Through the Kindergarten Door…

Parents of young children sometimes have a hard time envisioning their tiny toddlers trotting off to kindergarten. The years before this event stretch far ahead into the distance. Parents of four year olds, of course, blink their eyes in surprise at how fast kindergarten is approaching–and where did all the time go?

Parents want to see their child walk into the kindergarten class prepared and confident. The early childhood staff of the Stepping Stones full day programs discussed different ways they encourage independence in their students throughout the school day. We thought it would be helpful to parents to share some of these strategies so parents can fill these last months with activities and routines that best prepare them for that long anticipated walk through the school door.

Being Responsible for your own space:
A kindergartener moves into a world shared with at least 20 other students. This requires that they have a certain amount of responsibility for organizing and keeping their own space ordered. Here are some ways that the Stepping Stones Staff encourage personal responsibility. Find ways to incorporate these strategies into your own household, so that children can be practicing these important skills throughout their day:

  •   Assign jobs for cleaning. When looking at a mess of toys or other items, assign your child to pick up the trucks and cars, and you agree to pick up the blocks and action figures. This stresses the importance of cooperation, while encouraging the idea that each individual is responsible for their own part.
  • Encourage a child to clean up one area before moving to the next. If your child is working on a long-term project at home (like building the coolest and biggest and most detailed block city) you would allow that project to stay until it is done. However, if your child is moving from coloring to a board game to a stuffed animal party they can begin to see that one mess should be cleaned up before moving to the next game. This helps to keep cleaning a series of small steps, rather than one large and overwhelming project at the end of the day.
  • Kindergartners will need to be in charge of their own food and food containers during snack and lunch time. Help them become practiced at this by encouraging them to return their plates and dishes to the sink–just like they will be expected to do in the cafeteria. Often in Stepping Stones programs children are able to serve themselves, open their own packets for ketchup, open their milk containers. These skills will greatly benefit them during their lunch period at school. Find ways to incorporate these sorts of skills into your meal times at home.
  • Songs and jingles and funny rhymes can help to encourage clean up without making it seem like a drag. Four year olds often feel much more inclined to cooperate if what they are asked to do is couched in a “fun” way. Classrooms will often still use a clean up song to get all students on task. Ask your teacher which one they are using, so you can be consistent at home, and your child will be more likely to jump into cleaning in the same way she does at school.
  • In a classroom, the students know where everything belongs. This means that they can clean up much of the room without needing to ask for advice on how to do it. Mirror this in your own home by having “a place for everything and everything in it’s place”. Bins and shelves, boxes and plastic tubs are all effective and concrete holding places for toys. Some of the classrooms have used everyday items in a new way to help ease the organization. For instance, using a shoe tree as a place to hold mittens while they dry, or a drying rack to hang snow-pants and wet coats (Clothespins help to keep these items in place while they are drying). Encourage your child to make these organizing spaces kid friendly by drawing pictures of the items that should go into them, or taking pictures and posting them on the bin so your child knows what goes where. When a child feels success at independently taking on a task, he is more likely to repeat that task

Speaking of outdoor clothing, what about all those zippers and buttons and shoelaces?

  • If your child has not yet mastered the fine details of dressing (and most four year olds haven’t) it is a good goal to work on these dressing skills throughout the summer. In the Stepping Stones program the children are working on independently dressing and undressing in all of their outside clothes, and by the end of the year they generally have it mastered. This is because they are given the opportunity to practice it daily. In your own home, allow your child to practice these skills daily, as well. A kindergarten student will need to handle their own clothes in toileting, dressing for the weather, and all the other clothes situations that come up. Building their skills in this area means breaking down the steps and teaching them with patience.
  • If you see your child using a method for zipping or tying shoes or getting his coat on, build on what he already knows to expand his abilities.  Ask your teachers or other parents for some tricks or simple strategies that could work for your child. For example, often it is easiest for a young child to put a coat on if he starts with the jacket on the ground, and “flips” it over his head. Placing the bottom of his jacket on the table so he can reach the zipper gives him a boost in his ability to see what he is doing
  • If your child has not yet been given the opportunity to dress herself in every day clothes, begin to give her that opportunity now. Provide your child with clothes that are simple on/off items. Elastic banded pants (rather than buttoned) and pull over, loose fitting sweatshirts (rather than buttoned or tight fitting) will help your child build the skill of dressing without having to focus on all the details until she is ready to do so

The social world of the kindergartner:

Young children spend years learning how to interact and be social with each other. It isn’t until a child is four years old that she truly knows and appreciates the value of cooperation and working together with a friend. This sort of learning is often accomplished through trial and error. A significant part of the learning of school is developing the social graces required when around a group of children. You can help your child build these important skills by doing some of the same things that teachers do in the Stepping Stones program:

