Apple, pencils, and blocks on a desk with title over them

A wealth of information exists about child development and what a preschool child needs to know in order to be ready for kindergarten. Depending on where you live and which kindergarten your child will attend next year, the specifics of what they need to know will vary. Regardless, if you focus on these five core areas, your child will be well on their way to being ready for kindergarten.

Of course, there are other areas, such as social and emotional development, that must be matured in order to be ready for kindergarten, but that’s another topic for another time. So, without further ado, here are the top 5 key ways to prepare your child academically for kindergarten.

1. ABCs

This is usually the first thing parents think of when they think about getting their child ready for kindergarten. Singing the alphabet song is a great start, but don’t stop there.

  • Letter recognition
    • Help your child learn to recognize and name the letters. This takes plenty of repetition. Perhaps buy or print an alphabet poster. Point to each letter saying the name, then later, as your child catches on, ask them the name of the letter you’re pointing to. Be sure to mix up the order when you teach your child the letter names, otherwise, they may simply memorize the order of the letters, rather than their shapes. Additionally, throughout your day, when you come across writing, ask your child to name the letters they see.
  • Letter sounds
    • While letter names are important, their sounds are even more critical for learning to read. Ideally, a child who is entering kindergarten should have a strong grasp of the concept that every letter makes a sound and that letters put together make words. They should know many of the letter sounds.  For ideas of how to teach letter sounds to your child, check out this post:  Teaching the ABCs
  • Write own name
    • There is a long standing debate among kindergarten and preschool teachers about who should be teaching children to write. Some teachers argue that children who learn to write incorrectly form bad habits that are hard to break later. Other teachers would disagree with that. Due to this on-going debate, I do not emphasize teaching your child to write all their letters during their preschool years. Girl writingIf they show interest in learning to write, by all means, do not hold them back. Perhaps buy them a workbook that shows which way to write each letter. The big key in teaching children to write correctly is thinking about where we start a letter. When we write “M”, we start at the top for each line. When we write “Z” it is one continuous line. A good rule of thumb to follow is that most letters start at the top.
    • While I do not emphasize writing the whole alphabet, I strongly encourage parents to teach their child to recognize and write their own name before reaching kindergarten. There are loads of fantastic ideas about how to do this on the internet. Try finding one that suits your child’s interests.

2. Counting

Numbers are another of those things that can be taught and practiced throughout the day. “How many apple slices do you want for snack?” “I see you have one, two, three cars parked in the garage.” Teaching numbers really isn’t hard.

  • Counting aloud
    • In order to be ready for kindergarten, children should be able to accurately count out loud up to twenty. Being able to count to thirty would be even better.
  • Number recognition
    • On top of being able to count, they should be able to recognize the written numbers from 0-10. Be sure to practice recognizing these numbers out of order.

3. Fine Motor Skills

Fine motor muscles are simply the hand muscles designed to do small detailed tasks such as holding a pencil or putting beads on a string. If a child’s fine motor muscles are weak, they will find it difficult to hold their pencil correctly. Therefore, focusing on exercising these small hand muscles is a key part of getting ready for kindergarten. Here are a few fun ways to help strengthen your child’s fine motor muscles.

  • Playdough
    • Playing with playdough, or slime for that matter, is an excellent way to strengthen these muscles. While they roll and pull and poke, they are preparing their hand to hold a pencil well.
  • Colouring/Painting
    • Colouring with pencil crayons or crayons also exercises those hand muscles. Did you know that it has sometimes been recommended to give children small broken crayons to colour with? That is because using a crayon that is only an inch or two long forces a child to use more hand muscles since it is too small to be gripped in their fist.
    • Painting with cotton swabs is another super fine motor muscle builder. Using paintbrushes or other painting tools may also work well. Here’s a list of some creative ways to paint that your kids will enjoy:  Beyond the Paintbrush
  • Scissors
    • From my experience, scissor skills are often a forgotten thing. Once a child is three or four, they are capable of using child safety scissors while being supervised. (Supervision with scissors is important as this is also the age of self hair cuts.) Teaching your child to use scissors will strengthen their fine motor muscles. On top of that, your child’s kindergarten teacher will be grateful if your child is fairly competent at using the scissors.
    • When teaching scissors, use the rule of thumb – the thumb always goes on the top, both in how the child is holding their scissors and how they are holding their paper. One simple cutting activity is to give your child an old flyer and let them cut it into a million tiny bits.
  • Other muscles
    • While we’re on the topic of strengthening muscles, just a quick reminder that gross motor activities, such as running, jumping, climbing, throwing a ball, etc. are important too. Not only are they valuable for developing your child’s muscles, such activities also have a huge positive impact on child brain development.

