Is Your Child Ready for Kindergarten?

Is Your Child Ready for Kindergarten? Red Apple Reading ExpressHow do you know if your child is ready to handle the rigors of the elementary school world? While I’m not a teacher, I am a mother of four children (the youngest of whom will be entering kindergarten in the fall) and I’ve learned a few things along the way. One of the many lessons I’ve learned (and I admit this was at the expense of my older kids) is how to help children prepare for kindergarten. It might surprise you to learn that not all my tips are academic – sometimes good old-fashioned life skills are what will help your kiddo most when he’s away from you during the day. Peruse this checklist of items to see what you can be working on with your little one before the first day of the school year.

  1. Tie Shoes – Alright, I have to admit right off the bat that my rising kindergartner cannot tie his own shoes. But thanks to the wonderful invention of Velcro I can buy myself another year (OK, who am I kidding – two years)!
  2. Recognize Letters – When we started kindergarten, part of what our parents expected us to be taught was our letters. These days (whether you think it’s for better or worse) kindergarten is a bit more fast paced. Your kiddo will feel more on top of things if she can already recognize her letters beforehand.
  3. Button Pants – If you’re a parent you probably don’t even realize that you still help your child button his pants. It’s just part of the routine: find the car keys, grab the briefcase, button little Billy’s pants, get in the car and roll. But trust me, your child’s teacher doesn’t have the time or patience to button twenty pairs of pants a day! Do her a favor and teach your kiddo this skill beforehand.
  4. Write Name – At the end of each school day you will find a wad of papers stuffed in the bottom of your child’s backpack. He will be expected to write his name (albeit not perfectly) on every one of those take home papers. Have your kiddo practice writing his name before sending him to kindergarten.
  5. Open Ketchup Packets – Again, although your kid’s teacher is probably the model of placidity, she will not be feeling very patient after the twelfth kid asks her to open his ketchup packet. Take the family out to McDonald’s and add a lesson in opening ketchup packets to your order.
  6. Recognize Numbers – Can your little one count to twenty and recognize the numbers 1-10? If not, brush up a bit on her number game before school begins.
  7. Recognize Colors – Most children learn their colors along the way as they navigate through life. Your little one most likely has already picked up this skill. If not, get out a box of basic Crayola’s and review red, orange, blue, yellow, green, purple, black, brown, and white. Recognition of indigo not required!
  8. Know Shapes – A knowledge of the basic shapes will be helpful to your little one as she begins kindergarten. No need to get out the geometry book and master octagons and hexagons. A simple review of circles, squares, and rectangles will suffice!
  9. Hold Scissors – If you’ve ever witnessed a child using scissors for the first time you know how incredibly awkward it looks. Using scissors properly takes a lot of practice. Find some scrap paper and blunt scissors and let your kiddo cut until his heart is content!
  10. Social Give and Take – No one expects kindergarteners to navigate social situations perfectly. However, a basic knowledge of sharing, compromising, and speaking kindly will go a long way in helping your kid be successful in kindergarten.

Oh yeah! Another important skill I’ve learned in my career as a mom of students: don’t sweat it! If your kiddo is a bit behind in some area, he will most likely catch up. So relax and enjoy the ride! They are only little for a short time. Take it from me, before you know it you will be handing them the car keys and telling them to be careful!

We’re Learning to Read Again!

Katie brought home a decodable book from Kindergarten yesterday, and she read the whole entire thing by herself. I was ecstatic! Yes, most of the words were the same, and some of the “words” were actually pictures, but do not think for a moment that this small detail stifled any of my excitement or the pride I felt welling up inside me! I was beaming, and more importantly, so was she!

We're Learning to Read Again!Katie is my third child, so I’ve been through this twice before, but believe me when I say that it is just as magical as the first time! Katie has been very dedicated to the process of learning to read, and I would say that all of her “hard work” has paid off, but for her, it is the furthest thing from work that you could imagine. This child loves to sound out and blend words together. She gets this gleam in her eye when she “gets” a word—that is, when it pops out of her mouth and she hears it and it makes sense to her. Her smile is saying, “Wow, I just read that—by myself!” There is really nothing quite like it.

