Expert tips by Jan Jones (Early Childhood Educator)
The list below contains the main skills that your child should have before they are ready to begin their year preceding formal schooling. It doesn’t matter if your child can’t count to twenty, recognise all of the letters of the alphabet or accurately label all colours. These are skills that the child will gain when they are ready. The most important things your child will need to enjoy kindergarten are some degree of independence plus the basic social skills required to function in a group setting.
As well as the skills required, I have included some tips you may be able to use with your child if they need help in some areas.
Able to remove and put on own jacket, hat, shoes and socks
Start practising these skills long before the child starts kindergarten. It is much easier for the parent to put on a child’s jacket or shoes than wait for them to do it but the child needs a great deal of practice with a variety of clothes to master these tasks. The earlier they start trying for themselves the easier it will become. Watch your child as they put on their jacket or shoes so that you can see what they have trouble with. Break each step down into easier tasks – put one arm in jacket; reach around with other arm behind back to move jacket across to other side; feel for armhole; put other hand in hole and pull up across shoulders; do up at front.
Try to make sure that when you are buying clothes or shoes for your child they are relatively easy for them to manage themselves e.g. shoes with Velcro fastening, jackets with buttons or zips that do up easily.
Able to recognise need to go to the toilet early enough to avoid accidents
Start with reminding your child regularly to go to the toilet in the year before kindergarten but gradually increase the time between your reminders so that the child starts to recognise the need themselves. Try to accept any toileting accidents without making too much fuss so that your child doesn’t become too distressed if he/she happens to wet or soil themself. Show them what to do if this happens as they may have to cope in that situation at kindergarten. Many children become so absorbed in play when they are at kindergarten that toileting accidents are very common. It is helpful to the child if they can deal with this calmly and inform the kindergarten teacher that they need help.
Capable of using toilet independently and wiping own bottom
Make sure your child can manage to pull down their trousers or pull up their dress when required. Remember this difficulty when buying clothes. Top buttons on jeans are often very hard to undo. Help your child to practise pulling up their underwear before their trousers so that they don’t end up entangled and uncomfortable.
Try to spend some time in the kindergarten before the child starts particularly to show them the open toilet facilities. Some children find the public layout of kindergarten toilets difficult to cope with when they have been used to using an enclosed space at home.
Let your child practise using toilet paper and managing the amount they pull from the roll. Current use of moistened wipes for young children’s bottoms means that some children have never had to use toilet paper.
Able to wash and dry hands independently after using toilet
Encourage your child to wash and dry their own hands after toileting. This is very important to control the spread of disease in a public setting such as a kindergarten. You should provide opportunities to use solid bars of soap as well as liquid soap as your child will encounter both in different venues over the years.
Able to recognise own written and spoken name
Make sure that you attach name labels to as many of your child’s possessions as possible that they will take with them to kindergarten. Give them plenty of practice at identifying their name from these labels and also in hand-written form. Use both CAPITAL and small letters when writing their name as they should be able to identify it in various forms e.g. Frederick and FREDERICK.
Vary the ways you call your child if their name can be shortened so that they can identify the different ways they may be addressed by adults away from home e.g. Frederick, Fred, Freddie.
Able to recognise own belongings
Give the child many opportunities to identify their belongings among a group of like items. Water bottles should be easily identified so that your child doesn’t pick up the wrong one. Lunch boxes, shoes, socks and hats are other items that need to be easily recognised. Try to have distinctive labels so that recognition is fast and easy.
Able to remove packaging from food items
For many months before kindergarten starts, begin to try out with your child food items that they can easily remove from any packaging. These may be pre-packaged or in a lunch box. Find out if the kindergarten your child will attend has any particular rules for food items brought from home. This will help you to identify suitable food that your child can eat by themselves e.g. it is a waste of time practising opening juice containers if the kindergarten will only allow water to drink. Some lunch boxes are very hard for children to open. Ask advice from the kindergarten teacher about which brands and type seem most successful for children of that age.
