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- 5 Ways to Use Emojis in the Classroom - April 19, 2016
- Challenging Your Students on Assessments - March 23, 2016
Last week, I explored the academic side of Kindergarten readiness. But school readiness is not all about regurgitating facts because some things just cannot be measured. One child’s brain development differs from another’s, but there are many things that teachers look for that have nothing to do with intelligence.
Here are 10 more things to help your child be ready for Kindergarten:
1. Potty Training
You may think this is a no-brainer. But over the last few years, I’ve noticed more and more children arrive at Kindergarten screening with the tell-tale rustle of training diapers. These little ones are physically capable of being toilet trained, so that’s not a factor. Once a little boy proudly told me, “I went poop on the potty for the first time on Tuesday!” It was Thursday. His dad confirmed that he only became fully toilet-trained 2 days prior.
Now teachers are prepared for the occasional classroom wetting accident. Kindergartners are little and excited, so we understand when accidents happen. But we cannot be called away from the classroom environment to wipe and change little bottoms all day long! Nor is it fair to the school nurse, who has to care for the whole student population and has many boo-boos to mend.
Being independent in the bathroom also includes pulling up and zipping pants afterward. I have witnessed too many students shuffling back from the bathroom with pants around their ankles because they didn’t know how to zipper or buckle belts by themselves.
2. Personal Hygiene & Self-Help Skills
After you’ve made sure your child can go to the bathroom by themselves, teach them to wash their hands with soap and water. Hand sanitizer is great for on-the-go germ-killing, but nothing can replace regular soap and water.
When all these Kindergarten students mingle for the first time, you can count on a breakout of the sniffles during the first couple months of the school year. If you’re wiping your child’s nose, stop. Children should learn to realize when their nose is dripping down their face. And then they need to learn how to blow and wipe their nose independently. (Preferably on a single tissue, not a shirt sleeve.) After they blow their nose, show your child how to dispose of their dirty tissues in the garbage, not on the floor or on their desk. Then this is the time for hand sanitizer – not a huge, dripping glob of it, but just an itty bitty drop. This year, our school installed automatic hand sanitizer dispensers outside every student bathroom. It is typical for the little ones to get one, two, or three helpings of hand sanitizer for the pure joy of watching the dispenser work like magic!
And then as the weather gets colder and outerwear changes, work with your child to learn to use zippers, buttons, buckles, and snaps independently. Let your child practice putting on and taking off coats, jackets, snow pants, boots, and shoes. This makes morning arrivals and afternoon dismissals go much more smoothly!
Speaking of shoes…. Shoelace tying is a skill that is not actively taught in the Kindergarten classroom anymore. Do your child’s teacher a favor – if your little one hasn’t mastered tying their shoes yet, please buy them sneakers with Velcro straps. Either that or double-knot their laces and wrap the shoes with duct tape so that they don’t come loose. (I’m kidding. Sort of.)
Work with your child on expressing themselves verbally. After the first few days of initial shyness, every child who is physically and developmentally capable of doing so should be able to raise their hand and communicate their wants and needs. Whether it’s needing to go to the bathroom or wanting a pencil, teachers can only help if the student speaks up!
However, teachers do draw the line at tattle tales. Unless someone is bleeding/throwing up or a tornado has touched down or Ryan Gosling entered the room, we prefer children to speak for themselves rather than having a class spokesperson.
4. Working Independently
Kindergarten teachers are smart. We know that little ones should not sit like statues for lengthy periods. We get them up to wiggle and move and play pretty often throughout the day. We incorporate movement and play in the lessons. But in the age of instant gratification, it sometimes feels as if asking a child to sit and concentrate on a task for more than 30 seconds is a challenge. Build your child’s stamina by giving them fun activities (such as puzzles or coloring pages) to work on without distractions from the television or other forms of technology. If they can concentrate on one thing at a time, they will be able to transfer that ability in the classroom setting.
Being independent goes beyond the classroom, too! The first month in the cafeteria at lunchtime is crazy. About 75% of a teacher’s lunch period the first month of the school year is spent opening milk cartons, piercing straws through juice boxes, opening snack bags, and peeling bananas. And then there are the inevitable tears of a little one who spent their whole lunch period chatting with their new friends but forgot to eat. Help your child practice opening their lunch items on their own and to eat within a certain timeframe without you reminding them to finish.
5. Working in a Group
The next two points go hand-in-hand. Kindergarten teachers often break the class into smaller groups. Whether they call it “stations” or “centers”, it requires for 4-6 children to work cooperatively on their own while the teacher is working with another set of students.