4. Broad Knowledge

Having a wide base of general knowledge helps children feel more confident and enables them to more easily grasp new concepts by connecting them to concepts they already know. Therefore, it is valuable for a child to be exposed to a broad range of learning opportunities. This doesn’t have to be complicated. Rather, during your day to day activities, take the opportunities that come. Do you see an orange butterfly? Point it out to your child. Is a cement truck driving by? Tell your child what it is and what it does. In this way, by the time they are ready for kindergarten, your child will have gained a broad range of knowledge that will serve as a launchpad to learning so much more. Here are some things to keep in mind.

  • Shapes and colours
    • Part of the broad knowledge children should have by kindergarten includes being able to recognize and name basic colours and shapes. Again, teaching this doesn’t have to be complicated. As you go about your day, comment about various shapes and colours as you come across them.
  • Read booksGirl reading book
    • I can’t emphasize this enough. Books are a fantastic way to give your child a wider base of knowledge than your home can give. Read stories about space or under the sea. The options are endless! Most cities have public libraries that are very low cost or free. If you sign up, you’ll never run out of new books to read.
    • Reading books with your child is also a huge part of preparing them to learn to read. Therefore, I strongly encourage you to make storytime a part of your everyday routine.  Here are some fun interactive book suggestions to get you started. 7 Fantastic Animal Guessing Books for Preschoolers
  • Educational screen time
    • While I encourage limiting or avoiding screen time for preschoolers, if you are going to give your child screen time, make sure it is positive and educational. There are many good options out there. For TV shows, I highly recommend Octonaughts. It is scientific and the social interactions between characters are largely positive.

5. Love of Learning

I’ve left this point until last as I want to be sure you remember it. Having a desire to learn is more important to school success than knowing the alphabet inside out. Therefore, as you’re teaching your child the things above, be sure to keep it fun. 

  • Lead by example
    • Keep in mind that your child is likely to pick up on your attitude. If you are excited about learning and asking questions, they will be too. With this in mind, be curious about things. Ask questions like, “I wonder how bees know where to find the flowers?” It’s okay if you don’t know the answer.
  • Learn what they love
    • Encourage your child to learn about what they love. Of course, this is not an excuse to avoid learning things that are important but less exciting to the child. However, especially at this young age, you could use what they love to help teach them other things. Do they love zoo animals? Find an animal ABCs book.
    • Having said that, I would encourage parents to try to focus on the broad open-ended interests of their child. If your child’s favourite is Paw Patrol, try buying them a set of toy dogs rather than a Paw Patrol toy. Why? Because a toy dog set provides a far greater range of potential play possibilities than a specifically Paw Patrol toy would.

In summary, preparing your child for kindergarten doesn’t have to be difficult. Be intentional to seize the learning opportunities in your day to day life and your child will be well on their way to being ready for kindergarten. While you’re at it, be sure to have plenty of fun. Learning ought to be a captivating adventure.

Picture of Animal Skin Matching Game and toy animals

 

Preschoolers love animals and so do I. Preschoolers also love guessing and learning. That’s why I’ve created this Zoo Animal Skin Matching Game.

