BEYOND THE TEXTBOOK
The first day of school for many children begins in kindergarten, but learning should take place at home well before then. Before seeing a classroom for the first time, your child should have some basic skills mastered – skills that will allow him or her to enter kindergarten on the appropriate academic level and make it easier for them to learn the kindergarten content. Therefore, set your children up for success by teaching them the basic skills below.
Identify common objects by name
By the time your child reaches the age of 5, they should be able to say the names of common objects. Therefore, as soon as your child starts talking, teach them to say the correct names of body parts, household items, and other things they see every day. For example, if your child notices a dent in her cheek and says “hole,” tell them to say “dimple.” We sometimes think that children are not capable of pronouncing multi-syllabic words like marigold for flower or television for TV, but they are. Teach them words in context. In a grocery store, explore all the different fruits, vegetables and breads. When they point to an eggplant, tell them what it is and allow them to touch it, and, if you can, purchase it and taste it. If not, take a picture of the item on your cell phone or digital camera, and have your child name it every day.
Use complete sentences
Also by the age of 5, your child should be able to speak using complete sentences. To help them master this, correct their incomplete statements by using a subject and verb in your own sentence. For example, when your 2-year-old says, “ice cream” while pointing to a passing ice cream truck, have her repeat the phrase, “I want an ice cream cone.” Because children mimic what adults say, use the correct subject-verb agreement so your child can speak basic standard English before they go to school, and encourage your family members to do the same. If you are unsure of the conjugation of certain verbs, use grammar resources from the Internet to investigate. Two of my favorites are Purdue University’s writing website The Owl at Purdue at http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/ and Guide to Grammar and Writing at http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/.
Count to 10
Teachers expect new kindergarteners to be able to count to 10 or higher. Make sure your child has this mastered by having kid-friendly objects available for them to count. Building blocks, rubber balls, dolls, and teddy bears are all objects your child can use to count. Once your child has learned how to count to ten on their fingers and/or from memory, challenge them by having them count higher and/or by twos and fives.
Sit for 15 minutes
Kindergarten activities include listening during story time and focusing on teacher-directed lessons. These activities will require your child to sit for periods of up to 15 minutes or more. Can your child do this? Five-year-olds have a very low attention span, but they should be able to focus – despite distractions – for at least 15 minutes. If your child has not proven that he or she can do this, try sitting with your child and speaking or reading to them for a certain amount of time each day until they can. Once your child has reached the 15-minute mark, try having them sit for longer lengths of time or complete an independent activity, like coloring, for 15 minutes. The reward will pay off when your child enters kindergarten and is able to focus on a lesson in reading, writing or arithmetic.
Know personal information
Make sure your child knows how to recite and/or write their own personal information before they start kindergarten. This includes saying their full name, address, phone number and birthday and writing their full name, starting with a capital letter. These skills are important for your child to know in case he gets lost on a school field trip. Knowing this information will also help your child complete activities inside the kindergarten class. For example, students are expected to write their name on both class work and homework in kindergarten. As a class, students also graph personal information such as birthday months and/or ages. Therefore, being able to recite and/or write the above information is extremely important for a young child to know.
Above are just a few of the basic skills your child should have mastered before kindergarten. For more information about what your preschooler should know and ways to teach them, ask kindergartner teachers at the school you plan on sending your child. Also check out the Illinois Learning Project’s kindergarten readiness page at http://illinoisearlylearning.org/tipsheets/readykindergarten.htm.
China Hill is a teacher at KIPP Ascend Charter School on the West Side.