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.

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?

Muffin packed in preschool snack box

5 tips from a preschool teacher

Do you have a preschooler? Do you pack snacks for them? Then you’re in the right place. Keep reading to discover five useful tips I’ve learned from observing the preschool snack packing techniques of countless parents.

Please keep in mind that each individual is unique. Use discretion when deciding which tips will be useful for you.

  1. Involve Your Child

    • Children enjoy and benefit from having opportunities to choose. Try involving them in picking what to have for snack, but keep the options limited. For example, you could ask them if they want an apple or a banana. Or you could ask if they want white cheese or orange cheese. Be sure that the choices you give them are all ones you are happy with them making.
  2. Limit the Options

    • Deciding how many food options to pack in your child’s snack can be tricky. Not enough food leaves them hungry. At the same time, did you know that sending too many options can cause a child to eat less? Of course, this depends on the child’s personality. Some children become overwhelmed or indecisive when presented with too many options. Sending two or three decent sized food choices is often better than six.
  3. Offer Healthy vs. Unhealthy Options

    • Many parents complain to me that their children only eat sugary processed food. If given the option, the majority of children will eat the sugary and/or processed treat in their snack first. This may leave them with little appetite or no time to eat the healthy options you packed for them. If this is a concern for you, try packing only healthy options such as fruit or vegetables and perhaps some crackers. Most children will be happy to eat healthy snacks, if those are the only options you provide.
    • Note that if the child has learned to expect a sugary snack, it may take a few days for them to decide to eat the healthier options.
  4. Send Two+ Food Groups

    • While we’re on the topic of the options to pack for snack, one preschool I worked at insisted that parents include at least two food groups in the snack. Food groups include: fruit, vegetables, grains, dairy, and meat/alternatives. Including options from at least two of these food groups is a great rule of thumb in providing a wholesome snack.
  5. Change Things Up.

    • Rather than sending the exact same snack every day, try changing it up from time to time. This suggestion, again, depends on your child. Some children prefer the exact same snack every day, while others quickly get bored of repetition. Eating a wide variety of food is a healthy thing to do.
    • To keep from getting stuck in a snack-time rut, keep a list readily available, like my 11 Quick and Easy Wholesome Preschool Snack Ideas.

Have you tried any of these tips, or do you have others to add? Leave a comment.

11 Quick and Wholesome Snacks for Preschool - Inexpensive and Healthy Ideas by teacher S. J. Little

I get it. You’re busy, and you’re on a budget, but you still want to pack a wholesome snack for your child. What follows are some ideas for quick, easy, healthy preschool snacks that won’t break the bank.
As a preschool teacher, I’ve seen countless snacks sent with the children in my class. Some are fantastic while others are, well… not so beneficial.
Before I continue, I’d encourage you to be familiar with your preschool’s snack policy. Most likely it includes being peanut or nut-free. It may also include other things.
Disclaimer: The following suggestions are to be used at viewer discretion as every child and preschool is unique.

