kindergarten readiness

Providing a Foundation for Academic Success in Preschool Friendly Ways

Back to school

I am firmly in the learning through play camp when it comes to preschoolers and early academics. Done in a good way, this doesn’t mean just let them play and they’ll be ready. It means thoughtfully providing academic experiences in fun, engaging and play based ways.

Early Literacy Skills to Keep in Mind – Early literacy is focused on the experiences we can provide children to later become successful readers.

Vocabulary – There are so many ways to build a young child’s vocabulary; read aloud everyday, talk about all the things they are seeing and doing, take them on outings and highlight the new vocabulary of that place and aim to teach one new word in context every few days.

Print Motivation – This is a child’s interest in and awareness of books. Motivation can be encouraged by having books available on every level of the house and in the car, and using reading as a reward (“You can stay up late if you are reading”). You might also offer extended learning activities, if you read Blueberries for Sal then make blueberry muffins. Attending library and bookstore activities with read alouds and checking out library books also build motivation.

Print Awareness – This is the child’s understanding about how books go cover to cover, and the words go top to bottom and left to right. It is a gradual understanding of word spacing and later sentence structure. This comes from a child’s shared and independent experiences with books. Reading aloud everyday and occasionally following along with your finger is a good ways to call attention to the print. Pointing out words that match pictures in books may help. Listening and looking at books on tape together is beneficial.

Narrative Skills – Narrative skills include being able to retell a story, understand the order and be able to eventually sequence events. Answering questions about what’s been read and recalling specific details of a story is a good place to start. Occasionally discussing what happened at the beginning, middle and end of a story is helpful. Calling grandma each Monday and retelling a story about something that happened over the weekend is a good way to practice this.

Letter Knowledge – This is the child learning the shapes, names and sounds of each of the letters. It’s tempting here to go more old school academic with flashcards and worksheets, I’d still err on the side of play. Have a letter of the week and collect small objects in the house that start with that sound. Go on letter hunts in the grocery store to find as many individual letters as you can and cross them off a list, have a B shopping trip to buy bagels and butter, blueberries and beans and go home to a B lunch. Paint and sculpt the letters. Play matching games, memory and go fish with the letters.

Phonics – This is being able to put the individual sounds together to make words, pull individual sounds out of words, recognize beginning, ending and eventually middle sounds of words and later learn the common patterns of sound blends. It is helpful to play rhyming games, have listening challenges and sing nursery rhymes. It can be helpful to read aloud books that have basic rhyming patterns such as Dr. Seuss and Mother Goose books.

READ ALOUD EVERYDAY – The Department of Education cites reading aloud as the most important activity to build the knowledge and interest for children to become successful readers. There are many ways to enjoy reading aloud with young children and with children as they get older. The main idea is to start on day one and continue to build the love of books and reading together as long as they will listen. For younger children just enjoying books together, looking at and talking about the pictures, making up stories, finding details in pictures all count as time with books. For older children you might alternate who reads, read their homework aloud or read separately and have book club talks.

Early Math Language to Keep in Mind – There are four areas of math language that can be built in to all the play and activities you are doing in the regular flow of the day. This language builds the foundation for understanding basic math concepts.

Numbers and Counting – Count napkins when you set the table and apples as you put them in the bag at the grocery store. Count often and challenge children to gradually count larger groups of things. Estimation language is a piece of this. Once children are versed at basic counting, estimating how many cookies in a jar or marbles in a bag helps with later math skills.

Position – Position language includes in, on, over, under, near, far, above, below, next to, in front of and behind. You might hide toys and give clues to finding them using this language. You might build an obstacle course and narrate or have people narrate themselves moving through. You might play Simon Says or Follow the Leader using this language.

Measurement – Measurement language is talking about how big or small, short or tall, heavy or light things are. For younger children this might be sequencing big, bigger, biggest. For older children this might be measuring things in inches or feet and then comparing.

Amount – Amount includes some, more, a little, a lot, more than and less than language. This also includes actual amounts like a quarter cup, half cup and whole cup. Baking and cooking activities are an easy way to build in actual amount.

