5 Essential ‘Starting School’ Skills for Kindergarten Success

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

black shoelace placed on gray floor

Photo by Steve Johnson on Pexels.com

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

white toilet paper

Photo by hermaion on Pexels.com

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

analogue classic clock clock face

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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

boy in brown hoodie carrying red backpack while walking on dirt road near tall trees

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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

boy wearing blue crew neck t shirt sitting on cardboard box

Photo by Sunbae Legacy on Pexels.com

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 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:

Hard to be 5 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 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

My Picture Books

Kitty proves to herself she can get through an unexpected day at school.

 

 

Bring Calmness and Clarity to your Kids- Bring them to the Water

Have you had a chance to spend any time near the water this summer? If you’re like my family, a trip to the beach isn’t in the cards this year. But I’ve found relaxation and a recharge by taking walks along the river. And there’s science behind my feelings of calmness and clarity. You benefit– mentally, emotionally and physically, when you spend time near, in or around the water. It can help you and your child feel more calm, more connected, more inspired.

St Croix

St Croix River, St Stephen, NB

I grew up surrounded by water— on the St. Croix River, with The Bay of Fundy right around the bend. I miss it, and definitely feel the positive affects of being close to it again when I come home.

Carolyn Gregoire  writes in Huffpost US about the calming creative affects we experience when we are near a body of water. We’ve been turning to water for its calming affects from Roman times; where baths were used for relaxation, to today; enjoying everything from a trip to the lake to a soothing bath.   https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/entry/mental-benefits-water_n_5791024

Wallace J. Nichols, a marine biologist, believes that we all have a “blue mind” — as he puts it, “a mildly meditative state characterized by calm, peacefulness, unity, and a sense of general happiness and satisfaction with life in the moment” — that’s triggered when we’re in or near water.

Nichols says that our brains are hardwired to react positively to water. Being near it can calm and connect us, increase innovation and insight, and even heal what’s broken.

Blue Mind   Nichols writes in Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected,  

and Better at What You Do  that “being around water gives our brains and our senses a rest from overstimulation.” When we’re near, on, in or under water, we get a cognitive break because there’s simply less information coming in.

Nichols goes on to say that water can induce a meditative state and can inspire us to be more compassionate and connected. And in his book Nichols shows the science behind the theory that exercising by, or in water, benefits both our bodies and our brains.

So whenever you can swing it, enjoy a walk with your child, along a beach, by the river, or near a lake. This can be an incredibly affective way to calm an anxious mind or jumpy body.

And here are three of my favourite books where water is the backdrop to a summer experience.

 

Dear Mr Blueberry Dear Mr. Blueberry by Simon James

A little girl and her teacher correspond over the summer about the a whale named Arthur.

https://www.amazon.com/Dear-Blueberry-Aladdin-Picture-Books/dp/0689807686

 

ocean meets sky_ Ocean Meets Sky by Eric Fan and Terry Fan

A little boy finds the spot his Grandfather told him about— where ocean meets sky.

Town is by the Sea Town is by the Sea by Joanne Schwartz and Sydney Smith

Spend a day in the life of a child, who’s town is by the sea.

Town Is by the Sea

 

 

Are We Overprotecting our Kids From the Sun? Praise for Rays!

Just to be clear- I’m not telling you to head to the beach slathered in baby oil, or leave your child’s skin exposed to the sun for long stretches—But you can keep your kids healthier; mentally and physically, with some sun exposure.

There was a time when doctors prescribed sun exposure to treat diseases like rickets and polio. But today we know how damaging the sun can be. In fact, as parents, we are pros at blocking those harmful rays from landing anywhere near our child’s delicate skin.

The problem is we’re not just blocking harmful UVA and UVB rays, we’re also blocking opportunities for your child to produce valuable vitamin D. Sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher blocks our child’s ability to produce vitamin D by more than 98 percent.

Yes, skin cancer is very real. But so is a list of other nasty diseases associated with a lack of vitamin D. According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vitamin D deficiency increases a person’s risk of developing type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and many common cancers, including breast, colon and prostate cancer. (In fact, in Canada, where long winters limit sun exposure, the percentage of these diseases is much higher, compared to southern areas like Georgia and South Carolina.)

In Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s report, Importance of Vitamin D, he says vitamin D also keeps our immune system going strong, helps fight off flu and autoimmune diseases like inflammatory bowel disease. And a healthy supply of vitamin D, which has been described as a natural antibiotic, allows us to more efficiently absorb medicine.

Vitamin D deficiency has made a comeback in young children. Dr. Karen McAssey, a Paediatric Endocinologist at the calcium disorders clinic at McMaster Children’s Hospital says she is seeing more and more cases of rickets and osteoporosis in young children. The fact is, it is difficult to get enough vitamin D from food and supplements alone. But 10 minutes of sun exposure allows your body to produce 20,000IU (international units) of vitamin D.

