·         regularly read to in group and individual contexts (research has found this to be one of the most critical pieces for later reading success)

·         encouraged  to learn rhyming through rhyming games

·         given opportunities to think of words that start with certain letter sounds

·         exposed to letters in a variety of ways (moveable alphabet, sandpaper letters, stamps, play dough tools, name cards, sign in sheets, name stickers...)

·         given multiple opportunities to see their words written by teachers on their artwork, in their stories and in their letters home to mom or dad

Phonological awareness is a strong predictor of reading success in future years. Your child's Kindergarten curriculum will include learning the sounds that letters make and starting to sound out words, but we also start that here. As your child begins to develop the foundations needed for reading, she/he will:

·         start to notice things that rhyme

·         create rhymes of their own

·         sound out sounds and syllables in words

·         be able to tell you some things that start with certain letters or sounds

·         begin to notice that there are spaces between words in books

What you can do at home:

Play sound or rhyming games that allow your child some familiarity with the beginnings of words and the sounds letters make. For example, see if your child can think of things that start with the "b" sound. You can extend this to the environment to see if your child can bring you something that starts with this sound. You can also encourage exploration of letters by bringing them in to your home in the form of refrigerator magnets, stamps, play dough cutters,  and puzzles.  When you make a list of the things you are doing for the day or a list for the grocery store, you can talk about it as you are doing it to increase your child's interest in writing words on paper or on the computer. Play a game where your child types letters on the computer and you sound out the letters they type. This is a silly way to help them understand that each letter has a sound and that together they make new sounds.  Older children might be interested in making a letter dictionary, where each page has a different letter and pictures of things that start with that sound. Be careful to use consistent starting sounds at first, such as the way "a" sounds in apple and not mixing it with things like the sound of "a" in ape until your child has a strong foundation with the more common sound a letter makes. Within dramatic play, if a child is playing restaurant you can help them create a menu with pictures of foods and the words next to them, or if playing doctor give them a pad to write down prescriptions. The important thing is to support them in the things they are enthusiastic about. Emergent writing looks at first like scribbles but to the child these marks represent real words and you can ask them what they wrote.

Story comprehension and thinking skills are also part of literacy development. Asking open-ended questions and engaging with children as you read to them helps grow their brains and future capacity for understanding and recall. 

Mathematics Development

Goals:

Just as social-emotional and fine-motor skills are key to Kindergarten success, so are mathematical skills. We strive to support children in developing early mathematical concepts through routine, play and group contexts.  Children graduating from Caterpillar Cottage will have had many experiences that support them in learning number concepts, spatial relationships, as well as learning  about shapes, measurements, and patterns.

Preschool Approach:

We often model counting and distribution. Some examples are during reading times, reciting the numbers on our calendar at morning circle time, and when children are in the role of distributing plates for snack or lunch time. We also have many activities that are demonstrated which involve quantity, numerals, and one-to-one correspondence. Many of our songs that we use during transitions include natural pauses, giving our teachers the opportunity to call children's attention to the number of children who are still sitting or waiting. Shapes are also present in many of our materials and books. Teachers take the opportunity to talk with children about the kinds of shapes they see and help them learn the names of the various shapes.  Positional concepts and words are also important for young children to master. Over time, at preschool and at home your child will start to understand more and more what it means to be "in front of", "next to", "underneath", "behind", "between", "on top of" and "over". We have had formal and informal scenarios which help to build this knowledge for young children (some examples are books that we read which talk about spatial relationships, movement activities at circle times, and obstacle courses outside). Measurements are also explored in a variety of ways here. Blocks are key in helping children understand a variety of measurement and mathematical concepts. Estimations of how many or how long have also been a regular part of our approach here, in addition to providing measurement tools within the classroom and activities such as baking with measuring cups and spoons and using rulers or measuring tapes. Measurement concepts such as "how big is my foot in comparison to a dinosaur foot?" engage the children in an activity that is both engaging and develops mathematical concepts. Patterning activities are also very important and we implement these with bead stringing and ordering,  shape matching, pattern cards, and free flowing use of these materials in creating their own designs and constructions with different shapes and colors.

What you can do at home:

Calling your child's attention to the variety of counting, distribution and sorting activities you engage in at home will help them to notice these things more. Setting a table together is a great way to help children develop their mathematical minds. Baking with your child, following a recipe with them, and letting them put two cups of flour in the bowl or measure out three teaspoons of salt will introduce literacy, counting, and measurement concepts. Talking about what a pattern is and noticing them in the environment around you is another great way to bring math into your activities with your child. Some books have patterning themes such as The Napping House or The Relatives Came. Finding things that are the same and different also help children to develop their categorical minds which is the foundation for thought and communication. As children get older, they start to develop one-to-one correspondence. This means that 2 and 3 year olds may begin by counting without pointing to one thing with each number, they may say 1,2,3, but actually point to only 2 things. In time, this ability to count one thing at a time grows, it is important to acknowledge this is a normal starting place for children and each child will develop this ability as they gain the cognitive capacity to understand the concept. As with many new cognitive milestones, trying to make them understand by explaining it may just end in frustration and avoidance, so it is best to model it for them over time in a variety of scenarios and let your child make these discoveries as time goes by.

 

In our busy lives, finding time to do these kinds of activities with our children can be really difficult. Remember that many of these fun activities can be spontaneous conversations or games that you play in the car on the way somewhere or as part of a bedtime routine.  You may have noticed that informal conversations and engaging in play with your child goes a long way towards meeting all of these goals. There are also many opportunities through regular household activities that help introduce new concepts or practice skills that support your child's readiness for Kindergarten.

One book that we highly recommend is Mind in the Making by Ellen Galinsky. She summarizes the major research in early brain development and provides practical, easy to understand scenarios to help parents and educators apply this knowledge with children.