Motor Skills to Keep in Mind – There are many fine motor and gross motor skills that are important for later academics, particularly for handwriting which is important across academic areas.

Pincer grasp and in-hand manipulation are important for eventual pencil grip and pencil pressure. Pincer grasp is practiced by putting pennies in a bank, using tweezers to move cotton balls and putting together puzzles with gradually smaller pieces. In-hand manipulation is practiced playing with small manipulatives including duplos and legos, bristle blocks, Lincoln logs and tinker toys.

Bilateral integration is important for eventual coordination for handwriting. Bilateral integration is using both sides of your body and in this case both hands in a coordinated way. For using your whole body this includes crawling, skipping, and swimming. For your hands this includes most craft activities such as lacing and sewing cards, weaving looms and latch-hook rugs. Midline activities and crossing midline activities include songs with clapping and simple motions like The Wheels on the Bus and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. This also includes popping bubbles and throwing or rolling and catching balls on one side of your body and the other.

Offer a wide range of art supplies – There is a different pencil grip and pressure to using thick and thin markers, different crayons, pens, pencils, dot art, roller art and pebble and ball crayons. The wider range of experience the better. Once they are comfortable provide a wide range of writing activities. This includes scratch paper, invisible books, dot to dots and mazes.

Offer in range of postures – Think of the different postures for art and writing at a table versus on the floor, or in a bean bag versus at an easel, or laying on your back with paper taped to the underside of a table. All of this benefits handwriting.

Ways to Encourage Confidence in the Classroom from Home

Teacher with children in kindergarten

Build a broad base of knowledge – When the teacher talks about a new topic in class, it’s helpful if your child has a fund of related knowledge. There are several ways to build this.

  • Focus on building your child’s vocabulary – A child’s vocabulary scores are often reflective of their overall cognitive scores. A rich vocabulary supports confidence in the classroom and reading comprehension.
  • Lots of outings – Everywhere you take your child, you are exposing them to new vocabulary and information. While museums, art galleries and nature walks are great, the beach, pumpkin patches and sports outings also count. Be sure you are answering questions and talking to your child about all they are seeing and doing at each.
  • Read aloud everyday – Aside from being cited as the single most important factor in building successful readers, reading aloud builds a child’s vocabulary and broadens their base of knowledge.

Play school – You might play school at home and encourage your child to be the teacher. During this game they can teach you about any topics they are learning in school.

Playdates with classmates – The more they know and are comfortable with classmates, the more likely they are to be comfortable speaking in front of them. It can be helpful to arrange playdates with a wide range of children from their classes.

Challenges in play – If your child is building a tower, you might challenge them to build it taller or think of two new ways to build the base. When children have a lot of practice at taking on challenges in play, they are more likely to do the same in the classroom. When the teacher says, “who can do this problem on the board?” they are a little more likely to raise their hand and try.

Encourage risk taking in moderation – Children have to take risks to learn to ride a bike. It can be a risk to stand up in front of the class and speak. Encouraging a healthy level of risk taking in play and in life can help them feel confident to participate in class. This might be jumping off something at the park that’s a little higher than the last time or holding just one hand not two for balance.

Ask about school – It can be helpful to shake up the questions you ask after school. If everyday you ask, “how was your day?” Kids tend to give the easy answer, “fine.” There are hundreds of other questions you could ask. Here are a few related to participation and confidence:

  • “Was there anything really hard to do today?” and, “how did you figure it out?”
  • “What did you learn about in science class today?” and, “did you already know anything about that or was it all new?”
  • “Did you have to work in groups today?” and, “how did it go?”
  • “Did you raise your hand and answer any questions today?”

School skills in real life – If your second grader is learning how to count money, carry cash and let them be your banker. Let them count the money to and from cashiers. For a seventh grader learning to calculate percentages, have them figure out the tip at restaurants.

Teach flexible thinking – Flexible thinking includes teaching kids to brainstorm ideas or solutions and think about the range of related outcomes. This might be encouraging children to come up with a plan B when their first plan doesn’t work. You might practice plan A vs. plan B for small issues often. You can also teach flexible thinking by playing games like Gobblet, Connect Four and Labrynith which require players to make new strategies often.

