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This is the first post in a series about kindergarten readiness. Most of the information is provided by a kindergarten teacher who agreed to assist in writing these posts. She has been teaching for many years and is incredibly passionate about her students and teaching in general.
Kindergarten Emotional Readiness
Emotional readiness is probably not the first thing you think of when getting your child ready for kindergarten. School is primarily academic, and so some of us have the mindset that preparing our child for kindergarten means learning letters, sounds, and maybe even some basic reading.
Growing up with a kindergarten teacher as my mother figure (my grandmother), I had the importance of a good education ingrained in me. When it was time for me to prepare my own child for school, I was determined to be a step above the rest. I turned to the trusty teacher in my life for assistance.
What is important for our kids to know before they enter kindergarten?
Finding out that the academic stuff isn’t the most important surprised me. Now, don’t get me wrong. It isn’t that our teachers don’t care about the academics, but rather that they first want your child emotionally ready for the rigor of kindergarten academics. While your baby may be a unique snowflake who is smarter than the rest of their class, this isn’t what’s actually important.
Maybe that’s hard to swallow–I know it was for me.
I can say that my two-year-old knows her shapes, colors, and the alphabet. I teach her these things because like any parent I want her to be successful.
Also, academics are just easier to measure.
It’s harder to judge the emotional readiness of a child. Unfortunately–the fluffy stuff (or social/emotional) is more important. Your child needs to have the ability to manage emotions and learn social appropriateness. Without these basic skills, your child will struggle with everything that follows–including the academics.
Here are some different things you need to be practicing with your child so the transition to kindergarten is as smooth and stress-free as possible.
There are affiliate links in this article, which means I will get a small commission if you purchase any of these through the link I provide (at no additional cost to you). You can read more about this in my disclaimer.
Separation from Parents
It really is not heartbreakingly adorable when your kindergarten-age child wails at your feet when you try to leave them.
I’ll be honest–the flails and tears are bound to happen a few times. Your tiny little child is attending a vast and terrifying classroom for the first time, and the adjustment can be a bit rough.
Most kids should be able to get used to this pretty quickly, and your child will be happier for it. Being able to separate from the caregiver is one of the most significant markers of kindergarten emotional readiness.
You can’t stay with them every day during class–or at least you shouldn’t. If your littles already transitions well, that’s great. If not, definitely spend some time working on healthy separation techniques to help prepare your little one.
Play games that promote independence such as hide-and-seek. Leave them with family and make sure you say your goodbyes appropriately.
Perseverance is a skill that your child will need for the rest of their lives, and it’s a lesson they can start learning now.
The Most Magnificent Thing is an excellent book to help introduce your kiddo to perseverance. This story follows a young girl who has decided she will make the most magnificent thing. She tries, fails, and quits. Her dog eventually convinces her to try again, and she ends up succeeding.
My grandmother does an activity with her kindergarten class at the beginning of the year that begins with coloring apples. She spends some time solidifying her students understanding of what “their best” looks like–which is what they need to do in order to earn a reward.
Some kids scribble for a minute and happily announce they are finished, while others work the entire amount of time allotted for the activity. The child who scribbles for a minute is asked by the teacher if they are sure they are done, or if they want to try and do more with it.
At the end of the activity, stickers are awarded to the children who did their best. Best looks different for each child, but typically the child who gave up one minute into the activity and did not try again did not perform his best.
The kids who didn’t receive a sticker learn a hard lesson, and it is sad to see our kids sad, but it gives us an excellent teaching opportunity. There are a couple of things you can do for your child when you are in the midst of this kind of situation.
Be empathetic when they are disappointed–it’ll go a long way. Let them know that you see that they are upset and that you understand how disappointed they must feel.
It doesn’t matter how silly you perceive the situation to be, it’s important to them, and you should validate the feelings that go along with it.
Talk through the situation with them. Help them think critically about what happened and what could go differently for them.
My two-year-old tends to scream bloody murder when she gets frustrated. Once our ears stop ringing, we talk her through why what she is doing isn’t working and help her figure out what she needs to do differently. If she gave it her best effort, we are more than happy to help her.
At the preschool and kindergarten age, you want your kiddo to know that giving their best effort is the surest way to success. Someday they will learn that trying hard doesn’t always equate to prosperity, but that’s not something you need to explain to your five-year-old right now.
You want to empower your kindergartner to make their own success.
At home, you could consider doing a reward system with simple chores. If they give their age-appropriate best effort at cleaning their room, they can have a sticker. If they don’t, make sure you talk through the expectation and help them problem-solve what they can do differently next time to receive the reward.
Following 2-3 Step Directions
Your 4 or 5 year old should be able to follow 2-3 step directions before setting foot in kindergarten. Your child’s teacher will spend time teaching all the procedures needed to function in the school culture, but your kiddo needs to be able to understand and implement the expectations.
Listening and following directions will help support your child’s learning as your teacher will be able to concentrate more on academics, and less on the social expectations of society. Following directions is something that is easy to practice at home, so try and take multiple opportunities daily to work on it.
When at home, turn off the television and make sure your child’s attention is on you. After giving the instructions, you can ask your child to reiterate what it is you want them to do.
