Every year, a new crop of parents stress about their child starting kindergarten. Parents wonder, “Is my child even ready for kindergarten?”
Then they panic, “Should I be doing more to prepare my child for kindergarten? My child still picks their nose and eats it…” These unknowns can be especially stressful for parents facing the kindergarten send-off for the first time.
Fortunately, there are plenty of things you can do at home to start preparing for kindergarten right now.
Even better, you don’t have to be an educator or Pinterest professional to implement them (and all the exhausted parents said, “Amen!”).
Reading skills, not reading, are key for kindergarten preparedness
I feel the need to start with this one, lest every teacher in my family tree send me a virtual slap. Reading is important at any age, but to set the foundations for literacy, it’s especially important in the early years.
This does NOT mean your child needs to be reading before kindergarten.
Despite the fact that Carol and Susan both constantly tell you how their kids were independent readers by age four (giant eye-roll), there’s a fairly wide age span in which kids’ reading skills develop. Pushing a child who’s not developmentally ready can backfire, so feel free to tell Judgy Janet to shove it.
With that said, making reading a priority in your house is essential in preparing for kindergarten (and life).
Have books out and readily available for your kids.
Let them look at pictures and “read” to you, even if they’ve really just memorized the text. And of course, read to them frequently. Lifelong readers are made on the laps of their parents. The more reading you can pack into the early years, the more dividends it will pay down the line.
Of course, if your child is ready to actually read, encourage them.
It’s really exciting at first, for both parent and child. After a while though, the sound of a new reader can be a bit… insanity-inducing.
While they are sounding out “c-a-t” for the 4,000th time, you need to maintain your enthusiasm, even if it means you’re plastering on the most fake Stepford smile imaginable. Go ahead and take that time to say a prayer for early educators everywhere who do this willingly for kids that aren’t even theirs. Absolute saints.
Practice storytelling works for kindergarten prep at home
This is related to reading, but not the same. Children are naturally drawn to storytelling. If you’ve ever sat through your preschooler giving a forty-minute account of a ten-minute cartoon, you know what I’m talking about.
Even if your child isn’t actually reading yet, they should be able to tell the basics of a story.
Have them practice picking out details, making predictions, and explaining the story to others. Have them draw pictures and illustrate a story they already know. There are countless ways to practice this skill and it will be extremely helpful in preparing your child for the literary onslaught that is kindergarten.
Storytelling is also a great way to practice focus and attention on a single task.
Preschoolers are amazing in so many ways, but they also frequently have the attention span of the dog from Up (“Squirrel!”). Any activities that encourage focus on a single task for a lengthy time period are great for preparing for kindergarten.
Independent seat work is great for preparing for kindergarten
Speaking of attention spans… it’s no secret that kindergarten these days is different than when we were in elementary school.
The demands and expectations have escalated significantly, sometimes to the point of being developmentally inappropriate. Kindergartners are expected to sit and work for significant periods of time, and that takes practice.
I’m certainly not advocating you become a drill sergeant of boredom in your own home.
Just because some bureaucrats have unrealistic expectations doesn’t mean you need to pile onto the problem.
However, it’s also important that your child is prepared for kindergarten demands. If they are used to doing whatever they want all day long, the transition is going to be especially tough.
One way you can start preparing your child for kindergarten at home is by practicing seated tasks for reasonable time periods.
Think of it like going to the gym (or at least, what I imagine it would be like going to the gym… I haven’t exactly made physical fitness a priority in recent years). You don’t expect to achieve all your exercise milestones at once on Day 1; fitness is a process.
In the same way, your child will gradually acclimate to spending time seated and attending to a particular task. Done correctly, by the time the school year rolls around, he or she will be more than prepared for kindergarten.
Some common seat work activities that you can use for kindergarten prep at home include coloring, stickers, painting, matching, and search-and-finds.
The activities don’t have to be boring (and in fact, they shouldn’t be). They should be engaging and encourage your child to sit and work independently for a stretch of time.
As an added bonus, once your child is used to this kind of independent activity, you might actually be able to use the bathroom alone and in peace every now and then!
Fine motor control activities
Parents put a lot of focus on writing. However, in order to successfully write, your child needs sufficient hand strength and control.
While it’s certainly important to have your child practice handwriting, there are other equally valuable ways to prepare your child for kindergarten and all the writing that will come with it.
Encourage your child to use materials like clay and play doh.
Even though they create an unholy mess (Lord give me strength), they are great for strengthening the muscles in the hand. Similarly, cutting practice is also a great kindergarten prep activity.
It requires a fair amount of strength in the hand and fingers for a child to cut properly. Be sure to supervise your child so they don’t accidentally cut themselves or their clothing (a lesson I’ve learned the hard way — RIP adorable polo sweater).
As a teacher who has slogged through thousands of illegible papers over the years, one of my parenting goals is raising kids with decent penmanship.
As previously discussed, fine motor control activities are essential for a good start with handwriting. However, all the play doh time in the world isn’t going to be enough on its own. Students still need to practice actual handwriting with actual letters and numbers.
Encourage your child to properly hold a pencil or crayon.
Teach them the correct way to form letters and allow them plenty of opportunities to practice. The handwriting process will come more easily to some kids than others, and that’s okay. My oldest picked it up fairly quickly while my middle son… well, let’s just say I’ve drowned my frustrations in a lot of Oreos.
The important thing is to have your child practice enough without becoming too frustrated or overwhelmed.
If your child learns to dread writing, you’re setting up a negative association that can be detrimental for years. Don’t push too hard! If you can feel your own frustrations mounting, just remember the reward that awaits you.
Kindergarten means seven-ish hours of a trained professional absorbing some of your beloved child’s 84,679,034 daily words. Amen and hallelujah!
Preparing for kindergarten at home doesn’t have to be complicated
You probably know a parent who has an entire home curriculum dedicated to kindergarten preparation. You probably also know another parent whose favorite pasttime is curating countless Pinterest boards dedicated to learning activities.
There’s nothing wrong with these approaches, but you don’t need to go crazy to prepare your child for kindergarten.
The activities I’ve laid out are easy to integrate into your day-to-day life.
Spending a little time on these with your child, regularly, is more than enough to ensure your child is ready for kindergarten.
With this reasonable approach, you can instead use the time saved to browse Pinterest for delicious cocktail recipes and tropical getaway destinations, sans kids of course. (Hey, a parent can dream, right?!)