Some toddlers just cannot wait to start school so that they can proudly go to school with their very own schoolbag, new shoes and uniform, just like big brother or sister! Others may dread the separation from their parents, caregivers, and yes, toys too. In Singapore, many children do not have a problem attending kindergarten because they have been exposed to classroom or group activity from a very young age such as playgroup (2-3 years old) or nursery (3-4 years old).
If you have been reading diligently and showing flashcards to your toddler in preparation for kindergarten, that’s great! However, you should not be too worried if your child still prefers to mess with clay and doodle fantastical pictures rather than work on letter strokes and recite numbers. Teachers do appreciate it when children come in with some basic letter and number recognition but more importantly, they should have some learning and social readiness skills that will help them to make the most of their kindergarten experience.
To give you a good headstart, here are ten tips to help you get your child ‘kinder-ready’.
1. Make your child feel positive about going to kindergarten
Some children may be familiar with the kindergarten if they also attended playgroup and/or nursery there, but others may feel apprehensive about going to a totally new place. Talk about the kindergarten in conversations at home – mention the fun things to do, the new friends that will be made, and the new clothes and bag that he or she will get to use. Help your child see this experience as a positive one.
2. Make your child excited about learning
From as early as possible, get your child interested in exploring the world around them – objects that they see, an interesting event on television or at the mall, a strange-looking cloud in the sky. This will also help to bring out the budding scientist in your child, and encourage them to actively seek out answers to the questions they ask.
3. Teach your child to listen
At home, your child may be used to undivided attention but in school, he or she will have to learn to ‘speak in turn’ and learn to listen carefully to what the teacher is saying and explaining. To get your child used to listening up for important and relevant information, have interactive storytelling sessions at home. Read a book aloud to your child and then ask questions about the storyline or the meaning of new words encountered.
4. Make your child independent
A clingy and crying child or one who needs help with simple tasks such as taking their shoes off can take up a lot of teachers’ time – which could be better used for learning activities. Teach your child to be able to do simple tasks such as taking their shoes off and on, pouring milk into a cup and drinking it without spilling etc., washing their hands etc. This is especially so for children who are used to being assisted by their caregivers and maids most of the time.
5. Encourage your child to play well with others
One of the key reasons parents send their children to playgroup from as young as 2 years old is to teach them to get along with other children. Learning to take turns and ‘give way’, and asking nicely are just as important as learning when to tell the teacher if something is not right, for example, if another child gets hurt whether by accident or if bullying takes place.
6. Develop your child’s language skills
Very often, kindergarten teachers spend a lot of time getting the children to understand what is being asked of them or what needs to be done. A good vocabulary will enable your child to understand what the teacher is saying, and help in expressing him or herself clearly – whether to ask a question, express an opinion or tell the teacher about a problem.
7. Encourage your child’s fine-motor skills
Activities in kindergarten will require your child to use his or her hands in many ways, such as writing, cutting paper, pasting, and arranging small objects. Start ‘writing’ with fingers, sticks, and then progress to handling pencils, crayons and markers. Safety scissors for children even come in versions that can create patterns such as waves and zigzags – cutting through old newspapers is great ‘practice’. Some children dislike holding regular pencils which they find hard to grasp – you can start them off with ‘fat’ crayons and pencils first and move on to regular pencils when they feel more confident.
8. Teach your child to eat a variety of food
During snack time, kindergartens will serve different types of food so as to ensure that the children will have a balanced diet. It is difficult for the kindergarten and your child if your child insists on eating only a particular type of food or refuses the food, unless for health (such as allergies) or religious reasons. What is good about eating together with fellow children is that a child may often try something he or she would otherwise be unwilling to try, such as peas (in macaroni soup) or a different types of cereal. You may find that your child has a more adventurous appetite after starting school!
9. Get your child to recognise letters and numbers
It helps your child a lot to be able to recognize letters of the alphabet and the numbers 1 to 10 when they start kindergarten. You can help your child develop these skills almost anywhere and anytime – when looking at signs along the road, counting the number of cars passing by the window and so on. Some children can already read simple books when they start kindergarten but it is not a MUST. In fact, some children’s reading skills pick up a lot faster once they start learning within a group environment as they are exposed to regular storytelling sessions and conversations with their classmates. Some WANT to learn to read simply because their friends and teachers can.
10. Work on problem-solving skills
Children are often eager to share their ideas and help to solve problems. Help your child to develop thinking and problem-solving skills by asking them for their thoughts and responses. Give your child a chance to answer questions relating to Who, What, Where, Why and How, and engage them in during different experiences such as grocery shopping or packing for a trip.