Able to identify when a drink is required and access own water bottle or pour water into a cup
Encourage your child to ask for a drink at home in the year preceding kindergarten. This will start them realising when they need to drink. Remind them of the importance of drinking after vigorous exercise as they will be expected to start to manage the need for a drink themselves once they are at kindergarten. Let your child practise pouring from a jug into a cup so that they can master this skill even if they mainly use a water bottle. Start with a small jug and gradually increase the size of the jug over time as well as the amount of liquid it contains. One of the hardest things for a young child to do is stopping at the right time before overfilling their cup. Pouring will be useful in the sandpit, gardening and at craft activities and some kindergartens have a jug of water and cups available for children to use during the day.
Able to manage to consume a reasonable amount of food when surrounded by distractions
Eating their lunch or snack while surrounded by many other children can be very difficult for some children. Practise by taking a packed lunch to a busy park with your child or arrange to meet friends with children in a venue where a packed lunch can be eaten. This should be done several times to help your child cope with the distractions and still consume some food.
If your child finishes the kindergarten day with most of their food still in their lunch box, bring some fresh snacks for them to consume as soon as kindergarten is over. Trying to get them to eat what they have not finished earlier will not be very appealing as food quickly loses its freshness. Don’t worry too much about them not eating very much at lunchtime, as it often takes a long time for some children to settle comfortably into a new environment.
Able to separate from parent/caregiver without too much distress
If your child appears very upset when it is time for you to leave them at kindergarten, say goodbye quickly, tell them when you will return e.g. at 3 o’clock, or after nap-time, and then leave. Kindergarten teachers are trained to calm down a child who is upset and very few children will continue to be upset for long after their parent leaves. Talk to the kindergarten teacher about strategies you could use if your child continues to show distress after a few days. Advice may include bringing your child to kindergarten a little later than others for a while so that the room is a bit calmer when your child arrives. The noise and bustle as a large number of children and parents say their goodbyes can be very unsettling. For some children, a shorter day at kindergarten may be advised, particularly if they are becoming distressed later in the day. A new environment is very tiring and some children require a much slower introduction to kindergarten than others.
Willing to follow directions from adults
At kindergarten, children are expected to listen to the staff members when they are giving instructions, asking questions or reading a story. One way of preparing your child to follow the directions of adults other than yourself is to attend story-reading sessions at the local library. This prepares the child for the length of time they may be required to sit and listen to a story. Contact with adults outside the family also gives children the opportunity to interact with grown-ups. This might take the form of a playgroup, dance, swimming or gym class. Leaving your child for a few hours with friends, neighbours or grandparents also increases the child’s social skills.
Able to recognise need to share and take turns
It is difficult for most people to share whether they are children or adults. Think about how frustrating it is when you are in the supermarket queue and another checkout opens nearby but someone else gets there first. We all get a bit cross about these sorts of events. It is particularly difficult for children to have to wait for a turn or to share an activity with others. Some children cope with this fairly well while others become very emotional and may react angrily. The park or a playgroup is a good place to help your child through their emotions when having to deal with sharing or taking turns. Comfort your child if they are distressed and distract their attention to another activity if this is possible. If distraction doesn’t work, just maintain a comforting closeness and talk to the child about how we all have to learn to wait and share at times.
Willing to ask adults for help when required
Many children find it difficult to approach adults and ask for help. Talk to your child about how they should do this if they need help in any way. This might be with a puzzle, craft activity, in the playground or after a toileting accident. Once again give your child the opportunity to practise this with friends or neighbours or at the local shopping centre. Allow your child to hand over the money in a shop for small purchases or to use their own library card in the library. This gives them the opportunity to practise interacting with other adults while you are nearby.
Able to concentrate/listen for a reasonable period of time
This is discussed in the earlier point about listening to adults. The concentration required to listen to a story or discussion is slowly developed over time. Some children may require a small “fiddle” toy to help their attention at this time. This may be a small plastic animal or stretchy toy that the child can fiddle with in their hands while sitting still in one place. This prevents the temptation that some children have to touch others around them and gives them something to focus on. If your child has difficulty sitting through story-time, discuss with the teacher the possibility that occupying their hands may help them.
Any worries that you may have about whether your child will be ready to start kindergarten should be discussed with your Maternal and Child Health Nurse or a kindergarten teacher. Ring to make an appointment with the teacher well in advance of the start of the school year if you have any concerns about your child’s readiness.
Kindergarten should be a very happy year for children and for parents, so start out feeling confident that it will be a great learning experience for your child.