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When I worked as the director of a preschool and a pre-K teacher, I found the kindergarten readiness portion of the job was one of the most rewarding things I had ever done as an educator. My students came to me in September knowing very few of their letters, and by April they were reading sight words. kindergarten expectations have changed drastically even since the days when my own child entered kindergarten. Having a solid base for reading and mathematics is where it all needs to begin.
Parents need to look at their school district and find out what they expect of incoming Kindergarten students. I have students in my pre-K class from three different districts, and they all have varying degrees of expectations. Some academic basics include the ability to:
- Recognize letters.
- Recognize 30 letter sounds.
- Recognize 30 beginning word sounds.
- Count to 50.
- Write numbers 1-10 without models.
- Visually recognize numbers 1-20.
- Write first and last name.
When it comes to letters and their sounds, phonics is where the focus needs to be. I use a great song with my students. It is an ABC song that gives you the sound of each letter. “A for apple…ah, ah, ah…" I do not know where I found it or what the exact title is, but it works wonders.
As a child begins to learn to recognize their letters, remind them what the letter sound is as well. Do this by connecting letters with words, not necessarily its sound. So, if your child recognizes the letter “J", add that “J is for jump and jelly bean." Just this simple comment will help to instill in your child the idea that letters have sounds and are connected to specific words. By learning the individual sounds, your child will then be able to connect that skill to unfamiliar words.
The ultimate test of letter/sound recognition is giving a child nonsense words to sound out. For example, ask them to sound out words like “zop, rop, pag." Since these words are unfamiliar, you are really testing their letter sound knowledge. When you ask them to read words that they have gone over time and time again, it can become a memory game and they are not really applying their phonics knowledge. A list of common words that a child will be expected to read in Kindergarten is below.
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Counting and number recognition are the other main skills that students need to master before moving to Kindergarten. Some parents come to me and say “My child can count to 100!" My response is “That is great!", and I mean it with all my heart. But, there is a huge difference between rote counting and one-to-one correspondence. Parents often don’t realize that just because your child can do one, it doesn’t mean they can do the other.
Rote counting is just counting, rattling off the numbers from 1-100. That same child may not be able to count 20 blocks in front of them. The ability to tag and count one block at a time is much more difficult. Many skip blocks or count one block twice. So, even if your child masters rote counting, be sure that they can accurately complete one-to-one counting. I currently work with second and third graders who struggle with tag counting.
Another important math skill is visually recognizing numbers. That same child that can count to 100 may not be able to look at an 8 and tell you that it is an 8. Parents often think that their child knows their numbers, but make the mistake of showing them the numbers in order. When you do this, the child really is just rote counting. Show the numbers out of order to accurately check their knowledge. Basic number sense is so critical as students enter Kindergarten. I currently work as a math intervention specialist for 2-3 grade and the number of students who lack these basic skills is staggering. They are the only foundation we need to be concerned with when it comes to mathematics.
Kindergarten readiness is critical and can set the tone for the rest of your child’s schooling. Getting them off to a strong start is crucial. This is where you can teach them that school can be fun, even though it is hard work. This is where their love of learning can continue to flourish.