Get started

Download and print the free Animal Skin Matching Game which includes 12 zoo animal skin pictures and photos of the corresponding animals. (Big thanks to the Unsplash community for providing such excellent photos!)

Cut the photos and, if possible, laminate them for increased durability.

OptionalPhoto of Animal Skin Matching Game cards

If you have a set of small zoo animal toys, I would encourage you to use those to match with the printed skin pictures rather than using the matching animal photos I have provided.

Play at home (groups of 1-4 children)

  • Invite the children to gather around.
  • Set several of the animal skins in front of the children. (For younger children start with only a few distinct skins until they catch onto the game. For older children you could set out all 12 skins.)
  • Either set out all the matching animals or hand them to the children one at a time.
  • Encourage the children to match the animals to the cards.
  • Celebrate with the children when they have matched all the animals correctly!
  • Consider furthering the fun and education by using ideas listed in the “extend the learning” section below.

Play in group circle time (groups of 5+ children)

  • Count how many children you have and determine how you will enable each child to have a turn. The print out includes 12 animal skins to match. If you have more than 12 children, consider playing the game twice so that every child can participate.
  • Before circle time, arrange the animal skins on a wall or board where everyone can see them. Have tape or sticky-tack ready so the children can attach the animals to the skins.
  • Once everyone is gathered for circle time, point out the skins and explain that you will play a matching game.
  • One at a time, call the children to the front and hand them an animal. Allow them to match their animal to the appropriate skin. (Younger children may need hints at first.)
  • Consider furthering the fun and education by using ideas listed in the “extend the learning” section below.

Play in a video call

  • Option one: Show one skin at a time and see if the children can guess what animal they belong to. (This works better for older children.)
  • Option two: Show three skins and one animal. Encourage the children to guess which skin belongs to that animal.
  • Consider furthering the fun and education by using ideas listed in the “extend the learning” section below.

Extend the learning

  • Sing the animal song: “ If You Want To Be A…
  • Read a zoo themed book. I have collected some of my favourite zoo books on my Pinterest board here.
  • Many of the animal photos have more than one animal. Have fun counting them.
  • See how many colours you can find in the photos.
  • After the children have finished the animal skin matching game, consider taking the opportunity to talk with your children. Topics could include:
    • Observe how different and unique each animal’s skin is, yet they are all animals. Discuss how people all look different but that doesn’t make us any less important – we’re all special!
    • Talk about how each animal is good at something different – monkeys climb trees, turtles carry homes on their backs, giraffes reach leaves at the top of the trees, etc. Then steer the conversation to how each person is good at different things.
    • Ask the children which animal is their favourite, or which they like pretending to be the most.
    • For Christians: Marvel together at how amazingly complex and varied creation is and how that reminds us that God is far more spectacular than all the creatures He has made.
What extended learning have you done with your children alongside the animal skin matching game?
Toys laying abandoned.

Are your kids bored of their toys? Are they disengaged and uninterested? Try rotating their toys.

Toy rotation is highly beneficial in preschools, daycares, day homes and even in everyday family life.

Benefits of toy rotation

  • After a toy is packed away for a length of time, children become excited to play with it again because they haven’t seen it for so long.Child surrounded by toys
  • Putting away some toys for rotation may leave your child with less toys to play with. Believe it or not, this can lead to deeper engagement with the few toys that are available. With too many toys a child may bounce from one toy to another, rather than fully playing with any one toy. Sometimes less is truly more.
  • Having fewer toys available also shrinks the amount of mess a child can make with their toys at any given time.

How long should toys be available?

The answer depends greatly on your child, your child’s age, and the toy itself. Because the recommended length of time is so situationally dependent, watch how engaged your child is. When they show signs of being less engaged, it’s time to rotate. Be aware, leaving toys out, until your child is bored, may significantly decrease their excitement at seeing those toys again later. Therefore, try to do the rotating on a high note so they will associate good memories with the toys for next time.

