Friday, August 13, 2010

What your child should know before Kindergarten by Bloom guest Alicia

Meet Alicia. A top-notch teacher, and one of the most loyal friends I've ever had. We drove through rain, sleet, and snow together to teach second grade in two colorful classrooms across from each other. When she writes to me about the start of a new school year, I still get a bit sad and envious. She's here today to give us the scoop on Kindergarten. Thanks, Alicia!

I am Alicia and I teach Kindergarten. Sometimes I feel like there should be a 12-
step program for teachers! All kidding aside, let me start with my credentials. I am
currently teaching in my sixth year. I taught second grade for three years and have
been teaching kindergarten since 2008. I cannot be called a veteran teacher yet,
but I feel I have enough experience under my belt to know what I am talking about. I
feel like I am at a good place in my career. I have been teaching long enough to be
experienced but I am still close enough to college to be up to date on the latest research
and developmentally appropriate practices.

Let me start be telling you a teaching story. Before kindergarten actually starts,
each student has an individual appointment with the teacher to assess the student’s
knowledge. Usually most students are right where they should be. Then there are the
really high students and the really low students. Last year after assessing a certain
student, I went out in the hall to tell the parents that I was concerned. This particular
student only knew the lowercase version of the first letter of his name, knew no
sounds, and could only count to 5. In other words, he was low, low, low. This was the

me- “I’m a little concerned. J is pretty low. He knew …but that’s it.”
mom (with and incredulous look on her face)-“Well, yeah. He’s never been to school
before.” (and the tone-oh the tone. I may have sensed a ‘duh’ in there).
me- “uh…”

After a few seconds of literal stunned silence, I told the mom it was probably a matter
of exposure then and we would talk soon to see if he needs extra support. I couldn’t
believe that I had heard that. I didn’t realize that some parents thought they weren’t
responsible for their child’s learning. You are, by the way.

As a mother myself (I have two little ones of my own, Elinor and John [we (I) love Jane
Austen!]), I cannot even imagine not having an active role in my child’s education. BUT,
it does get overwhelming. Below are the basic concepts your child should know before

I focused my tips on academic skills. I have broken each of the four areas into two to
three sections: benchmark level, the ideal level, and in some cases, the ideal ideal level.

Alphabet/Phonics (letters and sounds)
*Benchmark level - Each student should know at least 12 letters and 4 sounds
when entering kindergarten. We like to say about half the letters and a few sounds.
*Ideal - most letters and at least half the sounds
*Ideal ideal - all letters and sounds

A few tips:
Make sure you teach capitals AND lowercase levels. Most students learn
capitals without much thought of lowercase letters. Most of the letters in our
environment are lowercase yet we focus on the uppercase. In our school district, we only test the lowercase letters. Some students learn the sounds before the letter names. That’s totally OK! If
that happens, I simply switch the benchmark (know at least 12 sounds and 4 letter
names). Focus on what your child is picking up. Also, make sure you start with environmental print (environmental print just means print in the environment such as on cereal boxes, restaurants, store names, etc.). Children need to connect what they are learning with what they already know. Learning needs to be meaningful and real. A good way to make those connections
is to connect to the child’s name. For example-“Oh look! I see an l on the Lowe’s sign! You have an l in your name, Elinor! L says /l/ like Lowe’s.”

*Benchmark level- recognize name.
*Ideal - write name from left to right.
*Ideal ideal - write name with the first letter capital and the rest lower-case letters.

-Treasure hunt for name strips hidden around the house.
-Make name collages with letters from magazines-especially using environmental
print (E from extra gum, l from lemonade mix, i from IHOP ad, n from Nutella, o from
orange juice container, r from Red Robin ad). Make sure to get matching vowel
sounds. For example, when making Elinor, make sure to find a short vowel sound,
not a long vowel sound.
-Prepare for writing by first starting with fine motor skills. To strengthen fine
motor skills, move around rice, tear paper, snap snaps, button buttons, use scissors,
anything to increase little movements. Then move to writing name in/with things:
make a rice/salt/sugar table with a cookie sheet and let them write their name in
it. Make playdough snakes and make letters out of them. Then graduate into big
writing utensils-markers then crayons and finally pens and pencils. It’s never too
early to show your child the correct grip! When you teach your child to write letters, encourage them to start at the top. Here’s a song we sing in our classroom (sung to the tune If You’re Happy and You Know It):
If you ever write a letter start at the top,
If you ever write a letter start at the top,
If you ever write a letter, then you better, better, better
If you ever write a letter start at the top,

*Benchmark - count to 10.
*Ideal - count to 25.
*Ideal ideal – count past 25 and recognize numerals at least to 10.
Your child should also be able to count at least 10 objects and to name the basic
colors and basic shapes.

Phonemic Awareness (orally playing with language)
*Benchmark - pick out the rhyme pairs (when given 3-4 choices) 50% of the time.
*Ideal - pick out the rhyme pairs (when given 3-4 choices) 100% of the time.
*Ideal ideal - create their own rhyming pairs.
You should also work on beginning and ending sounds. One thing to remember is that
phonemic awareness is strictly oral. Once you write it down it becomes phonics. This
is the most fun area in my opinion (and the easiest, too!). While you are driving in the
car you can make up silly rhymes. You can change the beginning sound of everything
you see. If you see a car, a fire engine, a store, and a dog, change them all to start with
a /b/ sound. “I see a bar, a bire bengine, a bore, and a bog.” Trust me, your children
will think it’s a game and will be learning so much!