Of course, every time this has happened, we’ve celebrated—a lot! I do think that has a lot to do with her success. Of course, she’s proud of herself, but when she sees how proud we are too, it motivates her that much more! It’s taken her almost exactly nine weeks to get to the point of reading a short, decodable book on her own, but I know that she’s about to take off. She’s trying to read everything around her and succeeding a good portion of the time!

I feel so blessed that none of my children (so far) have struggled with learning to read. On the contrary, all three of them have found it to be a fun and rewarding process. Of course, I have their teachers to thank for a lot of it. They’ve all been amazing at helping to make learning to read exciting for my children, and I am so grateful for that! Katie’s teacher amazes me with the creative songs and activities she comes up with to encourage the kids to practice the skills they learn in class.

Is Katie reading everything perfectly? Of course not! Like most kids, she has some difficulty with certain skills and letters. For instance, she’s currently having some trouble distinguishing between the lowercase “b” and the lowercase “d.” I’ve been using the “bed trick” to try to help her with this, and I think it’s helping a bit. She also jumps the gun sometimes when she’s sounding out words. That is, she’ll sound out the first couple of phonemes and then get excited and blurt out the word she thinks it is before getting to that last letter. For example, once, she started to sound out the word “sip” and let her excitement get the best of her before she got to that final “p,” so she yelled “sit.” I don’t see this as too much of an issue. I think the more she gets used to reading, the more she’ll be able to contain herself. I’m just happy she’s so eager!

Do you have a child learning to read this year? How is he/she doing? Share your triumphs and frustrations in the comments section.


Literacy Activities: Preschool to Kindergarten – Reading Essentials #9

Literacy Activities: Preschool to KindergartenMost parents of preschoolers and kindergarteners have starting thinking about how they can help their children get ready to read. Hopefully by the time your child is 3 or 4 years old, he has had plenty of exposure to books, nursery rhymes, songs, and the letters of the alphabet. Take a look at my last post, Literacy Activities: Toddler to Preschool, if your child has not yet had these experiences.

As your child becomes more comfortable with the sounds that letters make, you can begin to help her connect the letter-sounds into words. Many of the easiest beginning words are CVC words (consonant-vowel-consonant words). Examples are “mat,” “big,” “get” –all are phonetically regular, short CVC words that contain phonemes (sounds) that are easy to identify. To give your child practice with CVC words, you can:

  • Buy or make CVC word puzzles: Find a commercially produced product, or simply create your own puzzle by writing out a CVC word and then dividing it into separate letters. Puzzles that include a picture of the word can help children connect the word and the letters to meaning. Click here to see letters put on Duplo building blocks to spell out words.
  • Buy or make CVC flipbooks: Again, commercially produced products are available, but you can also make your own. Simply write out the last two letters of a CVC word –for example, “-at,” and then add a stack of letters at the front of the word, for example “m,” “b,” “c,” “r.” Your child can then practice creating different words by keeping the “-at” sound at the end of the word the same, and varying the beginning sounds to form the words “mat,” “bat,” “cat,” and “rat.”
  • Look at words within “word families”: Read books to your child or introduce him to videos that focus on a particular word family, for example words that end in “-an” or  “-ad.”
  • Look at words within the context of rhymes: Introduce your child to books and materials that focus on rhymes. As with word families, rhymes help children hear the phonetic connections between words with similar spellings and sounds.
  • Introduce a letter wall: Designate a spot in your home–perhaps the refrigerator door, or a bulletin board–and make it into a letter wall. Place magnetic or adhesive letters on the wall and let your child create her own CVC words by moving the letters around.
  • Introduce writing games: If your child has begun to write some letters, you can begin to offer him practice with encoding (using knowledge of letters and letter sounds to write words). Play guessing games, for example, asking him to write the letter that comes at the beginning of the word “bed.”
  • Find fun and easy ideas online: If you use Pinterest, there are numerous ideas being shared by teachers and parents. Just type “word puzzles,” “CVC,” “word building,” or “word families” into the search field and you’ll be greatly rewarded with ideas.

