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  • Maura Daly

    Maura Daly is a nonprofit strategy consultant working with the Robert R. McCormick Foundation. She lives in Chicago with her family and is an active member of NPN.

    How to help your child get ready for kindergarten

    Work with your future kindergarten age child on approaches to learning and self-regulation, language and literacy, math, and social and emotional development.

    Is your child starting kindergarten next year? Consider taking a proactive approach to ensuring he or she is ready to arrive at kindergarten and learn.

    Evidence increasingly suggests that the areas most critical to young children’s long-term educational success are approaches to learning and self-regulation, language and literacy, math, and social and emotional development. While early childhood education is instrumental in supporting a child’s learning and development, family engagement may even be paramount. In 2017, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) released the Kindergarten Individual Development Survey (KIDS) which is a new tool that teachers in Illinois are required to use to observe and document students’ “kindergarten readiness” based on these areas of development.

    Following are suggested activities and examples for how families can support their children in becoming ready-to-learn.

    [Related: Kindergarten readiness is the key to long-term success]

    Approaches to learning and self-regulation
    There is a strong connection between these two areas of development. The approaches to learning skills include engagement and persistence and curiosity and initiative. The self-regulation skills include self-control of feelings and behavior and shared use of space and materials.

    Young children sometimes have a tough time sticking to a task that is hard to do. You can encourage your child to complete tasks by breaking one big task into smaller steps, like suggesting, “Let’s clean up the toys one at a time.” If your child feels overwhelmed by tasks, you can set a timer and suggest, “Let’s clean up the toys in the next five minutes, and then you can go color.” And, tasks may seem easier to the child with teamwork, such as, “Let’s work with your brother or sister to clean up the toys.”

    Young children also are learning how to express their feelings through words and actions. You can help your child learn that feelings have words — happy, sad, jealous and angry. Describe the behavior you want to see: “It’s nice you are petting the dog so gently.” Express your feelings back to your child, for example, “I was frustrated when…” And, help your child learn that everyone has feelings by pointing out others’ expressions such as, “Look at the smile on that little boy’s face.”

    Language and literacy development
    Language and literacy skills are the foundation for learning English and can be demonstrated in any form of communication. Among the best ways to help children develop in this area are to listen, talk more and learn.

    Start out your day by talking through the activities you will do: “First, we’re going to eat breakfast, then we’ll get dressed.” As you read with your children, encourage them to describe what they see and develop new ideas. As you move throughout the day, ask your child, “What do you see?” and help them expand his or her vocabulary by adding descriptions, such as, “This apple is crunchy.”

    [Related: Focus on mistakes to help your child learn]

    The math learning domain includes knowledge or skills in classification, number sense of quantity, number sense of math operations, measurement, patterning and shapes. Sorting, organizing and classifying objects, ideas, smells and like items are important skills for young children to develop.

    Ask your child to help you unload the silverware from the dishwasher and sort the knives, forks and spoon in the right place. Use egg cartons to create an activity where children can sort like objects like coins, crayons or sticks. Or, ask them to help you cook and sort food by fruits and vegetables or colors.

    You can also help your child make sense of numbers and discover how they can be added, subtracted, multiplied and divided by bringing numbers into conversation. For example, ask your child to count how many crackers or grapes they start with. After eating some, count again. You can talk about how many animals you see, such as “three birds” that have “six wings.” And, you can ask your child to help you set up an activity for a playdate with siblings or friends and create equal amounts of materials for each person participating.

    Social and emotional development
    Social and emotional development includes a child’s abilities to understand and interact with others and to form positive relationships with nurturing adults and their peers. At an early age, it is important for children to make friends, to work and play with other children who have different ideas and experiences, and to simply get along.

    You can support your child in working and playing well with other by setting a good example — most notably, by treating others kindly and with respect. Encourage your child to play with others and foster engagement with kids by pretending, building or talking together. Teach your children about the importance of sharing and positively reinforce them by saying, “You did such a great job sharing with your friends today.” And, help your child talk through his or her feelings and how other children may feel different about a situation.

    These are just a few ideas about how to engage with your children in the most important areas of development. You can access more tools and resources at www.isbe.net/kids.


    Maura Daly

    Maura Daly is a nonprofit strategy consultant working with the Robert R. McCormick Foundation. She lives in Chicago with her family and is an active member of NPN.

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