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: https://sjlittle.ca/preschool/teaching-the-abcs-at-circle-time/
  • 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:  sjlittle.ca/preschool/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.  sjlittle.ca/preschool/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.

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

  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.

Bonus Tip

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?
Teaching ABCs by S. J. Little with picture of alphabet puzzle

9 unique techniques to keep your class engaged in learning the alphabet

 

With spring comes wiggly children. Keeping the attention of a class full of preschoolers this time of year is challenging. Sometimes changing up your methods for teaching the ABCs can regain their enthusiasm for learning letters.

Below I have collected 9 unique techniques for teaching the ABCs at circle time.

  1. Letter posters

Many teachers use a set of posters with one poster per letter. Typically these include the letter and pictures of one or more items starting with that letter. Each week the poster for the letter of that week will be displayed. Then during circle time the teacher points to the poster and asks the children if anyone knows what letter it is and what the objects are.

  1. Singing

Many songs exist for helping children learn about letters. One that I’ve used is:

Letter “A” says a (tune: Farmer in the Dell)

Letter “A” says a,

Letter “A” says a,

Every letter makes a sound,

Letter “A” says a.

If you use the same song every week the children will be able to focus on the letter and sound rather than the tune of the song, however, changing it up may keep their attention better.

  1. Air tracing

For children who learn best through large body movements, this technique is wonderful. As you tell the class the letter, use your whole arm to trace the letter in the air in front of you. Encourage the children to copy you. You could also have them trace it in the ground with their finger (or foot). Alternatively, have them shape their whole body into the letter. For example, for letter t they can stand straight with their arms perpendicular to their sides. Get creative and have some fun.

  1. Letter box

Items to put in a letter box for letter "P" - pig, police, pencil, pineapple, pink heart, purple P

Prior to class fill a small box with four or five items beginning with the letter of the week. Look through your toy bins, puzzles and playdough cookie cutters. I also like to include the letter itself whether on a puzzle piece, or block, or magnet.

At circle time, I show the children the box and have them chant with me while tapping the beat:

Open up the box

Open up the box

Open, open, open, open

Open up the box.

I then bring out one item at a time, asking if they know what each is and discussing how each relates to the letter. This adds excitement and mystery to learning about the letter.

  1. Mystery item

A little different from the letter box, this activity works best when at least a handful of children in the class already have a good sense of the alphabet.

Toy dog peeking out of boxPrior to class, find an item starting with the letter of the week. Place that item in a box as the mystery item. Show the children the box telling them that something is hiding inside it. Inform them that the item starts with the letter of the week. Review with them what sound the letter makes.

Ask the children to guess what item may be inside the box. Be gentle and encouraging with those who guess items starting with the wrong sound, otherwise, they may not be willing to guess next time. For any guesses that are the right sound, you could answer, “maybe…” Then ask for a few more guesses before revealing the item.

  1. Popsicle stick letters

This is another good one for hands-on learners, however, this technique only works with certain letters.

When the letter of the week is one with no curves, you could try this technique. Prior to class, determine how many popsicle sticks you will need to make the letter. Also, ensure you have enough for every child to make their own letter.

At circle time, use the sticks to show the children how to make the letter.Popsicle sticks can be used to form letters Then hand out enough popsicle sticks to every child. (You could make this a game by handing too many or too few sticks to some of the children and having them count to tell you if they have the wrong number.)

Once every child has the correct number of sticks, show them again how to form the letter by placing the popsicle sticks on the ground in the correct shape.

Be encouraging as this is very tricky for children the first few times they do it. You may have to show several of them one on one. You could also encourage more advanced children to help those who are struggling. Once you’ve done this a few times the children will catch on better.

  1. Draw on a whiteboard/chalkboard

Another hands-on way to learn letters and develop writing skills is to have each child write the letter at circle time. This can be done one at a time or all at once depending on the materials available to you.

One at a time:

On the bulletin board, securely attach a larger writing surface whether a chalkboard, whiteboard, or large laminated poster to be used as a whiteboard.

One at a time, invite each child to come up and try writing the letter of the week on the board. Be sure to write it first so they have something to copy. Be encouraging as not only are they being courageous to try writing the letter, they are also practicing being comfortable in front of a crowd which does not come easily for some children.The letters ABC written on a whiteboard

All at once:

Pass out individual whiteboards or chalkboards to each child. On your own whiteboard or chalkboard demonstrate writing the letter, then encourage each child to try it on their boards. Some children may need one on one help with this.

  1. While taking attendance

Some teachers take attendance during circle time by calling the children one at a time. Rather than just having the children say “here” why not use this time to help them learn their letter?

Before taking attendance, discuss the letter of the week with the children and mention some things that start with that letter.

Next, instruct the children that when you call their name, you want them to say something that starts with the letter of the week. Ideally, have some visual reminder of words starting with that letter. Most likely several of the children will say the same thing. That’s okay.

  1. Alphabet Videos

Something I have not tried but believe could work well is using videos. Youtube has a wide range of short films, often including songs, about learning letters. These could be integrated into the circle time routine.

What other strategies have you found effective for teaching the ABCs at circle time?