5 Skills Every Kid Should Know Before Kindergarten

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The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted education in countless ways, from kids struggling with virtual learning to college students getting cut off from internships and other opportunities. But what about our country’s youngest learners?

Some parents held their preschoolers out of kindergarten this year due to the pandemic. Others fear their kids have missed critical learning that would have ordinarily taken place in childcare or preschool settings that either went online or shut down completely. This has left many parents and educators to wonder: Will these little ones be ready for kindergarten when the time comes? But that question certainly isn’t new. We all want our kids to have the best chance for academic success, so even before the pandemic, parents spent lots of time (and money) on educational toys, flashcards, and other resources hoping to prepare our kids for kindergarten.

Luckily there’s good news. Experts agree that there are certain skills that contribute to success in kindergarten (and beyond), and it turns out that most of the learning that we consider traditional isn’t necessarily even near the top of the list! Surprised? Common Sense Media explains that “kindergarten readiness is less about the ABCs and 123s than you might think.” Here are the top “soft skills” they recommend for parents to support at home, to help ensure our kids get the best academic start possible.

Spread the love (of learning)

The most important thing is for your little one to enjoy learning (which is rarely about memorizing a bunch of stuff, like flashcards and math facts). The big picture: We want to help our kiddos become “lifelong learners”—people who approach the world with a sense of curiosity and wonder.

All you really need to do is nurture the natural curiosity kids already have. Two of the best ways we can support their love of learning are by:

  • Encouraging their questions (How do you think the trees grow so tall?)
  • Helping them build problem solving skills (How do you think we should build the fort?)

Getting your little one excited about learning is a great first step for starting school—and it will give them a leg up throughout life.

Practice planning skills

Kindergarten brings new rules, new routines, and lots of new distractions—right when kiddos are just starting to learn self-control. You can help your little learner by encouraging them to remember the steps in your daily routines (wake up, get dressed, have breakfast, brush teeth…) to give them practice staying on track.

It can be a lot of work for a kindergartener to keep up with it all, so be sure to talk through what to do when plans change or get interrupted, in order to build their adaptability, too.

Some apps can make learning to stick to a routine fun. STEM projects and coding apps are also great for practicing these skills, since kids need to follow sequences, think about if-then relationships, and explore cause and effect.

Build friendship skills

Much of school—and life—centers on how we relate to and work with the people around us. Kids who can share, take turns, play well with other kids, and resolve conflicts are starting ahead of the game. But preschool friendships can have more drama than an episode of Real Housewives, as kids become more aware of friends, but are still mastering things like empathy or seeing another person’s perspective. 

Start by helping your child name, recognize, and handle their emotions. That will help them develop school-ready skills like self-regulation and self control (which means they’ll be less likely to have outbursts in the classroom, or grab other kids’ crayons without asking).

Another great way to help is by finding books and TV shows that emphasize compassion and kindness—and to talk through what’s happening with friends in the stories. Be sure that the characters come from a diverse range of backgrounds and cultural groups, which can help kids be more accepting when they get to the classroom and meet people who are different than they are. And don’t worry, there are lots of fun ways to support kids’ social development and build friendship skills, even when they can’t see their friends in person.

Use your words

Early vocab and language skills are some of the biggest predictors of later school success—the best (and often, most fun!) things you can do to support that are to read and talk. A LOT.

Make up stories, play word games, channel your inner rapper with fun rhymes, read together and sing songs—anything that involves language is great. Before you know it your cutie will be reading to you! Even if your child is far too wiggly or active to sit still for story time, there are lots of ways to make reading and other language building activities engaging, and even incorporate it into their play.

Support their independence

Kids are better prepared to do things on their own at school if they start practicing independence at home. You can help them learn how to do basic tasks on their own, like putting away toys or getting themselves dressed for bed. Find books and TV shows that promote perseverance and a willingness to keep trying, even when things don’t go right the first time. Ask them fun questions that get them thinking about how to handle problems, or that offer opportunities for critical thinking. The more independence we can encourage at home, the more our little ones will be prepared to do things for themselves at school.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with getting kids started on the traditional “three Rs” of education—reading, writing, and arithmetic—early, if they’re showing an interest. But even without expensive educational toys and flashcards to teach our kids numbers, letters, and shapes, these simple everyday lessons will set them up for the best chance of kindergarten success when the time for that big transition comes.

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