Encourage persistence – When a child is stuck, you might give a bit of empathy and ask them questions or give them hints to help them move forward. You might help them break the task down into smaller pieces. I’d also highlight the benefits of practice and that the more they try, the more likely they are to solve and the easier it may seem the next time.

Focus praise on effort, process and progress more than outcomes – When a child gets a good grade, it can be helpful to focus your language on how much they studied and how hard they worked. When they win a race, focus on how often they practiced and how much they’ve improved their time.

Starting at a New School this Fall?

Back to school

Whether your child is starting at a new preschool or elementary school, the first day can be daunting. There are several things you can do over the summer months to help prepare for the first day.

  • Visit the school’s website – Explore the website with your child. Point out pictures of happy children and read about fun yearly activities. Look for pictures of your child’s teacher or classroom.
  • Play on the school’s playground – If it’s available, playing on the school’s playground can build happy memories during the summer that might carry over to the fall.
  • Plan playdates with future classmates – If you have a class list, start contacting families over the summer to play or meet at the pool. If there’s no class list, you might ask neighborhood families if they have or know other children starting at the school. It can be so helpful to see a familiar face on the first day.
  • Attend all back-to-school nights and visit-the-classroom opportunities – This is partly to support your child’s gradual entrance to the new school, and partly to be sure you are an informed parent. Often teachers review school policies and give important information at these events. The more you know about the school the better.
  • Review the drop-off and pick up policies and have a plan for separation as needed – Share the plan for drop-off and pick-up with your child. As best you can, be sure they know where to go and what to do. If your child tends to have separation anxiety, it’s good to know the school’s policy for this as well. Here is a link to a blog post about separation: https://parentingbydrrene.com/2012/07/23/tips-for-separation-at-the-start-of-the-school-year/. Here is a link to a 20 minute podcast (#341) I gave on managing separation anxiety: http://www.parentsperspective.org/index.php?s=separation.
  • Re-establish bedtime and mealtime routines – If you’ve lost a sense of routine, it’s good to rebuild this at least several days before school starts. If children are allowed to stay up late and sleep in the day before school, getting up and getting ready on time can be that much harder. If your kids are grazers over the summer months, it can be helpful to get back to regular meal and snack times as well.
  • Remind them of other positive transitions they’ve made or you’ve made – Remind them how much fun they had when they started at a new camp last summer or when they joined a new soccer team. Tell upbeat stories about when you started school.
  • Read upbeat children’s storybooks about the start of school –   Upbeat books include DW’s Guide to Preschool by Brown, What to Expect at Preschool by Murkoff,  If You Take a Mouse to School by Numeroff, Kindergarten, Here I Come by Steinberg and Welcome to Kindergarten by Rockwell.

Ways to Avoid Summer Academic Loss

Sisters reading book in summer park

Many studies site that children have an average of a two month academic loss over the summer months. With a little effort, you save their hard gained knowledge and may even help them make gains! Here are some ideas to support them while still having fun:

