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September 2011

Ready or Not

12 Steps to Kindergarten

By Valerie Allen, Ed.D.

These are the last long, hot summer days before your youngster sets off to kindergarten. School will be the springboard to learning, friendships and, ultimately, a career. Help your child prepare for this journey; get her ready for success; encourage her to enjoy discovery and help her to meet the challenges ahead.

Each youngster arrives at kindergarten with a different level of preparedness. You want your child to be ready to learn. Some of the basic readiness skills are: understanding number concepts, naming colors, identifying shapes, finding things that are the same and different, speaking and listening vocabulary and having general information about self and the world she lives in.

Here are 12 quick and easy at-home activities you can do with your child:

  1. Cut and paste pictures from magazines, name the items in each picture, make up a funny sentence about each. This will help develop fine-motor skills and build vocabulary.
  2. Trace around hands, feet, cookie cutters, jar covers, popsicle sticks and other objects. This is another fine-motor activity and enhances creativity.
  3. Line up items, such as blocks, spoons, cups and clothespins to create left-to-right progression and visual patterns. This improves visual perception, sequencing and organization. It helps children to find similarities and differences in objects.
  4. Help your child learn how to listen and follow directions. Using auditory and visual cues, break jobs into various steps, with the words “first,” “next” and “then.”
  5. Share your junk mail. Open envelopes, sort by size, discuss the picture on the stamps and find letters or numbers and circle them. Children can sort envelopes by size, color and type. You can have your child sort the stamps by designs, for example, flags, animals, flowers, people, and so on.
  6. After a trip to the store, post office or church, have your child say something about what she saw on the ride. To practice sequencing, ask her what happened first, next, etc. Write it down and let her draw a picture. This increases vocabulary and organization of time sequences.
  7. Write or draw in sand, flour or sugar. Hint: keep it in a zip-top bag for reuse. Shaving cream is also fun for art expression. This activity begins to stimulate an interest in both art and science. It develops recognition of tactile sensation and differences between solids and liquids. It encourages creativity and free expression.
  8. Cut out pictures from magazines and classify them into groups of food, animals, clothing, toys, sports and transportation. Using scissors is an important learning tool, and requires fine-motor skills. This activity extends and enriches vocabulary. Organization, comparisons and seeing similarities and differences are reinforced. Two or three pictures can be placed next to each other to create the concept of sentence formation by putting words together.
  9. Find upper and lower case letters in magazines or newspapers. Match them with each other, spell out simple words, put them in alphabetical order or cut and paste onto cards. Have your child group tall letters, such as b, d, l and t and letters with hanging tails, such as g, j, p and q.
  10. Draw a picture on a postcard and mail it to a friend, relative or neighbor. Drawing develops appropriate grip technique and steadies those small muscles in the hands and fingers. Cutting out a picture and using glue are two more skills for control of fine-motor skills.
  11. Draw a line or design along the edge of a piece of paper and use a hole punch to trace the design. Use lightweight cardboard and a dark marker to make a different line along the four sides and have your child punch holes along it. You can also draw with a pencil and have your child trace over it with a brightly colored marker.
  12. Encourage your child to speak in complete sentences. Talk about the family pet, a television show, the clothes she's wearing, a visit to grandma's or plan an outing. Ask you child for more details—to describe what she saw, or what something tasted like or felt like when it was touched.

What is most important? Visit the library every week, and read to your child every day. Dedicate these last weeks of summer to enjoying time with your child; make her your priority. Invest time in your child now, and you will both reap rewards for a lifetime.


Valerie Allen is a child psychologist in private practice. She presents seminars for parents and professionals in the field of child development and has published a children’s book, Summer School for Smarties and a forthcoming book, Bad Hair, Good Hat, New Friends. Oh yes, she has also raised six children!