In the next few weeks, many children will be starting kindergarten. In fact, some already have! Here are some tips from Oakland Schools’ Early Childhood expert on this important transition.
How can you help your child be ready to make the most of his or her kindergarten experience?
Talk, talk, talk – children need to hear the words and sounds of language:
- Say what you see.
- Narrate daily activities like going to the grocery store. “We’ll get a cart and start in the produce section. Let’s find some apples first…”
- Think out loud when you’re doing a job around the house or yard. “That’s a big bag of trash. I’m going to tie the top tightly before carrying it. Whoa! This is heavy!”
- Describe what your child is doing. “You’re stacking boxes. You put the largest on the bottom.”
- Observe what your child is wearing. “You chose a red shirt today.”
- Say what you hear. Slightly reword something your child has said. Child: “The four blasters are down here on my rocket ship!” Adult: “You found the engines under the wings!”
- Say your child’s feeling. Naming emotions helps children understand not only their own feelings but others, too. Start with “happy, mad, sad, and scared” then branch-out. “You’re excited to go outside.” “You’re upset that she took your toy.”
- Aim for at least four turns. You say something, your child responds in some way (with words and/or a facial expression), you say something, your child responds. See how long you can keep the conversation going.
The benefits of these kinds of descriptive talk or “play by play” commentary – similar to what sports announcers do in describing the action – are that they:
- increase children’s awareness, involvement, thinking, and vocabulary.
- show you cared enough to notice, sending a message to the child that “I matter.”
- encourage conversation, often more than just asking questions does, which gives children more practice with language.
Read, read, read – children need to hear book language and learn “how books work:”
- Look at the pictures together and talk about what they show.
- Stop at an exciting point in the story and wonder aloud, “What do you think happens next?”
- Build “book look” time into your child’s daily routine, such as just before nap or bed. Children come to quickly cherish this special time with their grown-ups.
Play, play, play – children need time to explore, investigate, create, and innovate. Sometimes parents worry they have to buy workbooks or expensive materials to “skill and drill” children. Instead:
- give your child plenty of time for play-filled learning. Young children, in particular, learn through all of their senses: sight, sound, touch, and taste. They learn by doing.
- Limit screen time in favor of more active indoor and outdoor play.
Help your child playfully develop by:
- making a game out of finding the letters in your child’s name on cartons, cans, billboards and signs “all over town.” Form these letters and the number that tells your child’s age out of playdough.
- playing “I Spy with My Little Eye,” finding different things, like kinds of cars, favorite or novel colors, shapes such as circles or rectangles, and the numeral that tells your child’s age. Sometimes make a list or tally of your “finds.”
- making up silly songs that rhyme three-letter words like cat and bat, pig and wig, pet and wet. Ask children for permission to rhyme their names, which some children find hysterically funny, yet others may be offended by. Why? A name is one’s identity. Offer to rhyme your name first.
- going to the library every week or at least every other week. Check-out the nursery rhymes – tried and true ways to play with words.
- inviting your child to… match shoes that got mixed-up in the entryway. Sort socks from the laundry. Help you prepare a meal or treat. Count items around the house, like soup cans in the cupboard, toys with wheels, stuffed animals, funny books, etc. Make a card or present for a family member. Help you make a shopping list.
- saving empty paper towel and toilet paper rolls, used wrapping paper and bubble wrap, yarn and ribbon remnants, and any other kinds of scrap materials. Store these in a cardboard box. Put a shoebox with glue, tape, crayons and a pair of child-safe scissors inside this box. Invite your child to “visit the imagination station” and make anything. For young children, the fun is more in the doing than the finished product. So, do not expect your child’s creation to look like anything you would recognize. “Say What You See” and “Say What You Hear” to get your child talking about what he or she is doing with the different materials.
- adding to play without taking over, such as provide a prop, coach children in solving a conflict, make an “I wonder how you could…” statement, or just narrate the action “play by play.”
- safeguarding daily time for play when your child gets to choose what to do. Many children will naturally engage in pretend play then. Pretend play is brain food. It mimics what good readers do: place oneself in the make-believe action of a story for maximum understanding.
- remembering children use their most advanced thinking and language in play, because they “put their whole selves into” the experience.
Young children who live and play where there is much reading and talking have a learning advantage that benefits them from preschool and kindergarten onward!
- They will often know three or four times more words than otherwise.
- This, in turn, largely determines what they understand from anything read or experienced.
Take advantage of the special promise of the early years by playfully talking and reading with your kindergartner. Before you know it, he or she will be a member of the Class of 2030!
Kellye R. Wood, Ed. S. is the Early Childhood director for Oakland Schools.