All the experts will tell you that your child should be able to hold a pencil, count to 10, and recognize his or her written name before entering kindergarten, but as someone who’s spent the last ten years in the classroom tying shoe laces and applying Band-Aids, I can tell you there’s a lot more to it. A successful transition to kindergarten and beyond is about more than just counting numbers and recognizing letters. Here are some things your child’s kindergarten teacher will appreciate you working on with your child before the first day of school.
1. How to sit still. I can always tell whose grandma takes him to church, pinchers ready for any ill-advised squirming. Or whose parents make her eat at the dinner table each night and participate in conversation. The art of sitting and engaging with others is a valuable lesson to learn. The average kindergartener should be able to pay attention for fifteen to twenty minutes at a time. So, think about adding some “sitting practice” to your daily schedule.
2. How to fail. Some kids will spend the entire day pouting over one verbal correction while others rebound quickly and resume learning. Making mistakes is a part of life, and being able to emotionally recover when things don’t go your way is an essential part of learning. Helping your child to take correction and get back on track quickly will make his or her days happier and more productive.
3. Babies come from heaven. There’s always that one kid whose progressive parents have taught the process of conception, using anatomically correct terms, who delights in sharing the graphic details with everyone else; but protecting your child’s innocence is a good thing. As Corrie Ten Boom’s father told her in The Hiding Place, “Some knowledge is too heavy for children. When you are older and stronger, you can bear it. For now you must trust me to carry it for you.” There will be plenty of time for the birds and the bees later, but for now we can carry this burden for them.
4. How to share. It never fails that this is one of the most challenging lessons for kids. Part of growing up is realizing that you are not the center of the universe and that the people around you have wants and desires, too. Being able to share will make it easier for your little one to make friends and have healthy interactions in the classroom. Don’t worry if your little one doesn’t volunteer to give up his favorite toy to the neighbor’s kid—this one takes a lot of practice—but you can start now.
5. People have different ideas. Oh, the passionate debates that raged in my classroom over the existence of Santa Claus, the merits of the Easter Bunny, and methods of the Tooth Fairy! As a child who never believed in the magical, I can understand the need to enlighten everyone as to the error of their beliefs. But in today’s diverse population your child’s bound to encounter kids whose beliefs differ from their own, and they need to know that’s okay.
6. How to resolve conflict with words (I don’t mean the four letter kind). How many kids have told me their parents said its okay to hit back if someone hits you first? Many. But you can’t go through life mimicking the bad behavior of others. Two wrongs don’t make a right. Hold your child to a higher standard.
7. How to be sorry. A little empathy goes a long way. While kids’ personalities will dictate the amount of instruction they need on this one, talking through incidents with your child and pointing out others’ feelings can help them develop empathy, be more likely to feel remorse, and accept responsibility for their actions.
8. Life’s not fair, but we’re trying to make it so. The idea that life should be fair is one that is hard to shake. As teachers we do our best to be as fair as possible, but different children have different needs. Some kids are going to need more help, more attention, or more chances to get it right. We’re trying to be fair as possible, but sometimes that looks different to different children.
Don’t worry if your child doesn’t quite have all of these mastered. No one expects kindergarteners to be perfect, or to enter the classroom with the maturity they will leave with. After all, they’re there to learn. But partnering with your child’s teacher to help your child master these skills will make kindergarten, and the years to come, easier and ensure that his or her formative years will be full of friends, exploration, fun and learning!