I know what you’re thinking: I’m trying my best to savor time with my little ones, so why would I worry about my toddler being ready for kindergarten? Don’t I have enough on my plate?
But I bet you’re already doing some crucial things to equip your little one to succeed in kindergarten. And if you’re not, don’t worry, I’ve got a few easy ways to intentionally play with your child while boosting their kindergarten readiness.
You don’t need to set up a school room in your house and devote a scheduled amount of time in your busy day to help get your child ready; you simply need to include intentional conversations and directed play while also allowing for unstructured, free time.
4 Ways to Begin Preparing Your Toddler for Kindergarten
Readiness is really about disposition and experience
It’s about developing kindness, selflessness, and the desire to contribute to a positive classroom community. Teach your kids to be good listeners and train them to follow directions. Help them to be observant and attuned to the environment while encouraging them to look deeper and explore.
Children are naturally observant and inquisitive, we just need to engage them in deliberate conversations about their surroundings and give them experiences that foster curiosity. It can be as simple as going for a nature walk around your neighborhood looking for flowers, animals, and bugs. As a former kindergarten teacher, I would say that nurturing these character traits is just as important as teaching math and reading skills to your toddler.
One of the first things we typically want our baby to do is self-sooth and fall asleep without help. And from then on it’s a practice in letting go of little things (and sometimes HUGE things) to help them become independent thinkers and problem solvers.
Often our naturally independent toddlers get extremely frustrated with their own developmental limitations. We need to guide them in finding solutions on their own. When my three year old gets upset and says she can’t do a certain task, we take a few calming breathes, and then I ask her to try it again or find a different way. I tell her I’ll help if she needs it, but I first want her to try and figure it out herself. When she comes up with a solution that works, I praise her by specifically telling her she is a great problem solver and I like how she is thinking.
Another part of this independence is giving a child space for creative play. This is a key developmental piece to a child’s learning that is disturbingly lacking from a kindergartner’s day. My daughter no longer takes naps, but an important part of our day is her quiet time (for both of our sakes). It gives us a needed break from each other and allows her time to independently play and use her imagination. I so enjoy overhearing her in-depth conversations with her stuffed animals!
Read to your child every day
It’s one of the most significant things you can do in helping your child become a reader. Start reading plastic books that your infant can drool over. Develop a love a books early (even if they just love to chew on them right now). And as they grow and understand more, ask questions and engage your child about the book. You are probably already doing this and didn’t even realize you were setting your child up to be a super reader!
We were doing number puzzles well before my daughter knew anything about numbers. I would read counting books to her, counting the items on a page while touching each picture. Counting to 10 in the car helped to pass the time while waiting at stop lights, and now she is able to count to 20 and even 30.
One of the ways that I get my 3 year old to pick up all her toys is to say that I’m going to pick up 3 items. Her competitive nature takes over and she says she’s going to pick up 4. Back and forth we go until all of her toys are put away. She doesn’t even know that she is learning one-to-one correspondence!
Parenting is a gradual release and guidance towards independence. Now I’m not trying to launch your toddler out the door to kindergarten, but I hope to get you intentionally thinking about these ideas. Financially responsible people begin to plan for retirement early, not when they’re 55. Similarly, begin getting your child ready for kindergarten during their toddler years and then you will find that there is no need to panic the summer before school starts.
In my experience as a classroom teacher, kindergarten readiness is less about the academic knowledge of letters, numbers, shapes and colors and more about being emotionally secure in their hearts.
All of these ideas involve some sacrifice and patience on our part as well. As active and busy as toddlers are, they can also move at a slower pace as they learn and take everything in. Therefore, putting these things into practice requires parents to slow down and lower expectations when completing a task. Intentional guidance not only helps them academically, but builds their emotional health and communicates that they are valuable, capable people.
In my experience as a classroom teacher, kindergarten readiness is less about the academic knowledge of letters, numbers, shapes and colors and more about being emotionally secure in their hearts. Knowing that they are loved, cherished and competent goes a long way in the classroom. A child that has been inspired to push through the challenging aspects of life and has not been over indulged or catered to is a child that will successfully learn the academic requirements in school.
Is Preschool Right for Your Child?
Annie Wiesman is the co-author of “Education Begins at Birth: A Parent’s Guide to Preparing Infants, Toddlers, and Preschoolers for Kindergarten.” She is a former kindergarten teacher turned stay-at-home mom who enjoys traveling, hiking in the mountains, and creating memories together with her husband and little girl.