Ready, Set, Learn!

As your child's preschool years come to an end, thoughts turn to "big" school. It's very exciting, but you may be feeling a little anxious about kindergarten readiness! Is she ready to transition? What skills will his new teacher expect him to have? What teachers are looking for may surprise and relieve you. Most importantly, they're excited to see children who are healthy, mature, curious, well-behaved and enthusiastic about learning.

When it comes to specific skills, kindergarten teachers' expectations will vary a bit. However, here are the top 11 skill areas:

Social Skills

  • Before kindergarten, your child should have many opportunities to play with other children in a variety of social situations-trips to the park, visits with friends and recreational activities with others.

  • Pretend & Play™ sets such as our School Set encourage children to practice social interaction, sharing and turn-taking.

  • Model and practice cooperative language and behaviors: Put toys away together. Ask your child, "May I have the blue block, please?" When your child gives you the correct block, make sure you say, "Thank you." Reverse the roles and have your child practice the interaction.

Self-Help Skills

  • Always have your child clean up when she's finished playing. This teaches her to care for belongings and to be responsible. Make cleaning up fun by making it a game - use the Time Tracker Mini™ to race against the clock!

  • Work each day on buttons and zippers. Always praise your child for any attempt made to button and/or zipper. Keep repeating the activity and teach her about perseverance.

  • Turn off the TV and play games with your child where everyone takes turns. This encourages him to learn to wait. Talk with your child about waiting patiently.

Speaking Skills

  • Build vocabulary by reading with your child and to your child from a variety of books and print materials. It's a great opportunity to practice prediction (what happens next?), ask questions about the characters (look at her face-how is she feeling?) and to act out scenes your child loves.

  • Use Jumbo Animals, or a colorful activity set like Shape Sorting Presents, to encourage discussion. Have your child examine two animals (or two activity cards). Ask her, "How are these two things the same?" or "How are they different?" Having her tell you similarities and differences is a great thinking and speaking activity.

  • When interacting with your child, speak properly and respectfully. Your child will pick up on your good speaking habits as he grows.

Listening Skills

  • Following directions is an important readiness skill. Try giving your child one-step directions such as, "Please put the crayons in the box." After he's secure with one-step directions, try two-step directions such as, "Put your crayons in the box, then wash your hands." Get him mixing, measuring and cooking with you in the kitchen to make following directions part of the fun!

  • Play Simon Says with a plush toy. Tell your child where to put the toy (on a chair, in the sink, under the blanket, etc). This activity also works on positional words such as above, below, under, next to, on top of.

  • A fun activity to see if your child REALLY listens is to replace the beginning sound of a word in a sentence. For example, "Please put your dishes in the fink" (should be sink). See if your child can hear the mistake you made. You can also do this with familiar songs such as "Hinkle Hinkle Little Har." This simple sound manipulation will also help with learning to read later on.

Fine Motor Skills

  • Allow your child to play with hands-on mediums such as clay, play dough, Playfoam® and silly putty. Squishing, squeezing and molding strengthen finger muscles.

  • With adult supervision, give your child safety scissors to use. Scissors strengthen a variety of hand and finger muscles. Allow him to cut all types of paper with different thicknesses (construction paper, sandpaper, cardboard, magazines).

  • Let your child sort small objects using chopsticks or tweezers- a great way to develop the pincer grip. Themed activity sets like the Super Sorting Pie and Froggy Feeding Fun add to the fun.

  • Have your child lace/thread O-shaped cereal onto string or a pipecleaner, or use colorful, durable lacing toys

Gross Motor Skills

  • Play "Follow the Leader." Have your child jump, hop, wave her arms, etc. Reverse the roles and have your child lead you too!

  • The "tossing" action (e.g. bean bags rather than balls) builds arm muscles! Reinforce shapes, color recognition, numbers and gross motor skills simultaneously with Smart Toss™.

  • Encourage physical activity to ensure good development of large muscles. Learning to bounce a ball, ride a bike, skip, skate, kick a football and swim are great activities. Indoor games like Ready, Set, Move™ and Crocodile Hop™ are ideal for bad weather days.

Reading Skills

  • Make reading part of your daily routine. Read predictable books and reread favorites! Ask questions that encourage empathy: "How would you feel if that happened to you?" "If you were the moose, what would you do next?"

  • Model for your child how to handle a book correctly (read the title and author, open the book, turn pages, follow words from top to bottom and left to right).

  • Teach your child the alphabet. Once he can sing it and say it, start playing with sets of letters, activity sets and games. These sets will help your child focus on letter identification and recognizing letter shapes and the sounds letters make.

  • Make an ABC Scrapbook. Staple 26 sheets of paper together. Label each sheet with a letter of the alphabet. Have your child fill the book with pictures cut from magazines. Say the name of each picture together, and then have your child glue each picture on the letter page that corresponds with the name's beginning sound.

Writting Skills

  • Give your child lots of opportunities to write his or her name. Keep in mind that many preschools teach children to write their names using all capital letters, but most instruct children to write their names with only the first letter capitalized.

  • Have some fun with multisensory writing! Encourage your child to write in the air, on steamy windows or mirrors, in sand or in shaving cream smeared on a counter top. Let her build letters instead of writing them. Take the writing outdoors too! Use sticks to write in the snow. Or give your child paint brushes and have him paint on pavement with water.

  • A well developed pincer grasp is important for handwriting. Give your child opportunities to use Jumbo Tweezers - a great tool for developing this crucial pre-writing skill.

Math Skills

  • Sort as part of daily activities in your home. Have your child help sort the laundry, socks, groceries and silverware. Sorting sets add colorful fun!

  • Start playing counting games early! 1 - 10 Counting Cans and Counting Cookies™ make learning to count from 1-10 fun. Pop for Numbers™ helps children continue to develop number recognition.

  • Use colorful counters and engaging games and unique activity sets to practice patterning and shape identification - important skills for both math and pre-reading!

Thinking & Problem-Solving Skills

  • Use Zoomy™, a handheld USB microscope, to "zoom in" on a mystery object. Have your child look at the screen and ask you questions to determine what it is you're magnifying!

  • Encourage your child to build! Sets like Gears! Gears! Gears!® encourage concentration, reasoning and perseverance, and help develop an understanding of cause and effect.

  • If your child's toy ends up under the couch, or she spills something on the floor, give her some time to solve the problem herself. Offer advice ("what can you use to wipe that up?") but resist the urge to clean it up yourself! Give her the opportunity to experience a little frustration followed by a great sense of accomplishment.

Creative Skills

  • Give your child opportunities to "pretend". Set up a grocery store in your house by using real canned goods. Make price tags and write a grocery list together. Act out shopping and purchasing. Use the Teaching Cash Register to bring in early math and money skills.

  • Provide art activities for your child. Drawing, coloring, playing with clay, painting, etc., are all important experiences for your child. Although these can be messy activities, they are essential things to do before entering kindergarten.

  • Try story "dictations". Children love to see their own words written down! Once a week, start the day by asking your child to retell the story you read at bedtime the night before. This kind of retelling, on its own, is a great higher-order thinking skill to foster. Give the activity additional weight by writing down your child's words. Make your writing kid-friendly so your child can see his or her words "in print".