One of the joys of working with school-age children is getting to interact with the teachers and teacher librarians. I recently had two separate interactions with kindergarten teachers that left me impressed and inspired. At one, I participated in a Welcome to Kindergarten event where the kindergarten teacher spoke to parents of preschoolers about school readiness skills. At another, I had a kindergarten class come to visit the library, and just watching the teacher interact with the kids was amazing.
So for this week’s post I thought I’d share some of the wisdom and advice I gleaned. I think part of the reason they hit home with me is because I have a 3-year-old (almost 4!) niece who is a big part of my life, and I want to help her be ready for kindergarten as much as I can. Her name is Sophie and we are best buds.
Kindergarten Class Visit
Before I read a story to the Kindergarten class, the teacher came up and did this little mantra with them. They all knew it by heart. And I have to say that these kids were the most well behaved Kindergarten students I’ve ever met. It goes:
Eyes watching (make glasses around eyes with your hands)
Ears listening (put hands behind ears)
Voices quiet (point to mouth)
Body still (Give yourself a hug)
Caring hearts (Make a heart with your hands)
My co-worker Miranda pointed out that the “Body still” part would be hard for kids with ADHD so she recommended changing it to “Body calm” which I also love. I also saw a similar technique called “Give Me Five” on Not Just Cute.
Welcome to Kindergarten Parent Talk
At the parent talk, the kindergarten teacher prefaced these points with, “Your child will be most successful in kindergarten if they can…”
1. Sit Still for 5 Minutes
When giving out instructions and directions, the teacher noted that kids absorb them better if they are still and listening. She emphasized that she never expects them to sit still longer than 5 minutes – they will always get up and do a movement activity. But being able to give 5 minutes of attention will help children know what to do and how to do it. Reading books is a great way to build up this sitting and listening skill.
2. Finish What They Start
Has your child ever started a puzzle and then given up after a few seconds of frustration? Take your child back to the puzzle and tell them, “This looks challenging, but I can help you figure it out.” Assist children until they are able to master a skill alone. When they finish the puzzle tell them how proud you are of their perseverance.
3. Listen to 3 Simple Directions
Put on your jacket. Gather your backpack. Line up at the door. Being able to follow 3 simple directions makes the classroom run more smoothly. I think we can support this in storytime. All of those wonderful children’s songs with directions are helping kids learn this skill. I’m looking at your “Jump Up, Turn Around” by Jim Gill.
4. Read 3 Stories a Day
The teacher talked about all the unique vocabulary in books, and how books help kids process and understand new situations and concepts. She also said that it doesn’t matter if it’s the same story over and over again, and in fact, the repeated reading is helping kids learn the rhythm and structure of our language. She also gave a shout out to the library! Of course, she didn’t mean that kids should be reading on their own – just participating in the reading and listening experience.
5. Share and Take Turns
This is one that doesn’t apply to toddlers. But preschoolers need to know how to play cooperatively and how to be kind to each other. The teacher emphasized teaching kids the language of sharing: “May I use that when you’re finished?” “Could we trade when you’re done?” Kids need these phrases to be able to share effectively. We’re also teaching them how to consider other people’s feelings.
6. Entertain Themselves
The emphasis here was on creative play. Can your child take a block and pretend it’s a piece of food? Can they imagine they are an animal and mimic the animal’s behaviour? She said many online games have an end goal, and while that’s fine, kids also need to know how to play just for the sake of playing. If they need an adult by their side 24/7 they may find it hard in Kindergarten where the teacher has to divide his or her attention. This point stuck with me because Sophie is an only child and we could definitely work on independent play more at home.
7. Clean Up
The classroom is a community and one of the first things they learn is how to be respectful of the space. The teacher stressed the importance of consistency – every time your child plays at home they should clean up their toys when finished. Kids learn that things have a place, and we want to leave the space clean and tidy for the next person to use. Using clean up songs is a great way to make this a more enjoyable activity.
8. Be Polite
This point echoes some of the others because the basic message is that we want to teach kids how to be kind and respectful of others. The teacher gave great examples of how parents can do this at home – do they say please and thank you when receiving a meal? Do they ask politely for help with a task? Do they offer to help when they see someone in need? Acknowledging the use of polite language and behaviour encourages kids to keep doing it.
9. Have a Beginning Knowledge of Letter Sounds
I found this one super interesting. The teacher said that she prefers kids to come in being able to recognize letters and their sounds over knowing how to write letters. Kindergarten teachers have a method of teaching writing letters and sometimes they have to “un-teach” the kids who come in making the letters already. She encouraged parents to focus their efforts on pointing out print everywhere you go and connecting letters to sounds.
10. Have Healthy Habits
Kindergarteners need anywhere from 10-14 hours of sleep at night. If you send them to school on 8 hours, they won’t function as well. Avoid sugary drinks and food. Know the difference between 2-Hour food and 4-Hour food. Carbs such as fruit and bread will only give your child brain power for 2 hours. Make sure to pair those carbs with a protein so that they can last longer. She gave them a handout with recommended snacks that combine 2-Hour and 4-Hour foods.
Thank you, kindergarten teachers, for sharing your expertise! I’ve learned things I can apply to my job and to my home life.