Other helpful things:
Students should know their full name, phone number, and address. It is SUPER helpful if your child can put on and tie his/her shoes. He/she also needs to be able to zip up pants and coats.

Lastly, I want to say that you are the parent. You know your child. You know what your
child can and cannot do. Please use this as your guide, not as something to stress
you or your child. Please, please, please do not push your child. Do not sit and do
flashcards with your preschool-aged child unless your child genuinely enjoys it. But, you
also need to make sure they are exposed to many things and when they are ready, be
there to teach them. Learning-especially for the younger students-needs to be fun. My
goal as a Kindergarten teacher is to meet my students needs academically and socially,
but most importantly to help the students LOVE learning. That should be a big part of
your job, too. Teachers cannot do it all.

Lastly lastly, I want to say a little about development. Each child develops at a different
pace. If you are concerned about a learning disorder, make sure you talk to someone.
There are so many resources available now! And if it is severe, there are preschool
programs available for free through most school districts across the nation. If you are
concerned but not sure, my advice is to wait and see. I tell my parents who have low
students to wait until the end of the first term and then we will reevaluate. So many
times students just click one day. They may just need a different experience with the
skills, more practice, social tutoring, etc. However, if your child still does not meet the
above ideas by mid kindergarten, I would really talk to your teacher and/or the school
principal. But that is my own opinion - trust your parental instinct.

Here are some helpful links:
playdough recipe

Starfall (I love that Anne has mentioned it before-this is what we do at computers in

Making Learning Fun-lots of great ideas for younger children. - this is the Utah specific curriculum, but I am sure you can find your
own state’s core curriculum by Googling it.

Thank you so much for this, Alicia! Even for mothers without Kindergarteners this year, this is definitely one to bookmark for the future!


sarahandmatt said...

For learning letters/sounds, I LOVE leapfrog's dvd The Letter Factory. One of my boys learned to identify the sounds of all the letters when he was 2! All of my children found it to be a help with letter recognition as well as sounds.

Chris said...

Thank you for sharing, Alicia. My four year old is DYING to go to school. He still has one more year to kindergarten, and now I have some areas to guide him in.

Alicia said...

Sarah- I totally forgot about those. We watch those in Kindergarten. They are good ones. Superwhy is also a great show if you can handle it. My 2 year old learned all her letters by age two strictly from that show (I know, embarrassing).

I also forgot to mention it is highly valuable for your child to be able to cut. Oops...

Kimber and Casey said...

what a great simple post! thanks for sharing!

Danielle said...

Thanks so much for this Alicia! This is SUPER helpful. My daughter is only 2 (she also learned the entire alphabet from watching Superwhy...glad I am not the only one;)) but its good to know what to be working towards over the next few years.

Danielle said...

Thanks so much for this Alicia! This is SUPER helpful. My daughter is only 2 (she also learned the entire alphabet from watching Superwhy...glad I am not the only one;)) but its good to know what to be working towards over the next few years.

Emily said...

LOVE it Alicia! Really loved that you mentioned zipping up pants. I never had a student ask me to wipe them (but my nephew asked his kindergarten teacher), but I had loads of students every year asking me to zip them up, tuck them in, and all sorts of other things with clothes.

I can't believe how long it's been since we graduated! It seems like yesterday we were all getting our first jobs.

Emily said...

Helpful post Alicia! When Eli went to kindergarten I figured since he'd gone to pre-school he knew what he needed - whatever that was. Since he was my first, I just had no idea. He got there and knew his caps, but very few lower case. I think he knew most of his sounds. They got him a tutor for the year which got him to where he needed to be. Now he reads just fine. He wasn't dumb or anything, we just never worked on those letters (guess preK didn't either)! Me, of all people had a kid who needed a tutor! I was slightly embarrassed, but it was a good thing and taught me a lot.

Bloom said...

Alicia, this was sooo helpful. I loved it. We've got kinder just around the corner and it's great to have a few ideas to play with during the next few weeks.

Thank you!


Melissa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Melissa said...

Oh my gosh. I can just see that exchange. I feel so sorry for parents who are that clueless. I taught first grade before staying home to raise my babies. The thing I did with my first that helped a ton was to read to her. We read every day. She had a little book box and we'd get that out and let her play with it too. As they grow, ask questions about the stories too. It always surprised me that some of my best readers didn't understand what they were reading. All these years later (6th grade, yikes!) my girl struggles with attention and fine motor (writing) which appear to be hereditary. But her reading and comprehension are out of this world! She has a very creative mind and she devours books. You can't ever start too early, and anything you do will give your child an advantage, especially if you live in a state where the bar is continually set higher and higher. They need all the help they can get. Thanks for such a great article!

Nicole said...

I will be book marking this! Thank you so much for this. It's nice to have it actually spelled out what a child needs to know before K. My daughter is 18 months so I have a while to go, but I will be referring back to this often before she's in school! Thank you!

Laura said...

Thanks so much for a great and very helpful post. Its exactly what I needed to know!

Lindsay said...

What a great post! My degree is in education but secondary so it's a takes a little more 'thinking outside the box' for me to get to my daughter's level and figure out enjoyable learning activities for her.

Wisteria Cody said...

That is really sad that the parents don't understand how they are setting up that child to get left behind.

My boyfriend couldn't understand why I was horrified when I discovered his little girl in the first grade couldn't read simple words. How did she even get to first grade in the first place?

I ask her to read words like cat and dog. She couldn't even spell her first name.

Sad Sad Sad