When Kindergarten looms

For parents with children of a certain age, summer means one thing: kindergarten looms. I identify all too well, since our two older grandsons will start kindergarten this fall. There are lots of resources available, but the sheer volume – and, let’s face it, the “academic-speak” in which much of the materials is written – can be off-putting.

Where does the parent with a kindergarten-bound child start? What does it even mean to be “ready” for kindergarten? And what should parents and grandparents be doing to help?

I thought about a recent visit with one grandson and his older sister. At Finn’s urging, we played Candy Land, a game for young children that has been around since 1949. As we played, I became aware that Finn was practicing kindergarten readiness skills that show up on most lists:

  • Color recognition
  • Simple counting
  • Ability to follow directions
  • Taking turns, including losing a turn when his marker landed on a certain tile

Being aware of specific characteristics and skills that can make the difference is the first step. Targets for Kindergarten, developed by the Children’s Reading Foundation, is a good start.

I also found a no-nonsense checklist from the Urban Child Institute, A Parents’ Guide to Kindergarten Readiness. Here are a few things the guide says a new kindergartner should know or demonstrate:

  • Know his first and last name and his parent’s first and last name.
  • Solve problems without hitting, biting, or yelling.
  • Show curiosity and enthusiasm for activities like story or art time.

The guide echoes our refrain: the first years of life are among the most important for brain development and there’s much that parents can do in the earliest years to give their child every advantage possible. Preparing a child for kindergarten begins at birth. During the first months of life, babies’ brains grow and develop in ways that establish the foundation for lifetime well-being.

For specific activities for children birth to 3, you can download the Parents Guide. But what about that last summer before starting kindergarten? One of my favorite articles is from Scholastic. It’s full of specifics for the anxious parent or grandparent, with its own list of readiness indicators and activities to solidify the skills and abilities a new kindergartener will need. Reinforcing school readiness skills through informal interactions, like playing Candy Land, is helpful – and lots of fun!