What your kid needs to know before starting kindergarten

Does your kid need to know how to write her name before she starts kindergarten? And does she need to know math? Before you panic, here is exactly what your preschooler needs to know (and no, she doesn't need to know how to add or read...yet).

Photo: Stocksy

“Academically, children are at varying levels when they enter kindergarten,” Karen Jokinen, a kindergarten teacher in Markham, Ont., says. “There is no expectation that children know the alphabet and numbers, or can write their names, but if they can do some of this, it helps with their confidence at school.”

One of the most important things you can do with your tot, according to teachers, is read together. “Go to the library and borrow simple books with large print that don’t have many words,” suggests Vaughan, Ont., teacher Anna Elia Kontostergios. “That way, you can both point to words, count letters, and talk about how pictures help us read unfamiliar words.”

Elia Kontostergios also recommends creating your own storybooks by using pictures of your child. “Use snapshots of her doing day-to-day things and create repetitive sentences to match the pictures such as, ‘I am eating. I am playing,'” she says. “Pointing to each word while reading it introduces one-to-one matching, high-frequency words they’ll be learning, and punctuation.”

Aside from the alphabet and words, you’ll want to familiarize your soon-to-be scholar with numbers. Try counting games (like making groups using toys from around the house), counting objects while going for walks (the number of red cars they see, for example), and pointing out numbers on the calendar.     A game with letters    
   9 fun ABC games

What else does your kid need to know before starting kindergarten? Here are the skills teachers expect them to be able to do in junior kindergarten and senior kindergarten:

Junior kindergarten checklist:
– Identify their name
– Recognize some letters
– Hold a book correctly and flip pages
Grip a pencil properly
– Respond when asked, “What’s your name?”
– Play cooperatively
– Follow one- or two-step directions (e.g. “Take your folder out of your backpack and bring it to your desk.”)
– Understand that they cannot leave the classroom
– Listen attentively for about five minutes
– Answer simple questions (e.g. “What’s your favourite kind of animal?”)

Senior kindergarten checklist:
– Know the difference between letters and numbers
– Count the number of words in a sentence
– Write most letters
– Write their name
– Read high-frequency words (e.g. it, is, the, me, mom, dad)
– Point to words while they’re reading simple repetitive texts
– Identify numbers one to 10 and represent each number using objects

What if she’s not potty trained?
My kid wasn’t fully trained until 14 days before her first day. And even though Addyson could do her business on the potty, I wasn’t confident she could clean herself after doing a “job,” as my bubby used to say.

“Children must be able to wipe themselves. I cannot stress how important this is,” says Cheryl King, a kindergarten teacher in Brampton, Ont. “I have had terribly distraught kids tell me they can’t wipe, and sadly, I cannot help them—bathrooms are off-limits to teachers.” If an accident does happen (and they do), students are asked to change into their spare outfit, and take their dirty clothes home. “It’s normal for children to have accidents. Sometimes they’re so engaged in their activities that they don’t want to stop and use the bathroom,” says Elia Kontostergios. (Addyson’s teacher put up signs reminding busy, forgetful students to go pee). Note that early childhood educators can help with bathroom accidents, so your child isn’t on her own if there is an ECE in the classroom.

King asks parents to pack flushable wipes—they’re easier to use than toilet paper. And teach flushing and handwashing habits at home.

Read more:
4 things I wish I’d known about full-day kindergarten
My kid is so ready for kindergarten—and I’m so not

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