Play games like Simon Says, Twister, or Follow The Leader. When it comes to household tasks, involve simple, multiple step directions while cleaning rooms or getting ready for bed.
Sticking with an Activity
Kindergarten is not some chaotic place where children run wild, doing as they please–at least not usually.
Your four or five year old should have the ability to sit with an activity for around ten minutes. There may be some debate about this time frame, but this is a number coming from a woman with the education and experience to back it up.
You can practice this by doing quiet time with your kiddo every day. I am pretty sure quiet time is the only reason I am still sane as a mother. Give them a couple of books or a coloring activity and encourage them to stick with it.
Your child is going to fail sometimes. That’s a fact of life. How they handle it is key, and will make or break their success later.
Let your kindergartener practice tying their shoes, or washing and dressing themselves. Wait another thirty seconds before stepping in so you are giving them a chance to figure it out on their own.
I struggle with this one. I am the mom who leaps in to save her toddler at the hint of frustration or disaster. I have definitely stepped up my game in sitting at the sidelines until my help is requested or needed. You need to do the same in order to help promote their growth and independence.
Taking turns can be a hard thing for your child to grasp. Your child still may have the empathy of a psychopath, but they won’t forever, and they need to learn the skills now.
Start incorporating taking turns into your common lingo with your child. For example, say “it’s my turn to use the red crayon, I will let you know when I am done”.
There is a multitude of children’s games that require taking turns such as hide-and-seek, soccer, or most equipment on a playground. Pick up Fill a Bucket, which is a children’s book that talks about the importance of having our bucket filled, but also showcases the ways that filling other people’s buckets can add meaning to our lives.
Ability to Identify and Regulate Emotion
Your child is probably full of emotion–that’s okay. It’s not okay for your child to hit, throw things, or yell obscenities when they are upset. They shouldn’t crawl under the desk or shut down when they are facing disappointment.
Hopefully, you have already been practicing identifying emotions with your child, but now it’s critical to make sure that they have tools in their toolkit to regulate them on the fly.
For disappointment, help them learn to challenge it, and look for opportunities to do better next time. Practice deep breathing exercises with your child when they become angry. Teach them to count slowly to ten in their head.
What Should Danny Do? is an awesome book to help work on emotional regulation. As you read it, your child can choose the emotional reaction to an event and see how it plays out in the book. It’s a way to look at action and consequence in a safe way–plus it’s kind of fun.
Experiment with different regluation techniques, as what works will vary among people.
Listen and Respond to Adults
There are a lot of kids out there that still struggle with listening to other adults, while others appear to hear, but do not respond appropriately. Teaching your child to listen and respond is not meant to fashion them into a mindless robot, but communication is a fundamental behavior that will measure your child’s success in school–or life, really.
Your teacher wants your child to be able to look them in the eye when they are talking and respond appropriately. The best thing we can do as parents to help nurture this is to give them opportunities to engage with adults.
We can expose our kids to other adult interaction by volunteering at an elderly home, encouraging our kids to take the receipt at the grocery store, or taking them to the office with us.
Some kids are shy, and that’s okay.
They still need to be able to advocate with their voice once they enter the school environment. Kids who have practiced these skills, had them modeled for them will be ready for the rigor of academics.
Ensure that your child is learning the appropriate ways to behave in certain situations. At the basic level, manners are a show of respect for other. We don’t interrupt people when they are talking, and we don’t burp in people’s faces–things like that.
Most parents already do this. Playdates, preschool, or extracurriculars are vital at this age. Socialization helps them develop their own sense of self, as well as an understanding of social norms.
Your child is rather egocentric at this age, and socializing teaches them about boundaries and taking turns. Being successful socially will help your child do better in school as they are less likely to have issues with self-esteem and social anxiety.
I am naturally an introverted person–so playdates are really hard for me. I would usually prefer to keep only my kids and cats as company. However, I can see how much it positively impacts my toddler so I do playdates anyway. So should you–you may be surprised how enjoyable it can be.
Enemy Pie is a book worth looking at for teaching socialization. It goes through the story of a boy who learns how to make his worst enemy into his best friend by spending time with him. Socialization and all of the rules that go along with it can be hard for young children and this book can help teach them to go into new relationships with an open mind and open heart.
Diversify Your Child
Your child may not be used to seeing the diversity of people. Although this post focuses on teaching toddlers about diversity, the same lessons are applicable to your older child. We want our children to be accoustomed to the differences among how people look so they can have the best chance to forge bonds with other kids at school.
These are some fundamental social-emotional things your child should be able to do before entering kindergarten. They don’t have to do all of these things entirely, but if they seem to be struggling with many of these concepts, it is worth considering waiting another year before enrolling your child in kindergarten.
You will never get that time back at home with your little one.
Once you enroll your child in school there is no going back. It is rare to hold children back in school and only done under very special circumstances.
It is much more important to make sure they are emotionally prepared for kindergarten so they can be set up for success. You are the one who knows your child best, and you are the most equipped person to make this decision for your child.
Good luck and hang in there, mom.
What have you done to help prepare your littles for Kindergarten? I would love to hear about your experience in the comment section below.