Hey Parents— If you’re spending the last few weeks of summer coaching your child on counting and reciting the alphabet, take a breather. Your time will be better spent teaching these 5 key non-academic skills.
What kind of skills?
“Those that foster independence are the most important skills to have when entering kindergarten,” says Linda Savel, veteran kindergarten teacher at St. John School in Burlington, Ont. As a registered Early Childhood Educator, I’ve also done time behind the kindergarten curtain and have witnessed the struggles, the frustration (and the downright shock) of rookie kindergartners adjusting to life at school.
Today’s kindergarten curriculum is stuffed with exciting academics, and classrooms are packed with very young students. Children with strong self-help skills are able to focus on these academics and start off on the right foot.
We’re accustomed to taking care of our kids and go on autopilot wiping noses and zipping jackets, but many of us don’t realize how much we ‘over-do’. (And let’s be honest; it’s a lot faster and more efficient when we do it for them!) But you want to set your child up for kindergarten success. So consider how your child will handle self-help tasks when you’re not in the room.
Skill #1: Getting dressed
Your child’s first school challenge will be met in the cubby area every morning, every afternoon and as many as three recesses. They’ll deal with shoes, boots, coats (and before you know it – snow pants, mitts and hats). I’ve seen many a meltdown as children wrestle with buckles and zippers, or watched as they stand staring at their jacket or shoes, ready for someone to do it for them. And after spending the summer in shorts and sandals they may need a refresher course! Let your child practice dressing independently without being pressured. The more they do on their own at home, the more confidence they will have to do it at school.
Out the door. Foster your child’s independence by giving them some say in picking their clothes. But do a test-run before school— because not all zippers are created equal. Your child can be the coatroom champ and the first one in line if his jacket has a quality zipper with an easy-to grasp tab.
Easy feet. You may be tempted to purchase those cute lace-up sneakers, but if your child can’t tie them tightly or properly, save them for the weekend. Go for slip-ons with a good rubber sole. Otherwise, your child will spend a good chunk of the day doing the lace dragging shuffle, or be one of 20 kids waiting for the teacher to tie them – again!
Skill #2: Bathroom success
I know—your child has been ‘trained’ for years: which is exactly why many parents don’t consider the bathroom an issue. But believe me, the kindergarten washroom can be a challenge.
I’ve got to go! Many children have relied on a parent or caregiver to tell them when to visit the washroom. Give your child ownership in this department so he can start thinking for himself.
Hold on a minute. In a class full of children, kids will sometimes have to wait their turn to go to the washroom. Teach kids to not wait until the last minute before deciding to make a dash for it.
Clothes call. I realize those tights match perfectly with the headband, and those jeans are super cute, but can your kids undo that button or get the tights down quickly on their own, especially if they really have to go? Send kids to school wearing elastic waist bottoms – especially in September.
Clean sweep. Teach your kids to wipe efficiently. Some parents still assist with occasional bathroom visits. But children are on their own in kindergarten. Give them plenty of practice with solo wiping and hand washing.
Skill #3: Eating- without help
Lunch (or nutrition breaks as some schools call it) is like a game of beat the clock. In 25 minutes or less can you wash your hands, get your lunch, open everything, eat, and tidy up? It’s hard enough to eat without spending too much time chatting. Imagine if you can’t open a zipper or unscrew a Thermos lid.
Opening act. Can your child open every buckle, clasp, zipper and snap on all those fancy pouches and containers within the time limit? Practise at home.
Bums in seats. Make lunch at home a ‘sit down affair’ where nibbling and roaming isn’t permitted. Your child won’t be allowed to wander around during lunch at school.
Cutlery 101. Can your child use utensils, including gauging how much to put into their mouth at one time? Give lots of opportunities to practise this skill. No more ‘helping’ in this department.
Contain yourself. Test-drive the new Thermos. It’s great to send him to school with last night’s spaghetti. But digging pasta out of that container can be tricky! If you plan on sending a container full of soup make sure he can manage broth and a spoon without giving himself a bath!
Drinking challenge. Opening juice boxes and milk cartons can be tricky. Every time your child pries open her own milk container or spears her own juice box she gains a sense of pride and independence.
Napkin know-how. Go for lunch and have your child do everything, from ordering the meal to putting the trash in the garbage. And if she gets ketchup on her face, don’t wipe it off! Start a conversation about wiping your mouth while eating. And model it yourself.
Tip: Play the ‘school lunch’ game. Pack lunches for your child and a friend (to add a social challenge). Set the timer for 25 minutes and see how they manage. Sit on your hands for this game so they really do everything themselves.
Skill #4: Being responsible for belongings
From bringing home forms to bringing back library books, to remembering backpacks from the bus, your child will suddenly have lots of things to monitor and remember. This takes practice on their part, and lots of patience and guidance on your part.
Cubby control. Children will have a bin or a hook where they are expected to keep their things at school. Managing this new space can be daunting for someone who’s always had someone do it for them. So back off at home and let kids pick up after themselves. Let them bring their own things in from the car, hang up their coat, put their shoes away. Give them a designated spot for their backpack so they can start great organizational habits.
Backpack management. Every day your child’s backpack needs to be checked for letters from the teacher, forms, library books and lunch bags. Establish a time and a space where you can go over this together. Keeping this organized needs to be a group effort. You want your child to be independent- but he needs you to fill out the forms and sign that agenda. But don’t add this to the list of things you do after he’s in bed. Do it with him. Go over the notes with him, while you fill it out. It’s an excellent opportunity to jog his memory about his day and can lead to a great conversation. Consistently keeping his backpack organized and ready to go for the next day not only helps your child establish organizational skills, it shows him that you value his education.
Skill #5: Following directions
Kindergarten expectations incorporate lots of self-regulation; children learn to put the breaks on impulses, wait their turn, and follow directions.
Step by step. Listening and following directions gets better with practice. Start with simple tasks at home, such as, “Please put your shoes away.” Then add more steps: “Please put your shoes in the closet, hang up your coat and put your hat on the shelf.”
Wait your turn. The kindergartener spends chunks of his day waiting; waiting for everyone to join the group, waiting in line for their turn, waiting for the teacher to give direction. It’s good practice for your child to experience waiting patiently for something at home, instead of having immediate gratification. They might wait for you to get off the phone before having dessert, or wait for you to finish the dishes before you play a game.
Picture Books to Support
BIG OR LITTLE by Kathy Stinson and Jennifer A. Bell https://www.amazon.com/Big-Little-Kathy-Stinson/dp/1554511682 A great read aloud to celebrate your child’s new accomplishments as a ‘big kid’ while reminding everyone that in lots of ways, they are ‘still little’.
I love Jamie Lee Curtis picture books! https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/books/search/?keywords=jamie+lee+curtis These two are awesome books for celebrating the trials and tribulations of being a kindergartner:
IT’S HARD TO BE FIVE: LEARNING HOW TO WORK MY CONTROL PANEL by Jamie Lee Curtis and Laura Cornell
I’M GONNA LIKE ME: LETTING OFF A LITTLE SELF-ESTEEM by Jamie Lee Curtis and Laura Cornell
This is my new picture book, which encourages self-reliance and self-confidence when your school day takes an unexpected turn: https://www.amazon.com/Teachers-Not-Here-Lana-Button/dp/1771383569