  • Practice school skills in real life – If your second grader was learning to count money, make them the “family cashier” for the summer. Stop using your cards and carry cash, let them count the money to and from at each transaction.
  • Play school – Little ones may willingly take turns being the teacher and the student. When they are the teacher, ask them to explain a math skill they recently learned. When they are the student, ask them to read aloud to the class.
  • Take field trips – My family is lucky to live in the Washington D.C. area. We have the Smithsonian Museums, National Zoo, Virginia battlefields and Baltimore Aquarium all within an hour drive. Within a day trip we can travel to Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown Island and fantastic museums in Philadelphia. Take advantage of academically related field trips in your community.
  • Take nature walks – There is so much to be learned in the world around us. Summer is the perfect time to get them out in nature. A great book about this is Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder by Louv.
  • Make writing fun – When you travel, encourage them to write post cards and keep a daily vacation journal. Provide other writing activities like invisible books, spirograph, stencils, mazes and Mad Libs.
  • Challenge math in everyday ways – Talk about the math involved when you pump gas. For older children, teach them to calculate miles per gallon since the last fill up.  If you eat out, teach them to calculate the tip. Take them bowling and teach them to keep score.
  • Read aloud everyday – Reading aloud to children everyday is sited by the Department of Education as the single most important activity to build successful readers. Aim for 20 minutes a day and enjoy when it’s longer. Read aloud to them through high school if they’ll listen.
  • If they are reading aloud – Encourage children to practice their own read aloud skills. This can be reading to a sibling, to the dog or even a stuffed animal.
  • Encourage quiet reading time everyday – Again, aim for 20 minutes and appreciate when it lasts longer. Make this easy for them, bring books in the car or let them stay up later at night if they are reading.
  • Plan a book club – If they are at all interested, invite a few friends to read the same book with them. Then plan a party to celebrate.
  • Investigate library activities – Public libraries in our area host many fun children’s programs in the summer months. They also have a children’s reading challenge that ends with earning a coupon book for area businesses. Check out your local library!
  • Focus on vocabulary when you travel – There is new vocabulary available everywhere you travel. Discuss all the things you see with your children, provide definitions as you are able. There is beach vocabulary, zoo vocabulary, farm vocabulary, airport vocabulary…
  • Puzzles, board games, cooking and crafts – Play provides learning opportunities such as puzzles for spatial reasoning, board games for social skills and often math skills, cooking and crafts for following directions, tending to details, math and fine motor skills. Spend time this summer playing with your children.
  • Workbooks – My least favorite, but probably most reliable, way to do a little summer review work is workbooks. My children didn’t mind the Summer Bridge Activities workbooks. http://www.summerbridgeactivities.org/

Please share your own ideas below!

Best New Learning Builds on Previous Knowledge

When your child is challenged by a new problem, the idea is to remind them of what they already know and build from there. This can help make the task seem more manageable and provide a familiar strategy.

Let’s say your child has mastered 25 piece puzzles, and they are starting on a 60 piece puzzle for the first time. If they get to a point of frustration, you might remind them of previous strategies such as, “I remember the last puzzle, you started by finding all the edge pieces.” This helps them to break the big task into smaller tasks, and puts them on a familiar path towards problem solving.

When your third grader is starting to learn her multiplication tables, you might start by showing her how multiplication is repeat addition. She’s already mastered addition, so multiplication may seem a more managable task this way.

Building Academic Motivation

Throughout your child’s education, it is important to build a sense of home-school connection. There is benefit for your child’s academic motivation if they feel you value their school, and that their school welcomes you. There are so many ways you can work to build this bridge.

  • Take an interest in their progress – Ask how school is going, what they do or don’t enjoy about their day and keep up with their grades. This also allows you to intervene early if there is a concern.
  • Check and discuss their homework – Unless their teacher says otherwise, err on the side of checking homework for completeness and effort rather than accuracy. If you do check for accuracy, make a note to let the teacher know where they originally struggled.
  • Expand on school learning – If they are learning about a war, take them to that monument. If they are learning to count money, make them the family banker who pays with cash and counts in both directions for every purchase.
  • Participate at school when and how you can – If you have the time, be a room parent. If not, go on the fieldtrips and send in supplies whenever you can. Be sure to meet the teacher, and at least keep up with the PTA.

Other way to build motivation:

  • Read aloud everyday – Reading skills are essential for success across academic subjects. Building a love of reading and related skills is a strong piece of later academic motivation.
  • Help them to fully investigate their own areas of interest – If your child is interested in the rainforest, take them to the rainforest room at the aquarium and the zoo, watch the rainforest episode of Magic School Bus or join the Rainforest Alliance.
  • Share your own learning – Let them know when you take classes or read books on new topics, let them know you are excited about learning.

To learn more about this and other ways to build motivation and manage homework, join me for my workshop on Managing Homework and Academic Motivation. This is scheduled for September 18th from 7:00-9:00 p.m. For more information and to register, please visit http://www.eventbrite.com/org/283710166?s=1328924.