Older children, such as elementary aged children, may be able to regulate the rotating themselves. Store all their toys on a shelf. Allow them to get out and play with only one or two types of toys at a time – perhaps the cars and the blocks. When the elementary aged children realize they are getting tired of the toy, they will ask to get out a different type of toy. Have them first clean up and put away the toy they are tired of, then they may get out the next toy. In this way, they can take some responsibility for rotating their own toys.

What about at preschools and daycares, etc?Child playing with wooden blocks

I have been a part of preschools and daycares who rotated their toys once a week, every other week, once a month, or never. Where the toys were never rotated, the children were extremely bored. They engaged in very little meaningful play and often misbehaved.

I personally would recommend rotating the toys every week or two. Some toys, such as large wooden blocks, may not need rotating as often, while other toys, such as puzzles, may only engage each child for one sitting and therefore benefit from frequent rotation.

Toy rotation in preschool and daycare settings comes with the benefit of providing a good toy washing routine. Every time new toys are set out, the old ones can be washed and left to dry before being packed away.

Does toy rotation make a difference?

My years of experience have given me reason to enthusiastically say “yes!” Have you seen the difference toy rotation makes?

Letters being covered by cloth

This simple game is fantastic for engaging your preschoolers. It makes your children think hard as they try to solve the exciting mystery of what’s missing!

The game itself is extremely basic, yet the modifications and ways of using it to teach specific vocabulary are nearly endless. It can be played with a group of children or just one child.

Why play?

Children love this game! Not only is it fun and interactive, but it also makes your children think hard. Our brains, like our muscles, need exercise and stretching to make them strong. This game provides an excellent brain-stretching exercise for kids, and for adults too. I’ve often been amazed at how quickly my children are able to learn the skills needed to play this game well. You’ll soon find yourself needing to make it harder and harder to keep them challenged.

Not only that, but this game is also a great opportunity to provide a review of the vocabulary your children are learning, whether letter names, or colours, or various zoo animals.

How to play “What’s Missing?”

  1. Collect various unique items.
  2. Show the children the items and review their names.
  3. Cover the items with a blanket to hide them from the children’s sight. While they are hidden, remove one of the items.
  4. Uncover the items and encourage the children to guess what’s missing.
  5. Repeat until all the items have disappeared

Various office supplies under cloth

 

Zoo animal cut outs under cloth

 

Farm animal toys under bandana

 

Foam letters under blanket

 

Tips

Make it engaging:

  • Be excited about figuring out what’s missing. If you’re excited about it, your children will be too.
  • When your children guess right, celebrate with them. When they guess wrong, be encouraging. Learning that it’s okay to make wrong guesses will help them succeed in school and life.
  • Try to play at a level where your children can guess correctly 75% of the time. You want it hard enough that they have to think, but not so hard that they become discouraged and give up.

Which items to choose:

  • You can use just about anything to play this game!
    • Small plastic toys such as farm animals
    • Paper zoo animals that you printed and coloured
    • Random craft/office supplies such as glue stick, pencil, paintbrush, etc.
    • Small cars or construction vehicles
    • Magnetic letters
    • Small blocks of various colours and shapes
  • The more similar the items are to each other the harder the game becomes. Beware that it also becomes far more tricky if the children are unfamiliar with the right words to name the items.

Make it easier:

  • Use fewer items. For a class of two years olds, I often start with only 4 items the first time I play with them. Once they understand the game and are guessing well, I might use more items the next time we play.
  • Use items the children are able to name well. Something like an ostrich is harder for the children to recall that it is missing and to produce the name as a guess.
  • Use items that are very different from each other.
  • When you remove an item, leave its spot empty to help them recall what’s missing.
  • Each time, before covering the items, review the names of the items to help the children memorize them.
  • For younger children, when I get down to one item left, I like to ask them which item they think will disappear. Then I proceed to make the final item disappear.

