Beyond the Pencil Grip: Tips for Kindergarten Prep

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It’s almost that time of the year again…the time when parents everywhere start questioning whether or not their kids are truly ready for Kindergarten.


You can search for “signs of Kindergarten readiness” and find several well-organized lists of skills that most Kindergarten hopefuls have mastered.  You can print them out, check them off, and feel good for a minute when you realize that your child can hold a pencil, identify several shapes and colors, and recognize her name on paper.



But the truth is that all kids are different, and scoring well on a checklist doesn’t necessarily paint the complete picture.


Emotional readiness plays a HUGE role in Kindergarten.  Many kids will shift from small preschool classrooms to much larger Kindergarten classrooms.  They are not as likely to receive the same 1:1 interaction to which they’ve grown accustomed.


That doesn’t mean that they aren’t ready; it simply means that you need to prepare.


Riley, the life of the party at home, is quiet in large groups and reluctant to assert her needs, even when under stress.  She would rather move on in silence than have all eyes on her.  While she is more than ready for the intellectual stimulation of Kindergarten, we are spending this summer working on her emotional readiness.  It’s tough being an introvert in an extroverted world…believe me, I know.


Below are a few tips to help increase your child’s emotional readiness for Kindergarten:


Express emotions:  In this results oriented world full of competitive child rearing, sometimes teaching feelings identification is forgotten.  The truth is that kids need to learn how to label and express their feelings so that they do not resort to hitting, punching, biting, or screaming.  Slow down when you read and point out facial expressions.  Talk about how the characters in the book can ask for help, feel better, and get their needs met.  Invest in a feelings faces chart or make your own with a snapshots of your child acting out various feelings (or have your child draw them).


Ask for help:  Assertiveness can be difficult for adults, so it stands to reason that it seems impossible for some kids.  Kindergarten students need to be able to ask for help when the going gets tough, both with academics and social issues.  Praise your child when she asks for help.  Practice with relatives, friends, and neighbors.  When you see your child struggling to seek help, get low, whisper words of encouragement, and help her find her voice.


Practice delayed gratification:  It’s no big secret that larger classrooms = increased wait time.  Despite what you might hear on the playground, the vast majority of Kindergarteners do not understand the concept of time just yet.  If you have an impatient youngster on your hands, now is the time to start practicing delayed gratification.  Try to avoid the infamous, “just a minute”, and be specific instead.  Use the timer on your phone or, better yet, a sand timer or kitchen timer to teach your child the meaning of three minutes, five minutes, ten minutes, etc.  While she waits, provide gentle reminders that you will be there when the timer beeps.


Focus on cooperative group play:  Due to her reluctance to assert her thoughts, needs, and feelings in large groups, Riley tends to get lost in the crowd.  Group activities are often the focus of Kindergarten.  It’s a good time to organize small playgroups at your house.  Have a few activities available (board games, art projects, doll house) but step back and let the kids direct the play.  Be available to help, but encourage the kids to compromise.  The more they practice working in groups before the start of school, the more comfortable they will feel when school actually begins.


Teach social skills:  Some kids will know several other kids in the classroom from preschool, while others will feel like the new kid.  The first day of a new classroom can be overwhelming at best.  Trust that the teachers will spend those first few days helping the kids connect and make friends, but prepare your child in advance.  Let your child show her personality.  Let her choose her clothes, backpack, and school supplies.  Use visits to the park to practice making introductions, playing together, and asking questions.  Teach your child to look for a friendly face.  It’s always tempting to dress our kids to perfection on the oh-so-important first day, but when you’re forced to be someone else, it can be very difficult to truly make a friend.  Let your child shine.


A couple of details to teach your child:

*Your (and your spouse’s) first and last name

*Home address (# and street)

*Phone number

*Any allergies


Your child will learn how to draw shapes, identify colors you’ve never even heard of, and probably read.  Try not to worry about where your child falls on the academic spectrum and focus on building up her emotional readiness instead.  She will thank you for it (someday).   





About Katie

Katie Hurley is a Child, Adolescent, and Family Psychotherapist and Parenting Expert in Los Angeles, CA. She works in private practice in the South Bay area of Los Angeles, writes for PBS Parents, Washington Post Parents, and the Huffington Post. She is the author of "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World" (Tarcher/Penguin, 2015) and "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" (Penguin Random House, 2018)