This post was co-written by Admit NY and Grow with Beck, an early childhood education company in New York City.
As educational consultants, we’re asked all the time not only about how to gain admission to schools, but how to ensure that students are actually prepared to enter the next phase of their education. These questions are often the most urgent from parents of kindergarteners, who may be on the verge of their first formal school experience after coming from a more part-time or play-based program.
In approaching kindergarten development, we recommend focusing less on hard and fast expectations like “kids don’t know how to read before kindergarten” or “kids can’t do math before kindergarten.” In reality, the best way to know what your child is “ready” to do is to offer varied opportunities for engagement and follow their lead. You might be surprised at what they’re “ready” to do!
Additionally, keep in mind that simply building your child’s confidence is a key goal of kindergarten readiness. If your child has been exposed to basic learning activities like those described below, they’ll have an easier time participating in similar activities at kindergarten, which can help them form some of their first memories of school in a positive, engaging way.
While we always encourage parents of young children to focus mostly on play time as they prepare their children for school (nothing is quite as good for young kids as plenty of time to imagine, create, and have fun!), there are a wide variety of activities and games that can provide specific developmental skills that prepare students for kindergarten. Read on for suggestions focused on literacy, numeracy, socio-emotional skills, and developmental milestones.
Literacy-Building Activities for Kindergarten Readiness
- Upper- and lowercase letter recognition. The first step toward learning to read is beginning to recognize letters, and a key letter trait that even younger children can grasp is the difference between upper- and lowercase letters. It’s easy to build this skill: just begin pointing out letter types when reading to your child, or when practicing basic writing.
- Writing their name. Many kids form their very first letters as they attempt to write their own name. Sit down and model writing their name in big, easy-to-read letters, then encourage your child to copy those letter forms.
- Rhyming. Rhyming is a great way to promote foundational phonological awareness skills, and kids often find it fun to identify words that rhyme. You can begin reading books that specifically emphasize rhyming, or listen and sing to rhyming songs with your child. You can even point out rhymes that come up day-to-day - for example, say things to your child like “Bat, cat, and mat all rhyme because they have the same ending sound: -at!” Your child gets a lot out of observing you identifying and continuing rhyming patterns.
- Identifying first-letter sounds. Another building block to reading is identifying the first sound of words. Begin pointing out first letters when you read to your child, and when they practice writing their name. You can overemphasize hard consonants and begin to introduce the fact that vowels often have different first-letter sounds (but don’t worry about getting too advanced).
Numeracy-Building Activities for Kindergarten Readiness
- Counting 1-20. Counting is a rather obvious skill, but very helpful in kindergarten! Practice counting anytime throughout your child’s day: count ducks, count socks, etc.
- Pattern recognition. Many kids are confident in identifying A-B-A-B patterns, but they can use a bit more practice with more complex patterns. Try to provide opportunities to observe and engage with more complex patterns, like A-B-B-A, A-B-C-A-B-C, etc. Encouraging your child to say the pattern out loud is a great way to build their abilities.
- Shape identification. Continuously practice identifying and naming basic shapes, like circles, triangles, squares, etc. Many children’s toys and books provide opportunities to distinguish different shapes.
- One-to-One Correspondence. For many children, one of the most difficult parts of counting is keeping one-to-one correspondence in mind. This term means that one object gets one number. One way to help kids cement this concept is by encouraging them to touch the objects they’re counting - i.e. if counting stuffed animals, put their hand on each one, say the number, and then move their hand to the next toy before saying the next number.
Socio-Emotional Development Activities for Kindergarten Readiness
- Caregiver separation. Growing comfortable being apart from parents or caregivers for an extended time is one of the key socio-emotional difficulties of the kindergarten transition: we all dread the tearful drop-offs! The best way to minimize panic during dropoffs is simply to practice the ritual over and over; consider taking your child to kindergarten in advance of their first day to show them exactly where they’ll enter the school, where you’ll be to pick them up, etc. You can also practice strong routines for mornings and drop-offs (i.e. a set order of breakfast, getting dressed, leaving for school), so your child feels in control by knowing exactly what to expect.
- Self-identification. For various confidence and safety reasons, it’s a good idea for your kindergartener to be able to introduce themselves by name, and respond to their name when it’s called by teachers or other safe adults. (Obviously, cover key safety reminders like not responding to strangers, even if they somehow know your child’s name.) It’s also a good idea for your child to be able to share their parents' names, and possibly some basic information about what neighborhood they live in or where they go to school.
- Cooperative play. Sharing toys and participating in collaborative activities with other children can be very challenging for some kindergarteners, particularly if they haven’t had much experience in that kind of environment in their lives thus far. To the extent you can, it’s a good idea to arrange playdates and playgroups with other similarly-aged children so they can practice the basics like taking turns, keeping hands to themselves, etc.
- Transitions between activities. Young children often struggle to move on from one activity to the next, mostly because not knowing what comes next can contribute to an overwhelming lack of control. To practice transitions, it’s often helpful to discuss with your child’s teacher how they typically run transitions in their classroom, and then practice similar rituals at home. For instance, some teachers give a five-minute warning when one activity is about to end (and share what the next activity will be), which is a great habit at home, too.
Other Developmental Activities for Kindergarten Readiness
- Sitting still. Kindergarten involves lots of storytimes, which means lots of sitting still! Try to practice calm reading times and other sedentary activities at home, especially if your child tends to be wiggly.
- Using scissors and other supplies. Your child will encounter a range of school supplies in kindergarten, from child’s safety scissors to glue sticks, pencils, markers, crayons, and more. If possible, try to stock many of these supplies at your child’s home playspace, so they have some experience with the motor skills required to play with these items.
- Long-form communication. Many children grow up being asked a lot of yes-or-no questions - unintentionally, it’s the way that many adults communicate with young ones! But as your child transitions to school, it’s a good idea to build their confidence in longer-form communication. Try to catch yourself asking questions like “Do you like bunnies?” and tweaking them to open-ended questions like “Tell me about bunnies! Why do you like them?”
- Drawing self-portraits. Self-portrait drawing can be a surprisingly revealing insight into your child’s self-awareness, non-verbal communication, and fine motor skills. Some kids are naturally wired for drawing, and may have been sketching themselves (and family members) for a long time; others may need additional support or guidance on including relevant elements like a head, eyes, mouth, nose, hair, body, arms, hands/fingers, and legs/toes (including drawing those elements roughly proportionally). One helpful exercise can be to work on a directed drawing together with your child: you draw a head, your child adds the eyes, you add a nose, your child adds the mouth. This interaction can break down an otherwise overwhelming task, with lots of opportunities for observations and conversations with your child.
Remember: it’s not necessary to incorporate every single activity into every single day. The important thing is to be aware of the general areas that are important for kindergarten development, and begin adding small moments of observation into your day-to-day life. Above all, don’t forget: kids learn most from play!
Need some support in building your child’s confidence for kindergarten (or supporting their academic progress more broadly)? Grow with Beck is a personalized early childhood education company - reach out today to learn more. And if you’re exploring your child’s next educational steps, reach out to Admit NY for comprehensive admissions guidance in New York City.