Kindergarten Readiness

As a follow-up to my Kindergarten Readiness workshop today, I wanted to post a few notes:

  • Kindergarten teachers are not often as stressed as parents about an individual child’s readiness for Kindergarten. From the teacher’s standpoint, there are two main categories, academic readiness and social readiness. Across studies, social readiness ranks higher on teachers’ scales of importance. Social readiness includes things like being able to listen and follow directions, being able to sit still, being able to participate in a group activity and play skills like sharing and turn taking.
  • It may be important to consider the tendency to wait a year of other families in your school district. With some children starting who turn five the day of requirement, and others who bypass that by more than a year, there is a wide age range for children entering the classroom. This increases what was already a wide range of skills.
  • If you are planning to delay the start of Kindergarten for a specific reason, the next step is to start thinking about the best use of that year. If there is a specific concern, see the right people, get the right homework, read the right books. Make a plan to use the time wisely.

This is a topic that could stand further discussion. Please post your related questions in the comment section below.

Exactly! Downside of E-Readers for Young Children

So, I’ve been asked many times in the last year for my thoughts about young children playing on iPads or reading on Kindles. My answers always lean towards it being better to play with toys or each other and read books rather than screens. Even when it’s just to occupy them because you need a minute, I would much rather parents hand their three-year-old a crayon and piece of paper than a phone with an open app. When it comes to early reading, my sense has been there is value in experiencing the book, in turning the pages, taking in the pictures and talking about the story. Thankfully, my favorite technology writer Lisa Guernsey has pulled together a fuller answer in her Time Ideas article titled Why EReading With Your Kid Can Impede Learning http://ideas.time.com/2011/12/20/why-ereading-with-your-kid-can-impede-learning/?xid=gonewsedit. If your pre- or early reader is already on a screen, check this out for tips on how to use it better and consider setting and enforcing time limits.

Lisa Guernsey is the director of the New America Foundation’s Early Education Initiative and author of Into the Minds of Babes: How Screen Time Affects Children From Birth to Age Five. Great book!

Parent Tips from Teachers

This time of year, I provide a lot of teacher trainings at area preschools and grade schools. I have been listening the last two weeks and wanted to share some tips from these teachers for parents as we all start the school year.

  • Know the school’s policies – This means, read the handbook. If you have follow-up questions, please ask. This can often save time and frustration for all. The more everyone knows the plan and is on board the better.
  • Offer to help when you can – If you have some free time, even after school hours, your offer to help is always appreciated and often accepted. There are so many ways teachers can put you to work from cutting art supplies at home, to organizing a craft cabinet, to reading at story time or helping in the lunchroom.
  • Be on time – Teachers often have set activities during the drop-off window. It tends to ease separations if children arrive to the same activity each day. Children who arrive late may also miss valuable information and have a harder time completing morning work.
  • Let teachers know if there are changes at home or other concerns – It can be very helpful for teachers to be aware of changes and stressors like a move, lost job or significant illness in the family. This can help explain changes in behavior or participation. It is also helpful if teachers are made aware of issues such as frequent aggression or learning difficulties.
  • Plan playdates with all the kids in the class at least once (ok, this one is mine) – The idea is to have a bit of time to connect with each classmate at some point during the year.  This can go a long way towards helping your child socially by making everyone a familiar face and someone they can sit with or ask to play.

Parent Participation in School

Something to keep in mind as the school year starts is the importance of being involved. Overall, you want to provide your child with a sense of a home-school connection. This means the child grows up feeling that my school values my parents and my parents appreciate my school.

At the school, this can happen in big ways like being a room-parent, helping plan class parties or volunteering time in the classroom. This can happen in smaller ways, by sending in the party supplies, keeping up with the weekly schedule and having open conversation about their daily experiences or attending extra curricular activities.

At home, this can include checking homework and helping them study, reading aloud daily and taking outings or finding websites related to what they are learning about in school. This can be as easy as telling them what you like about their school or teacher.

Children who grow up with this home-school connection from parent involvement tend to have better test scores and higher graduation rates. They tend to particpate more in the classroom and report greater enjoyment in school.

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