Make it harder:

  • Start with more items.
  • Use more challenging items, such as the letters of the alphabet or more unusual animals.
  • Use items with fewer differences such as all the items are dolls, but their outfits are different.
  • Remove more than one item per round.
  • After removing an item, rearrange the items before revealing them to the children.

Use it to teach concepts:

    • Each time an item is removed, review the names of the remaining items before covering them again.
    • Choose familiar things for most of the items, but add one or two unfamiliar items. Leave the unfamiliar items until closer to the end so the children get lots of practice saying those names.
    • Choose items that focus on one particular topic. If you want to focus on colours, select items that are identical (or nearly identical) other than their colour. If you want to work on shapes, select items that are nearly identical in colour so that the shape is the most prominent difference.

Play over a video call

Do you have grandkids or nieces and nephews whom you can’t be with in person right now? Try playing this game while having a video call with them. You don’t even need a blanket since you can turn the camera away while you remove an item. Have fun letting them try to guess what’s missing!
I hope you enjoy playing this game with your children! What items did you use?

Looking for another easy, use what you have, activity for your children? Check out: Run Run Run

Boy running with guitar

Last July, I posted 7 Simple Christian Songs for Preschoolers. So many people enjoyed those songs that I decided to follow it up with this post.Girl with hat smiling

If you haven’t visited my first Christian Songs for Preschoolers post, I would encourage you to check it out here. In that post, I talked about the value of these songs and useful ways to sing them.

For now, I will suffice to say that these songs have been chosen because they are easy to sing (no need for a CD player or music major), and they teach valuable truths about God. In fact, singing these Christian songs not only teaches children these truths, but they provide me with much needed reminders too. Enjoy!

 

Please note: The sample videos I have included were chosen for the clarity of the song and actions. I am not associated with any of them and have not done extensive research into the groups who posted them. Also, while I tried to find videos similar to how I prefer to sing these songs, some actions and/or words may vary from the versions I have recommended for you.

1. Our God is an Awesome God

You may already know this song, as it is the chorus of a much longer song by the same name. It is essential that we remind ourselves that our God is truly an awesome God, especially now as I write this during a pandemic! This song could be sung several times in a row getting a little faster each time.

 

Our God is an awesome God,

He reigns from heaven above,

With wisdom, power, and love,

Our God is an awesome God.

Actions:

God – point up

Awesome – thumbs up

Reigns – wiggle fingers like rain coming down

Heaven – point up

Wisdom – point to mind

Power – show muscles

Love – hug self

2. Oh Be Careful Little Eyes What You SeeLittle boy doing actions

With internet access so readily available, let’s start teaching our children, when they are young, the wisdom of being careful of what we expose ourselves to. I appreciate how this song reminds us that it is out of love for us that God asks us to be careful. He knows it is for our good. Depending on the age of your children, you can do simple actions by only pointing to the body part named, or you can point to the body part and then do the second action for the last part of the line.

 

Oh, be careful little eyes what you see.

Oh, be careful little eyes what you see.

For the Father up above is looking down in love,

So be careful little eyes what you see.

 

Other Verses:

  • Ears what you hear
  • Hands what you do
  • Feet where you go
  • Mouth what you say
  • Heart whom you trust
  • Mind what you think

Actions:

Eyes, ears, etc. – point to body part

See – hold hand over eyes as though looking far away

Hear – cup hands behind ears

Do – move hands around, perhaps pretend to build something

Go – walk in place

Say – cup hands around mouth, as though yelling

Trust – open hands flat in front of self, as though giving or receiving a gift

Think – tap chin, as though pondering something

3. God is so Good

A classic song, this one is so gentle and sweet to sing. This might be a good song for just before bed or some other slower part of the day.

 

God is so good,

God is so good,

God is so good,

He’s so good to me.

 

Other Verses:

God cares for me…

God loves me so…

God answers prayer…

I praise His name…

Actions:

God/He/His – point up

So good – move arms in large circle, starting at top and moving down

Me/I – point to self

Cares – hug self

Loves – cross arms over heart and rock side to side

Prayer – clasp hands in prayer

4. Ho-Ho-Ho-Hosanna

I once was in a choir that used this song as a warm-up during practices. Its repetitive rhythm makes it fun to sing, while its words make it a valuable reminder. Let us never forget the joy of what Jesus did for us!