Teachers put their trust in students to work well together. We look for children who politely take turns and share the activities and manipulatives. Teachers know that there will be little disagreements and not everyone will be friends, but things should not disintegrate into a Lord of the Flies scenario. I realize much of this is dependent on the teacher’s classroom management style, as well. But we love to see children working together without one child doing all the work or another child taking over and making the others feel uncomfortable.
6. Social Skills
Children do not learn to work well in a group or to get along with other children if they are isolated. I encourage you to arrange playdates or participate in activities where your child must interact with other children of the same age. You will see how different your child acts and behaves in a group dynamic. My own child (who is about to enter Kindergarten this fall) is goofy and noisy at home. But in a group of children, she is the quiet observer and likes to follow a “leader”.
Social skills become especially important during play time or recess. It’s perfectly normal for a child to crave alone time, especially when they are surrounded by 20 other kids all day long. But play time is also when friendships are built upon shared interests. Being kind and friendly and knowing how to make friends can help your child create close bonds that may last them into adulthood. I still have a few friends now that I made in preschool!
Another important aspect of social skills is self-advocacy. For a child, self-advocacy means standing up for yourself in a way that is safe and respectful to other students. We want the students to be able to tell one another when their feelings have been hurt, or to know the right way to handle a situation when a favorite toy has been taken away.
Being responsible and taking responsibility are very important for children as they enter school. Whether it’s remembering to grab their book bag as they walk out the door in the morning or being honest about accidentally breaking the stapler on the teacher’s desk, responsibility plays a key role in a child’s development and maturity. The responsible students are often the ones that are called upon to run notes to the front office or be a teacher’s helper. Responsibility becomes more and more integral as the children progress into higher grade levels. Some children learn responsibility by observing their classmates. But you can help develop your child’s responsibility at home by giving them chores or tasks, such as setting the table or putting away their own laundry. It shows that you trust your child to do what they’re told without constant supervision.
Most Kindergarten teachers will tell you that they will take a well-behaved, respectful child over a “smart” one any day. One year, I had a boy whose behavior would drive me batty. He hid under tables and climbed all over the place. But then he would look at me with those big eyes and say, “Please” or “Sorry”, and all was forgiven. Practicing good manners makes a good impression and is a great way for children to begin to show respect to peers and adults.
My Kindergarten teacher friend has a big pet peeve – students who are tapping her or calling out her name repeatedly when she is speaking to another adult or is on the phone with the front office. You can always hear her reminding them, “Do you see two adults speaking? Then you need to wait.” Just like at home when you’re on the phone or want to go to the bathroom alone, little ones only want our attention when it’s directed elsewhere. It’s a practice we reinforce daily in school, and you can do it at home, as well.
To paraphrase President Kennedy – Ask not what your teacher can do for you; ask what you can do for yourself. With more than twenty 5-year-olds vying for a teacher’s attention at any given moment, it’s a breath of sweet, fresh air when a child learns to think for themselves and can solve simple problems. And having the persistence and perseverance to work through a problem without outbursts of frustration is a sign of a child’s developing maturity. Pencil broken? Go to the pencil sharpener. Out of glue? Get a new glue stick from the extra supply drawer.
This school year, a little girl had broken her crayon in half. Instead of making a fuss about it, she got a piece of adhesive tape and fixed it herself. When she showed me later that day, I gave her a big hug. It showed a lot of resourcefulness that she saw a problem that she could fix herself, and she went ahead and just did it! She knew the difference between a small problem that she could handle on her own and a big problem that needs the teacher’s attention and intervention.
10. Feeling Loved and Safe
Above all, if your child feels safe and loved at home, they will act accordingly at school. And by safe, I do not mean hovering, “helicopter” parents. It means that your child knows there are rules and boundaries they must abide by. This is what makes children feel subconsciously safe – that someone loves them enough to tell them “no”.
And love your child enough by showing them you trust his/her teacher as the expert and to make decisions in the classroom that are in your child’s best interest. It’s difficult to build a classroom community filled with love and respect if your child hears you undermine the teacher’s authority. If the parent trusts the teacher, so will the child.
Parents are a child’s first teachers. Everything that they learn and see at home is what they carry with them all day at school. The experiences and lessons learned the first few years of their life molds their personalities and perceptions of the world around them. As parents, everything we say and do at home is what children model for their teachers and classmates at school because it is all they know. Social-Emotional readiness is equally as important (if not more!) than academic readiness. Preparing your child for what lies ahead can ensure the first year of school is a happy one!