As your child’s developing reading skills continue to grow, you can expand these activities to include more advanced objectives. You can use many of the same resources as before–flash cards, online activities, puzzles–but expand the material to include new and more complex aspects of phonological awareness:

  • Digraph and blend activities: Digraphs are two or more letters grouped together but making a single sound, for example “th” and “ch.” Blends are two or more consonants grouped together but making separate sounds, for example “br” and “gl.” You can give your child practice with recognizing digraphs and blends through activities with flashcards, puzzles, online games and media, and by pointing them out in text.
  • Rhyming games: Increase your child’s familiarity with rhymes by having her write poems, play matching games with rhyming words, and come up with new or unusual rhymes.
  • Blending and substitution games: Once a child can comfortably blend the letters “c” “a” “t” into “cat,” you can expand to more complicated words. For example, you can give him the letters “f” “r” “o” “g” and let him practice blending those letters into a word. You can also introduce substitution activities, for example asking, “What happens when you take away the ‘r’ in “frog?”
  • Phoneme isolation games: Give your child practice with hearing sounds within words. For example, you can go on a “sound hunt” around the home, finding all of the objects that have the /s/ sound in them (stove, soap). To make the game more challenging, you can look for objects that have the same vowel sound in them (s/i/nk, refr/i/gerator).
  • Segmenting activities: Working in the opposite direction as the blending activities, you can have your child start with a whole word, such as “block,” and break it into pieces. You can use the pieces to make a puzzle, or a flipbook with “-ock” at the end, or create a list of rhyming words (sock, rock, dock).

All of these activities will help ensure your child is getting the best possible literacy development he can get. Before you know it, she will be reading the bedtime stories to you!

Do you have any ideas we didn’t mention? Feel free to add them in the comments section.

Starting Kindergarten Katie-Style

Starting Kindergarten Katie-StyleIf you’ve been keeping up with this blog, you know that my little girl started Kindergarten last week. It has been quite an adventure for the whole family. Based on my experiences so far (and yes—I know they are limited), I thought I’d offer some tips and insight for those of you who have preschoolers.

Preschool Helps and Hurts
If you’re on the fence about preschool, I can say I think it really does the job in preparing kids for Kindergarten. I say this from the standpoint of having sent my first two children to Kindergarten without this preparation. It’s too soon to tell whether or not the skills taught in preschool will help Katie out academically this year, but from a social and transitional perspective, things are going a lot smoother as a result of her preschool experience. Preschool taught Katie that teachers are nice, not scary, and that other children like her. These are two fears that I think a lot of kids have when they first enter school. They’re nervous because of the what-ifs: what if my teacher is mean, and what if I don’t make any friends? By putting these fears to rest during preschool, Katie is now able to get along socially, and her mind is free to concentrate on the important stuff—like learning to read!

I do have to say that there was one drawback to the preschool experience, and I really wouldn’t even call it that, but a couple of nights before Katie started school, she had a breakdown of sorts. She was thinking about school, and of course, the first thing that came to mind was preschool. At that point, it was her only frame of reference. Then the tears came. She missed her preschool teachers and all of her friends. She made it clear she didn’t want a new teacher, and she didn’t want new friends. She wanted what was comfortable and familiar. Of course, this isn’t a bad thing; it’s natural. We’re all a little wary of change and fearful of the unknown, but we can’t protect our kids from these discomforts forever.

Blisters Really Hurt
Two days before school started, a mysterious—and may I say, gigantic—blister appeared on Katie’s big toe. It was a nasty, puss-filled thing and apparently it hurt – bad! To make a long story short, Katie refused to wear any “tight” shoes, but had to have socks, so on the first day of school, she hobbled down the hallway with bright white socks and pink sandals. I have to say I was a little embarrassed (terrible, I know!) and felt compelled to explain to everyone why I dressed my daughter this way on the first and most important day of school. Katie was completely unaffected of course. Knowing her, it will be the next big trend.

Good Teachers Help—A lot!
Katie lucked out and got the same Kindergarten teacher my son had, which really put my mind to rest. Ms. Smith has done so many things already that have helped my daughter transition to Kindergarten. For instance, during orientation she gave Katie a card with a warning on the front that read, in bold letters, “DO NOT PEEK.” She then leaned down, looked into Katie’s eyes, and with much drama instructed Katie NOT to open the card until the night before Kindergarten started. As it turned out, the card contained a precious message that wished Katie sweet dreams on her last night as a preschooler, and taped inside was a tiny package of “magic” sequins and beads with instructions to sprinkle them under her pillow to help her sleep soundly. Katie fell right asleep that night! I could have kissed her teacher!