 

Ho, ho, ho, hosanna,

Ha, ha, hallelujah,

He, He, He, He saved me,

I’ve got the joy of the Lord!

Actions:

Ho/hosanna – cup hands around mouth

Ha/hallelujah – put hands on tummy and lean back as though laughing

He/Lord – point up

Me – hug self

5. Jesus Loves Me

Chances are, you sang this song as a child. While it is a little more complicated than some of the others in this list, the truths it reminds us of are worth it. Also, don’t limit it to being a child’s song. I know I often need the reminders it offers.

 

Jesus loves me this I know,

For the Bible tells me so,

Little ones to Him belong,

They are weak but He is strong.

Yes, Jesus loves me.

Yes, Jesus loves me.

Yes, Jesus loves me,

The Bible tells me so.

Actions:

Jesus – (for younger children) point up

          – (for older children) sign language for Jesus – touch middle finger from one hand to palm of other hand and vice versa 

Loves – hug self

Me – point to self

Know – point to brain

Bible – hold hands like book and open

Little ones –  pretend to pat young children on the head

Him/He – point up

Weak – slump and hang arms limply

Strong – show muscles

Yes – sign language for yes – make fist and move it up and down

6. I Say L (L-O-V-E)

This song will be better for children who are starting to grasp the concept that letters can be put together to form words. The actions are complicated to learn, but your more advanced preschoolers will enjoy the challenge. Also, this song has three sets of actions. You can choose to use one or all three depending on your children and goals. There are the full-body actions which are great for getting wiggles out. Then there are also the finger actions and the hand actions which can be done sitting. Some children will find the finger actions more challenging, if they have not yet developed strong fine motor muscles and hand-eye coordination.

 

I say L

I say L-O

L-O-V

L-O-V-E

Everybody needs God’s love,

Everybody needs God’s love,

Everybody needs God’s love,

Everybody needs God’s love.

Actions:

Rather than repeating the L-O-V-E actions after singing “Everybody needs God’s love,” I recommend having the children give themselves a hug. You can also hold “love” rather than making the “ch” sounds portrayed in the video.

This song has three sets of actions: full-body, hand, and finger

Full-body actions:

L – hold right arm up and left arm horizontal

O – connect hands above head, creating circle

V – extend both arms above head at angles

E – use one arm as top of E and the other arm as middle of E, then lift leg to create bottom of E

 

Hand actions: (using both hands)

L – with wrists touching, hold right hand straight up and left hand horizontal

O – with wrists touching, cup hands to make circle

V – with wrists touching, hold hands vertically forming a V

E – keep hands connected as they are for V, but turn horizontal. Curl fingers slightly for top and bottom of E and connect thumbs for middle of E

 

Finger actions: (using one hand only)

L – use pointer finger and thumb to make L

O – connect fingers and thumb to make circle

V – make peace sign

E – fully extend thumb, pointer finger and middle finger while tilting so that the thumb is on the bottom

7. Isn’t He Wonderful

Yet another well-loved classic, this catchy tune will stick in your head. Try singing it quiet or loud, while matching the size of your actions to the volume of your voice.

 

Isn’t He wonderful, wonderful, wonderful,

Isn’t Jesus my Lord wonderful.

Eyes have seen, ears have heard,

It’s recorded in God’s Word.

Isn’t Jesus my Lord wonderful.

Actions:

Note: The actions portrayed in the video are different from the ones I recommend below. 

He/Jesus my Lord – point up (or clap rhythm as in video)

Wonderful – move arms in large circle starting in middle

Eyes – point to eyes

Ears – point to ears

God’s Word – hold hands as book and open

I hope you enjoyed these additional Christian songs for preschoolers!