  • One of the daily experiences of a student in the program is daily free play interaction with the other students. This provides the push and pull of social experiences in a safe and supportive atmosphere. You can mirror this by offering unstructured play dates at your house with one, two or three other children. The unstructured aspect will create a situation where they are asked to work together to create a game or project. In these play dates it is advisable to stay close enough so that you can be sure that all children are treating each other respectfully, but to refrain from interrupting play at the first sign of trouble–give them the practice that they need in order to begin to solve their own conflicts.  If, however, the conflict is not being solved in a respectful way, you step in as the advocate for the group’s success
  • How do you advocate for a successful resolution to conflict? The teachers in Stepping Stones provide the children with a specific strategy for using words to solve a problem. Following a sort of “script” helps the students focus on the issue at hand and provides them with the tools for working through problems when the teacher isn’t near at hand. Here are the three questions that the students address when trying to solve a problem. Feel free to use these same questions to help your own children address conflict: What happened? How are you feeling? What can you do now?
  • Young children who are struggling with a social situation will likely benefit from being given alternatives. For example, if two friends are fighting over a toy you can offer: Take turns with the toy using a timer, one person chooses another toy that will work for the game or  we can put this toy away and both choose a different toy. As the children get older and more practiced at the process, you can ask the children for their own ideas before you start offering any. It can be surprising to see the creative solutions children come up with when they are given the opportunity.
  • Role playing a situation can seem awkward, but it is often of great value to a child. Playing a “what if” game introduces role playing without the pressure. In a quiet and calm moment, offer a question to your child such as “What would you do if a friend on the playground pushed you off a swing?” or “What would you do if a child asked to trade something from her lunch for something in your lunch, and you didn’t want to?” Talking through these situations in a clear-headed way could help your child deal with the situation when it actually occurs.

But what about the academics?

Kindergarten is the beginning of your child’s academic journey. What can be done to help your child come to school prepared to meet the requirements for the classroom? The Stepping Stones staff knows that children will learn best when they are actively involved in a task–the more senses involved in the activity the deeper the learning! Parents can follow this example at home.

  • Parent / child interaction is likely the most direct route to a child learning a skill or concept. Find ways to make learning fun while engaging with your child. Remember the games you played as a child with your parent? Those games are just as fun for your child because they will be playing them with you. Name a word that starts with each letter of the alphabet, or find each letter on a street sign while driving through town, or sing lots of rhyming songs and leave the last word off the rhyme and ask them to fill it in. Guessing games help to build numeracy skills–they build the understanding of numbers without skipping over to adding and subtracting. For example: begin counting at your driveway, and guess what number you will be on when you reach the first stop sign, or guess the number of steps it will take to get into the grocery store from your car. Sorting and making patterns are fun ways to build numeracy skills as well. For example: what is the same and what is different about the two cookies that we are eating?  In addition, math skills are built while baking and cooking together–as well as providing a wonderful opportunity to be together and working on a household task
  • Remember to read to your child. Daily reading together just for the joy of spending time together is a very helpful experience for school readiness. Allow your child the pleasure of just listening to the story while cuddling with you–you don’t need to require they read certain words themselves. There is a very strong benefit in learning to sit still and listen and comprehend what is being told to them by paying attention. (Remember that they will be receiving lots of directions from their kindergarten teacher that they will have to pay attention to and understand). When you are finished with the story, talk about it with them. Ask them what happened in the beginning of the story, what happened in the middle, and what happened at the end of the story. This sort of activity encourages the growth of so many school readiness skills that it is impossible to include them all.  Here is a partial list: building attention span, comprehension of the story, understanding the typical format of a story, listening skills, creating a general love of story and of reading.

The children in the Stepping Stones program have so much fun in their day they don’t often realize they are building skills and learning all the time. This is a great approach to take at home, as well. Allow the summer months before your child goes to school to be fun, building on the strength of your relationship. Sprinkle in some of the strategies we have offered here, and then rest assured throughout the summer that your child will be well prepared for their first day of kindergarten–and that you will have loving and lasting memories of your time together before they walk through that door.

Free Summer Story Time and Dinner

Come out for a free dinner, an opportunity to socialize, and a story and play time for the kids. Each child can choose a new, free book to take home.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016, 6:00–7:15 p.m.
Hopkins Public Library
22 11th Ave. N., Hopkins

Reserve your space (required) today: Email Kathryn Moore or call 952-988-5046. Recommended for parents with children ages birth to two years. Older siblings welcome. More information here.