A Little Empathy and Patience Never Hurts
If you knew our Katie, you would know that she is our “special” child, and by that I mean she is unlike any of my other three children. She has her own way of doing things and a very, very strong will. When she doesn’t like something, the whole house knows it. She makes us laugh the biggest laughs and cry the biggest tears. We were genuinely worried about her starting preschool and prayed daily for her teachers, but in genuine Katie-style, she shocked us all. She was impeccably behaved. Her teachers called her an angel. We were so proud…and so confused. Was this the same child they were talking about? Our Katie?

The trend has continued into Kindergarten—straight smiley faces so far. Again, we are so proud, but when she comes home at the end of the school day, something changes. She is “our Katie again,” and as much as I love this girl, she is not always pleasant. It’s frustrating to try to understand why she’s so good at school and so difficult at home, but I’m determined to focus on the positive. I will praise her for her school accomplishments and pray for patience and empathy when she misbehaves at home. I keep asking myself, would I want it the other way around? Of course not. Katie is comfortable enough with me that she can be her true, uncensored self. Her willingness to do that means she knows I love her unconditionally, and for that, I am thankful.

The first day of Kindergarten has come and gone, and so far so good! I can’t believe we’re here, but I’m looking forward to all of the adventures ahead. I will keep you posted!

Kindergarten—What Teachers Expect and What You Can Expect

Kindergarten - What to ExpectAs the big day approaches, I’m feeling more and more nervous about my little one going to Kindergarten in the fall. I must be doing a fairly good job of hiding it though, because unlike me, Miss Katie is counting down the days. She can’t wait to meet her teacher, make new friends, and “play with the toys!” In my heart, I know she’ll be fine, but my head keeps reminding me of all the things that could go wrong.

You’ve probably been there too—we all want our kids to thrive, no matter where they are in life. Whether your little one is entering Kindergarten this year or next, knowing what will be expected of her, and also knowing what you can expect as a parent can help ease your fears.

What Teachers Expect Your Child to Know

If you find yourself fretting over whether your child is ready for Kindergarten, don’t give in to these concerns. More than likely, you are worrying over nothing. Why? Because Kindergarten teachers expect their students to come to school on the first day with a wide range of skills. Some will be able to count to 20; some won’t get past 10. Those who attended preschool may know all of their letter sounds while other children may still be working on the alphabet song. This is completely normal, and since all beginning Kindergarten students are different, you can rest assured that all of these skills (and more) will be covered in depth.

If you need something to do with your hands so that you won’t keep biting your nails from now until fall, however, working with your child on basic skills certainly won’t hurt. If your child begins Kindergarten with a good grasp of colors, numbers, letters, and shapes, then she’ll be ahead of the game! Looking for practice sheets and activities? Check out these “getting ready for Kindergarten” handouts. Another thing your child will need to master in Kindergarten is how to write her full name, so you can begin practicing this skill together as well.

What You Can Expect – Lots of Fun!

Despite increasingly rigorous academic standards across the board, Kindergarten is still a time when teachers try to instill a lifelong love of learning in their students. How do they do this? By making learning fun, of course! Story-time, puppet shows, finger-painting, puzzles—these are all staples of any Kindergarten curriculum. Your child will be having so much fun that he may not even realize how much he’s learning.

Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic

Although subjects like Social Studies and Science are touched on in Kindergarten (so lightly you may not even notice), the central academic focus  this year will be on the three “Rs”—reading, writing, and arithmetic. You can expect that your child will spend lots of time practicing phonetics, writing letters and numbers, recalling story elements, and counting objects. For a more comprehensive explanation of what your child will likely be learning during her first year of school, check out the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics and English Language Arts.

A Little Frustration

Learning to read and write are transformational events in your child’s life, and they don’t come about without a great deal of practice and hard work. No matter how bright your child is or how much fun he’s having in Kindergarten, he’s likely to experience at least a little frustration at some point during the year. Preparing yourself for this hiccup ahead of time will keep you from panicking or thinking that your child is falling behind, when in reality what he’s experiencing is completely normal. If and when you do notice some frustration on your child’s part, let him know that everyone struggles to acquire new skills—especially such complex ones like reading and writing. Then, encourage him, let him take a break if necessary, and assure them that you’re here to help whenever he needs it.

Starting Kindergarten is a huge step—for both kids and parents alike.

As you begin this new journey together, take a deep breath, do what you can to prepare, and then trust that it will be a great year for the both of you!