Fruit and Vegetable Snacks

    1. Fresh Fruit/Veggies
      • A classic for excellent reason! Sending fresh fruit or veggies for your child is super healthy.
      • I recommend cutting the fruit for your child rather than sending the fruit whole, unless you expect them to eat the whole thing. I have had many a time when a child eats one or two bites of an apple or banana, then throws the rest in the garbage.
      • When cutting fruit, and with small round foods such as grapes and cherry tomatoes, be aware of their potential as choking hazards.
      • Possible fruit or vegetables: banana, apple, orange, peach, Berries - 11 Quick and Wholesome Snacks for Preschool - S. J. Littlepineapple, grapes, berries, melons, carrots, celery, cucumber, tomato, snow peas, bell peppers, and so on.
    2. Frozen Veggies/Berries
      • Recently I discovered a forgotten bag of green beans in my freezer. This quickly became one of my quick and easy go-to preschool snacks.
      • Put a small handful in the microwave for a minute or two. Let them cool briefly, then stick them in a container.
      • I like to add a touch of salt and oregano to spice it up, but that’s optional.
      • Possible frozen items: green beans, broccoli/cauliflower/carrot mixture, peas and corn, berries, Brussels sprouts, or anything really.
    3. Cooked Veggies
      • This is another of my favorites. It’s healthy while still being quick and easy. My favourite is broccoli. I take enough to fill my small snack container, cut into easy finger-food size, then stick the pieces in the microwave with a touch of water for a minute. The microwave softens the broccoli so it’s easy to eat without dipping.Broccoli - 11 Quick and Wholesome Snacks for Preschool - S. J. Little I often add a touch of salt and spices such as oregano or coriander.
      • Possible veggies: broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, cabbage (in small portions), among others.
    4. Dried Fruit
      • I enjoy dried fruit. However, use your own discretion as to how healthy or not these are. Store-bought dried fruit may have additives or could be a concern if your child’s teeth are not being brushed well. However, they are certainly healthier than many other options.
      • Possible dried fruit: raisins, banana chips, cranberries, dates (pitted), mangoes, apricots (pitted), etc.
    5. Applesauce
      • Individual applesauce cups can be a healthy option, especially if you get the unsweetened kinds. However, be sure your child is comfortable using a spoon by themselves before sending this snack with them.

Other Snacks

    1. Leftovers
      • Have leftovers from a meal your child enjoys? Why not send them along as a snack. Just be sure your child is able to eat the leftovers independently, whether that means using a spoon or whatever is needed.
      • Options: pasta dishes, grilled cheese sandwiches, chicken nuggets, pizza, pancakes, perogies, or rice with lentils or other sauce, to name a few.
    2. ProteinProtein - 11 Quick and Wholesome Snacks for Preschool - S. J. Little
      • It’s often a good idea to include a source of protein in your child’s snack
      • Protein options: cheese, cream cheese, slices of meat, pepperoni sticks, scrambled eggs, a hard-boiled and shelled egg, and so on.
      • Beans, hummus, and yogurt can also be included for protein. I’ll give more ideas regarding those below.
    3. Hummus
      • Hummus can be sent as a dip for veggies, or spread on pita bread, a tortilla, or a slice of bread.
    4. Yogurt
      • Fruit yogurt is another good and common preschool snack item. I discourage sending yogurt tubes as those easily make a large mess when squeezed. Individual yogurt cups, or pouring a small amount of yogurt into a reusable container works well if your child is confident using a spoon. Yogurt drinks are also decent options.
    5. Beans
      • This one might sound weird, but don’t cross it off the list too fast. Next time you dump a can of chickpeas or black beans into something, eat a few plain. I knew a child who enjoyed snacking on chickpeas. I would only give beans in small amounts, and along with other snack items. They are a simple healthy addition to preschool snacks.
    6. Crackers/Cereal/Bread
      • While I don’t recommend sending a snack consisting entirely of these sorts of foods, having some along with fruit, veggies, or other foods can make a snack feel more complete and filling.
      • Crackers – there are many types of crackers available. Some are far healthier than others. Check the ingredients for things such as artificial colour or flavouring. For a bit of variety, try rice crackers, pretzels, or plain graham crackers.Dry cereal - 11 Quick and Wholesome Snacks for Preschool - S. J. Little
      • Cheerios or other low sugar cereal that can be eaten dry is another option to consider.
      • Pita bread, tortillas, naan, and chapatis are among the many types of breads you could send with your child. Perhaps spread a little cream cheese, jam, or hummus on it to add flavour. (Be wary of chocolate spreads as they often contain nuts.)
      • Raisin bread – buy or make your own. Cut a slice, butter it, and place it in a container for snack. With store-bought raisin bread, I prefer to toast it lightly before buttering.

I hope this list has given you some more snack ideas that are practical, affordable, and easy to do, while being wholesome and healthy. Do you have a favourite preschool snack for your child? Comment below.