And vitamin D deficiency is also linked to depression and anxiety. I see these summer days as an excellent opportunity for you to help your child build up their vitamin D and fight against the alarmingly increased statistics of depression and anxiety in our children.

I’m not saying to throw the sunscreen out with the bath water. Sun protection should be used for children on a regular basis. But Dr. McAssey recommends, “Parents should allow their children opportunities to be exposed to up to 10 minutes of sun exposure without sunscreen, so that they can produce ample vitamin D.” It’s time we rethink that ‘zero tolerance’ approach to a few rays of sunshine.

I love these new picture books that embrace the joys of a day in the sun:

Surfer Dog  SURFER DOG by Eric Walters and Eugenie Fernandes (Orca Books, 2018) https://www.amazon.ca/Surfer-Dog-Eric-Walters/dp/1459814355

OnMySwim ON MY SWIM by Kari-Lynn Winters and Christina Leist (TradeWind Books, 2018) http://tradewindbooks.com/books/on-my-swim/

Lana Button writes for and presents to young children about finding their own brave breath, standing up for themselves, and feeling good about themselves.

cropped-holding-willow-fff.jpeg

http://www.lanabutton.com   Instagram @lanabutton   Twitter @LanaButton

Available in bookstores at http://www.chapters.indigo.ca and Amazon.ca

teacher not here cover MY TEACHER’S NOT HERE! (Kids Can Press, 2018)

willow_s_smile_0 WILLOW’S SMILE (Kids Can Press, 2016)

willow finds a way WILLOW FINDS A WAY (Kids Can Press, 2013)

willow_s_whispersWILLOW’S WHISPERS (Kids Can Press, 2014)

How Day Camp Can Build Your Child’s Social Confidence

Day Camp isn’t just an opportunity for your child to try a new activity and get exercise. It’s also be a great chance to gain a stronger sense of self-worth (feeling like she’s a good person, worth being respected and treated fairly) and self-confidence (believing that they can handle themselves in new situations and tackle new challenges). When she participates in the right day camp, your child has the opportunity to learn a new skill, (from basketball to acting or swimming) or improve on a skill they already love, building their confidence and leaving them with a greater sense of accomplishment. Whether they master the slap shot in hockey or discover that they can perform 3 counts of 8 in a routine at dance camp, a week honing a craft is an excellent way to boost your child’s self-image.

And Day Camp can also be a terrific opportunity for your child to stretch his social skills leaving him more socially confident. The refreshing change in scene (and cast of characters) from school may be just what your child needs to work on communication skills and flexibility within a social scene. And whether it’s working out who plays what character in drama camp or figuring out where to sit at lunch in art camp, Day Camp gives your child practice working on essential social skills like turn taking and cooperation. These short term camps allow your child to spend a week or two with a new social group in a different social setting, testing their team building skills away from the classroom. Day Camp can arm your child with a handful of stronger social skill—like flexibility, and cooperation, allowing them to be more successful when they head back to school in the fall.

Day camp can be an awesome vacation from last year’s school social drama, and can feel like a clean slate when it comes to reputations and social cliques. Being with a new group of kids can also allow your child to see other perspectives, and practice communication skills in a different setting. When you know you are only spending a week with a group of people you can have a different type of confidence to try out new communication skills. Not having the reputation of the shy kid, the bad kid, the talkative kid or the mean kid can be such a breath of fresh air for anyone. Shed your reputation, work on some communication skills, gain confidence and let that newfound social confidence transfer into a healthier happier school year come September.

Things You can do to make camp more successful:

There’s the Spirit– Support your child in their willingness to participate in spirit days. It’s camp- so it’s supposed to be fun! So don’t force them to wear their PJ’s for Pajama Day if they aren’t into it. But if they are into celebrating those theme days, dig out your glue gun and provide some fun materials when it’s Crazy Hat Day. Head to the Dollar Store for a hula skirt on Hawaii Day. You might be surprised at how much your ‘usually shy’ kid might be willing to try their hand at stepping outside their comfort zone and taking a risk. But again- Don’t push!! Let your child lead the way on this one.

Keep the Evening Schedule Light: Camp isn’t just physically tiring. Being in a new social scene following a new set of rules and schedules is emotionally and mentally tiring as well. So don’t plan evening events during camp week. Postpone play dates and skip soccer practice if you can so your child can focus all of his energy into getting the most out of camp.

A Hangry Camper isn’t a Happy Camper: Pack enough food for the day. Sometimes parents pack a typical school lunch for their kids, forgetting the day is longer. And again, in these new social scenes you may find their nervous stomach won’t allow them to eat much on Monday, but by Wednesday they are famished and out of food.

Read some Self-Esteem Boosting Books: My picture book, WILLOW’S WHISPERS (Kids Can Press, 2014) is a great book to read to your child about self-confidence, self-worth and speaking up for yourself.

willow_s_whisperswillow finds a way

My picture book WILLOW FINDS A WAY (Kids Can Press, 2013) is a great book to read your child about handling sticky social situations.