As we move into the uncertainty of the fall, I have heard from many parents that they are worried about their children. They are worried about their health if they return to school, and worry overall about if they will miss out on educational opportunities. This worry about missing out on educational opportunities seems universal, regardless of how the school is able to support the child’s learning.
Teachers and the school systems will be doing everything they can, as safely as they can. However, I wanted to write down some ideas for parents that can support your child’s learning. You can use these ideas as a supplement to the school activities, or if you are looking to homeschool your child, these are some foundational learning opportunities.
Today I want to focus on kindergarten. Kindergartners typically learn best with hands out activities, that encourage exploration and focus on their interests. As you probably know, children this age require quite a bit of physical activity, and learning that requires moving the entire body may be more successful than sitting for long periods of time.
Some basic areas of focus for kindergarten are:
- Beginning Science Concepts
- Social/emotional – or learning how to get along with others
Kindergartners are working on forming letters and understanding that what they write has meaning. They are still developing the small muscle movements to make write, and need practice strengthening these muscles in their fingers and hands. Here are some examples of some activities that will support their writing skills:
- Start encouraging your child to encourage their drawings. This may be starting with attempting the first letter of the word – H for horse. The important thing is to encourage the attempt, it doesn’t matter at this point if it looks like the word or letter. Encouragement for trying is better than correction at this stage.
- Practice “writing” words in the sand, or with bubbles in the bath. Take some sand – either sandbox sand, or you can use the Tactile Sand from Discovery Toys, and put it in a large cookie sheet. Practice writing letters or words in the sand. A great way to encourage this is by sitting next to your child with your own sand and writing your own words and spelling them out, and talking out loud about what you are doing.
- Activities to strengthening the little muscles in the fingers and hands, which support your child’s writing over time. Some great ways to do this are puzzles, putting beads on string, and picking up and sorting small objects.
Kindergartners are learning number concepts, and the foundations of sets, graphing, addition and subtraction. This may seem like something that is a stretch for your kindergartner, however over the year they will start playing with these concepts. Here are some examples of how to play with the concepts with your child:
- Practice counting. There are so many things in life to count, bath toys, cereal, rocks, steps, and so much more.If your child is really active, a great way to get the wiggles out is to count the number of jumps your child can make!
- Practice sorting. Children naturally sort everything, that is how they start making sense of their world. You will see them put rocks in groups, or animals in different groups. You can suggest ways to group items – spoons/forks/knifes, and also allow your child to try their own groups and have them describe to you how they groups the items. A great Discovery Toys product(s) for this is Busy Bugs or Busy Farm, sorting by legs, type of bug, color, and more.
- Try some simple equations using real items. Children start to understand addition and subtraction when you use real items. You can use animals and group 2 sheep plus 3 pigs equals 5 animals. Have your child count the animals by placing their finger on each animal. You can also have your child practice writing the numeral. If they are still learning, you can create a connect the dots of the numeral that they can trace.
- Have your child start exploring size, shape, length and volume. Some cool ways to do this is in the bathtub with cups and spoons, and with sand. Try measuring which one is more/less, heavier/lighter. Two Discovery Toys materials that I love to combine for this are the Measure Up Cups and Tactile Sand.
Beginning Science Concepts
Science in the early elementary school years, and honestly, the rest of your life, is about learning how to be open to exploring and testing concepts. Children are natural scientists. They are curious about their world and will explore materials in a variety of ways. The best way to support their scientific learning at this point is to ask them open ended questions about what they are doing. Open ended questions are questions that do not have just one answer. For example, what does that feel like? What are some ways you can get the water from that cup to another cup?
Social/emotional learning is about controlling our emotions and learning how to talk to and get along with others. This is what kindergarten is all about. Beginning academic skills are important, but the skill of understanding ourselves and getting along with others will help us through our lifetime.
As I write this we are at the beginning or maybe middle of a pandemic, and you may be concerned about your child interacting with other groups of children. You do not need groups of children to teach your child about their emotions, turn taking, language to communicate their needs, and impulse control.
Some great ideas to teach emotions are:
- Play simple games. There are several games for kindergartners that require turn taking. A cool game that integrates the words for different emotions, turn taking, and movement activities is Flip Flop Faces.
- Books about emotions are another pay to teach and start discussions about emotions. Here is a post from We Are Teachers with different social/emotional learning books: https://www.weareteachers.com/15-must-have-picture-books-for-teaching-social-emotional-skills/
- Art and dramatic play. Drawing about feelings and acting out different scenarios where a child experiences big emotions are great ways to strengthen the emotion muscles/brain connections. For example, maybe your child went to the store with you when they were tired and they started crying when they didn’t get a treat. Later or on a different day you might act out with your child that trip. Have your child come up with ways to act differently.
There is research that is now showing how connected our brain is to the rest of our body, and that movement, especially big movements (running, jumping, skipping), helps our brain organize itself. This means we can think clearer, we can control our emotions better, and we can learn. Kindergartners are usually a very active bunch. It might even feel like you don’t need to worry about this area because children naturally move. However it is important to help children move in a variety of ways and challenge their movements. If your child jumps with two feet, try challenging them to jump with one foot. Yoga is a great way to use large body movements in a controlled way.