What are the three most common mistakes parents make in preparing their kids for kindergarten?
Experts: The kindergarten teachers of the River Edge Elementary Schools, NJ (combined early childhood teaching experience: ninety-two years)
1. Focusing on Academic (Not Real-World) Skills
The biggest mistake parents make is thinking they need to prepare their kids academically for kindergarten. In lieu of academic preparation they should be teaching them self-sufficiency skills: how to open a juice box, how to walk down the stairs alternating feet, how to turn their sleeves inside-out and put their own jackets on. Parents should teach them how to listen carefully so that their teachers don’t have to repeat instructions three or four times.
As far as their preparation skills, parents need to take the time in the morning to have their child put on their shoes themselves. Sure, it may take you longer to get ready to go to daycare, but practice it on the weekends. Or let them start to open the juice box, and if they can’t finish it, fine. Step in only when you need to.
Personal hygiene skills are also important. Before school starts, parents should take their kids to public restrooms. Too often, kids don’t know how to use a paper towel dispenser or even how to wash their own hands! They ask us to do it for them, and then they take the paper towel and hand it to us after they’ve dried their hands and go “Here.” We need them to be able to go into a bathroom on their own, wipe themselves and then wash their hands and use paper towels afterwards and then throw them away. It sounds so simple. But it’s a major life skill that they don’t have when they walk in the door. Oh yes – and they need to learn how to flush toilets for themselves, and not be afraid of the sound of a flushing toilet. Quite a few of them walk out without flushing.
2. Being Your Child’s Yes-Man
The second thing is about setting limits, saying no – teaching your children that if they hear no, it’s okay. Things aren’t always open-ended, there are going to be limits, there are going to be things that you’re going to have to accept. They need to be emotionally prepared to handle not being chosen, or not getting the color block that they want, or the fact that they’re not going to be able to play in the center they want to that day, for whatever reason. Things like that. Little disappointments.
How should parents prepare them? They can do this in their home: give them limited choices. For example, “Do you want milk or apple juice for lunch?”instead of, “What would you like to drink?” Because then they’re going to say, “Soda!” Things like that. “Do you want to wear your blue shirt or your red shirt?” Those are choices, and that teaches them that there are limits.
3. Confining Their Learning to the Classroom
Expose your kids to everyday things in life – things outside – weather, seasons. Experience and talk with the children – not to the children, with the children – about things they see and feel, so they’re aware of their environment. Go to zoos and museums. Observe all the different things you see when you walk down the street. You don’t necessarily need to teach them to add; just count doors, count windows.
Before they enter kindergarten, kids should know their name, first and last name; they should know the letters of their name; they should know their address and their telephone number. They should know how to write letters of the alphabet from top to bottom. (Children begin to write letters from bottom to top, and letters are written from top to bottom, so we spend a lot of time on that.) They should know songs and poems. They should be familiar with books and how to handle them. We don’t want them to read, we just want them to know how to handle a book, to know what a book’s all about. They should be read to frequently. They should love books.
Everything comes down to teaching your children responsibility: in caring for themselves, being considerate of others, and respecting their environment. Sounds simple, but in practice, it’s a big job.
Interviews by Gwynne Watkins