Summer Activities to Prepare for Kindergarten: Q&A With Dr. Mary

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Today, Dr. Mary is writing about summer activities that can prepare your preschooler for reading and writing in kindergarten.

Q: My daughter will be graduating from preschool next week and starting kindergarten in the fall. I'm a little concerned about her pre-reading and pre-writing skills, as I know the kindergarten program in my school district really emphasizes academics. What can we do over the summer to make sure she's ready?


A: Congratulations on one of many exciting milestones! The good news is there are a number of fun and simple activities that you and your daughter can do over the next few months to prepare her for the reading and writing instruction she will have in kindergarten. Some of these may seem pretty obvious and may be things you are already doing; others may not be so obvious.

Read aloud a lot. It's a well known fact: children who are read to become better readers themselves. Reading aloud will help your child understand that printed words have meaning; that we read from left to right and top to bottom; and that words are made up of different sounds. It helps expand your child's vocabulary by providing a forum where new and more novel words can be introduced. Reading aloud helps develop your child's comprehension and oral language skills as the two of you talk about what you are reading. Finally, it helps kids become familiar with new concepts and ideas, which expands what we call background knowledge. The more knowledge one has about a topic, the better they are at understanding what they read and are better at making higher-level connections among concepts.

Read to your child whenever you have the chance, but make sure you pick at least one uninterrupted time period each day. Reading to your daughter also shows her that it is a valued activity and that it is something that we do routinely and consistently, just like brushing our teeth or bathing. Like many behaviors, the more you do it, the more automatic or habitual it becomes. And, this is a habit you want to instill early on. Starting in first grade, it is not uncommon for children to be expected to read at least 20 minutes every night as part of their homework, and this number usually increases to at least 30 minutes in 3rd grade and up.

Develop phonemic awareness skills. Phonemic awareness refers to one's ability to hear, identify and work with individual sounds within words. This is important because we know that phonemic awareness  is associated with reading. Good early readers have good phonemic awareness skills, and children who struggle with reading often struggle with phonemic awareness. One thing you can do to strengthen these skills is play guessing games throughout the day by practicing the following:

               Blending: "What word am I trying to say? Mmm aaaaaa t."

               Isolating initial sounds: "What is the first sound in mat?"

               Isolating final sounds: "What is the last sound in mat?"

               Isolating middle sounds: "What is the middle sound in mat?"

               Segmentation: "What are all the sounds you hear in mat?"

And, you can also read nursery rhymes, other books with rhyme, and play rhyming games, such as, "Our dessert tonight rhymes with lake. What do you think it is?" Many of the Dr. Seuss books (e.g., The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham) have lots of rhyming words and repetition.

Develop print awareness. Have your child "read her world," by helping her find words she knows whenever you can. For example, you can point out the words of favorite TV shows or movies, favorite food establishments ("McDonald's"), favorite characters, like Barbie or Spiderman, and of course, your child's first and last name.

Promote oral language skills. The more you and your child can talk about her world, the better. Talking about daily activities and experiences (e.g., going to the grocery store, playing in the park, visiting the library), and having your child tell others about these events, can be thought of as a form of story telling, which is a precursor to writing. Along the same lines, providing opportunities for your daughter to see and do new things or visit new places, and talking about these experiences will help develop her oral language skills. Hands on experiences (e.g., petting animals, watching bugs, smelling/tasting new foods, helping with cooking, etc.) that allow your child to talk about how things look, smell, and feel are always good.

Encourage fine motor skills. Kindergarten comes with increased writing and cutting demands, so keeping little fingers active throughout the summer months is also encouraged. Play with Legos, Bristle Blocks, or other building toys; put together puzzles; string beads, Fruit Loops, or other small items to make necklaces; roll and shape play dough into various configurations; and, of course, make sure you have the old stand-bys handy: crayons, markers, pencils, scissors, glue, etc. for your child to use.

So, the name of the game is to keep their academic motor running through the summer with fun activities so it's fully warmed up and ready to drive in the fall. 

Dr. Mary Rosen is here each week to provide answers to your most pressing school issues. She's a school psychologist, licensed counselor, graduate school instructor, and parent.

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