There is a lot of confusion around what is meant by kindergarten readiness. It seems to have different meanings to different groups of people. Some people assume that kindergarten readiness means a child needs to know their letters, numbers, colors and sight words. Others simply think kindergarten readiness means a child is five years old by the deadline. Which in most states is September 1.
However, when you talk with many educators they reinforce the idea that kindergarten readiness is about social skills, self help skills and whether a child has the maturity to be away from their parents for an entire day. For the majority of kids who spend time in daycare or preschool this is not an issue. They have already been conditioned to share toys with others and interact in a group setting. But for children who have been cared for in their home by a parent or nanny or other family, friend or neighbor situation this may be something you want to work on before the big day arrives.
I have compiled a list of what I consider to be the most important skills a child should have to meet the kindergarten readiness basic standards. This is not a complete list by any means but it gives you an idea of where to start and what to brush up on if your child starts kindergarten in the fall.
Kindergarten Readiness Self Help Skills
Can your child dress themselves?
Does your child have the finger dexterity to snap their pants after they use the bathroom or zip their jackets when getting ready to go on the playground. Remember that most public kindergarten classrooms have between 18-28 children in them. Usually with one kindergarten teacher and a helper. While they are willing to help they do not have the time to help each individual child get out the door for recess. It will go a long way to help your child if they can do these skills themselves.
We started by allowing the kids to choose their own clothes and dress themselves. It does make for some interesting outfits but really in the big scheme of things does it matter if their favorite shorts clash with their favorite shirt? Or if they want to wear them same clothes two days in a row?
Can they keep track of their own belongings?
As parents we like to keep things together and organized (or is that just me?). This came to a head for us with the oldest during second grade. He was constantly forgetting his planner and homework at school, doing his homework and then forgetting to turn it in or losing track of his belongings. We would get to karate and he would only have his jacket but no pants to wear. Very frustrating to say the least.
With his younger siblings we have started giving them the responsibility earlier for their own stuff. We make them pack their backpacks and carry it to the car when we go somewhere. It is easier to establish good habits while they are young than try to change their habits as they get older. Establishing a routine they can count on is an awesome way to get this going. Have them pack their backpacks, making sure their homework is done and in their folder the night before. Lay out the clothes they are going to wear the next day. Have two or three breakfast foods for them to choose from. Have their lunch packed and ready to grab out of the refrigerator. This makes the mornings run so much more smoothly and peaceful. It has eliminated a lot of the angst and tears from our mornings.
Can they open their containers at lunch?
As a mom I pride myself in making sure I have healthy food choices that are nut free in each lunch box. Until most of it was coming back home at the end of the day and I began to question why. I then realized that while the little bento box containers are bright and colorful and fun looking they are not age appropriate for most five year olds to open. I had them practice opening the containers, plastic applesauce cups and ziplock baggies. We practiced opening and closing their water bottles to ensure they wouldn’t leak. What I didn’t realize was how much I was actually doing for the children on a regular basis without even thinking about it! Now I have trained myself to refrain from just doing it for them (which we know is so much easier and quicker!)
Keep afterschool activities to a minimum
One of the big surprises for our family was that our oldest wanted no activities, or very little after school. By the time he gets off the bus and has a snack and does his homework he has very little downtime to just play. He missed his toys! Having him in all kinds of activities stressed him out and gave him anxiety. Therefore, he had tantrums. We now have limited their activities to karate, lego league and swim lessons. We alternate lego league and swim lessons so they are not going on during the same months. Karate is an ongoing class for them but since it is individual it is not a big deal if we miss a week if someone needs downtime. We save most of our activities for the month of August when they are bored of their toys and ready to get into activities with other children. It also helps them with the transition from summer to the school year.
Establish a good bye routine
One of the most important things is to establish your good bye routine. If you are anxious and crying, your anxiety will affect your child and how they perceive this new adventure they are embarking on. Whether you are dropping them off or putting them on a school bus, have a ritual that will comfort them throughout those first few days. I often read the book The Kissing Hand by Ruth Harper to help ease the transition.
Finally, use books to help them talk about their feelings
We have found there are several good books we turn to regularly that help with kindergarten readiness from an emotional perspective. Here are a few of our favorites.
- Miss Bindergarten gets ready for kindergarten by Joseph Slate and Ashley Wolff
- On the first day of kindergarten by Tish Rabe and Laura Huges
- How full is your bucket? for kids by Tom Rath and Mary Reckmeyer PhD.
- Have you filled your bucket today? A guide to daily happiness for kids by Carol McCloud and David Messing
- What to do when you worry too much: A kids guide to overcoming anxiety by Dawn Huebner and Bonnie Matthews
- Happy skills for happy kids: ten bright ideas that help kids feel glad! by Jed Jurchenko