Getting Kids Ready for the School Year
Children entering kindergarten are presented with many new and exciting opportunities but also with many new demands. Kindergartners spend nearly all of their class time in structured learning activities where they are expected to sit with their classmates, listen to the teacher, follow instructions, and complete specific tasks. Kindergarten teachers, facing increased academic demands, expect children to enter school able to follow the rules, roles, and routines of the classroom. Since we want all children to be learning from their first day of kindergarten, we need to make sure they are prepared to do just that.
The Early Childhood Center at the Indiana Institute on Disability and Community conducted a series of small-scale studies that looked at the skills children need to successfully participate in the common learning routines of kindergarten classrooms. The studies identified some essential skills such as following simple classroom rules and routines, understanding and following directions, listening to an adult for information, completing tasks, and asking for help. For a complete list of skills, other papers describing the research process, findings, and further resources, click here
The shift in expectations from preschool, which is largely play-based in nature, to kindergarten may be difficult for some children. But because entering kindergarten ready to learn is critical not only for the kindergarten year but also for later school success, it is crucial that children have early experiences that prepare them for this step. Whether or not children attend a program (e.g., preschool or day care) prior to kindergarten, parents play a crucial role in preparing them for the formal schooling that starts in kindergarten and continues across a child’s life.
|Essential Skills for the Classroom|
|Follows daily routines|
|Asks for help|
|Listens to gather information|
|Completes a simple task|
|Follows classroom rules|
|Accepts guidance and limits from familiar adults|
|Takes care of personal needs (e.g., toileting, blowing nose)|
One of the easiest things preschool teachers can do to help parents prepare their children for kindergarten is to talk with them about their family routines. Within family routines, parents can work on many of the essential kindergarten skills such as listening, following directions, or completing a task.
Although many children have regular routines, a significant number do not, creating a major recommendation that the family begin school-like routines during the summer and become more consistent in those routines as the school year approaches. Families typically have three types of routines: daily routines such as bedtime and mealtime routines; weekly routines such as laundry or grocery shopping; and other routines that involve community outings, birthdays, or holidays. Each of these routines has the potential for teaching children some of the skills they will need in kindergarten. So not only does a predictable home schedule help children feel safe and secure, but it also prepares them for school.
Embedding Skills into Routines
We recognize that family routines vary from family to family; however, there are universal recommendations for activities that all families can do to help prepare their children for kindergarten. Families don’t need to carve out a separate time in the day to focus on these skills, but they might need help recognizing the ways they can work on them during a typical day.
Within each family’s day, there is a time to get up, a time to eat, and a time to go back to bed. In some families, everyone leaves home to go to work, school, or childcare. Some families have members that stay home. Whatever the makeup of the family and whatever happens during the day, parents and/or primary caregivers can do some activities to help their children enter kindergarten successfully.
One example is the morning routine. When a child goes to school, he or she will need to get up at the same time each school day. Preschool teachers should find out when school will start for the children in their program or class and let the parents know so that they can begin a morning routine several weeks or even months before the beginning of the school year. Children will need to be ready to walk out the door the same time every morning, whether a bus will pick them up or if they will be walking down the block with an older sister. Encourage the parents to start getting up early enough to be ready for that time. Remind parents to allow enough time in the morning routine for their children to build independence. There is no time to practice when everyone is running out the door. Help parents look at their existing routine. What happens?
Wake up! This is not the favorite message for many of us. But it is the first opportunity in the day for a child to practice following directions in a timely manner. The ability to follow directions is an important skill children need in kindergarten. There are many opportunities they can practice throughout the day, but in the morning, things need to run quickly and smoothly, so it is important that children listen to what is being asked and follow through and do it.
Kindergarten also moves fast, just like many mornings at home. Suggest to parents that they give their children simple directions at first such as “Come to breakfast” or “Find your shoes.” As children get better at following simple directions that are logical parts of the routine, parents can give them multi-step directions such as “Go to the bathroom and wash your hands when you are finished.” The next step is directions that are novel (not said every day) and have many parts, such as “Find your backpack and put it by the front door with your raincoat.” Remind parents not to jump in with assistance until their children have attempted the task first and asked for help. Within this small snapshot of the morning routine, parents will be helping their children learn to follow a routine, listen to and follow directions, complete a task that has been asked of them, ask for help when needed, and take care of personal needs such as toileting and washing hands. These are all skills they will need in kindergarten. More Resources?
The Early Childhood Center developed a series of tip sheets that look at family routines and how families can use their routines to support skill development for kindergarten entry. To see suggestions for some activities parents can embed in a few of their daily routines such as meal time, going out into the community and bed time visit the Early Childhood website here
Need More Resources?
The tip sheets in the appendix take four family routines, including the one above, and discuss them in more detail. They suggest ways parents can foster the school readiness skills identified through the Early Childhood Center research within the following family routines:
- Waking up and getting ready in the morning
- CCommunity activities such as grocery shopping, riding on the bus or in the car, and going to the library
- Getting ready for bed
Furthermore, throughout each routine, the tip sheets emphasize the specific skills identified through our research. These skills can be seen in the table above, Essential Skills for the Classroom.
Getting children ready for kindergarten is a collaborative effort between preschool and/or child care programs and families. It is important for teachers to recognize the critical importance of the family in preparing their children for kindergarten. Although each family has its own routines, teachers can help families identify what they can do within them to pave the way for success in school and beyond.