While your kindergarten-age child doesn't need to be able to parallel park or bake a souffle, there are skills he or she needs to master that are simply part of growing up. According to Ann Barbour — a professor of early childhood education and the author of Learning at Home: PreK-3, Activities that Engage Children and Families — children entering kindergarten should be able to complete basic self-care and self-help tasks, such as getting dressed, holding a pencil and cutting with (safety) scissors.
While kindergarten will undoubtedly help to improve your children's social skills as they interact more and more with their peers, children need to be able to play well and get along with others prior to class. In the study Linking Social Development and Behavior to School Readiness, Barbara J. Smith, Ph.D., identifies certain social skills as "essential for academic success." These include playing nicely with peers, listening to teachers and following directions, participating in social interaction and cooperative play and having self-confidence.
Many experts — including both Smith and Barbour — agree that your kindergartener should be able to regulate his own behavior and emotions to a certain extent. Barbour explains that these self-regulation skills should include things like "controlling impulses, paying attention, following directions, handling frustrations and negotiating solutions to problems."
When making a list of five things every child should master before walking through her classroom doors, kindergarten teacher Malia Hollowell tops the list with knowing what she calls basic pre-reading skills. This includes letter recognition — and this means being able to identify the letters outside of singing the alphabet song. Your child should also be able to recognize shapes and colors, count to 10 and at least make a decent pass at writing her own first name. "I love it when a child can already write his or her name, even if it is a little messy or all in capital letters," says Bonnie Shuler, who taught kindergarten for 40 years before retiring.
Hand-in-hand with pre-reading skills is a set of skills described as phonological awareness by Mary Ann Rafoth, Ph.D., N.C.S.P.; Erin L. Buchenauer, M.Ed.; Katherine Kolb Crissman, M.Ed. and Jennifer L. Halko in their study titled School Readiness — Preparing Children for Kindergarten and Beyond: Information for Parents. Much of phonological awareness involves rhyme recognition — identifying rhymes, alliteration and onset rhymes. To help improve your child's phonological awareness, they recommend activities such as reading nursery rhymes and singing classic children's jingles.
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