It’s never too early to start preparing your toddler for kindergarten!
As soon as we announce we’re pregnant, we get an onslaught of questions about what we’ll do with or for our new baby. Will we breastfeed or bottle feed? Co-sleep or use a crib? Baby-led weaning or purees? Cloth diapers or disposable? Organic or whatever the kid will eat?
Then, once that dust settles, and our little bundle of joy isn’t so little anymore, we’re asked about what our little ones are doing. Are they sleeping through the night? Sitting up? Walking yet? What words is she saying? Is she doing Baby Sign? When will he start preschool? Have you gotten on the wait list? Are you going Montessori or traditional? Didn’t a new center open up…?
Waaaaaait! What!? My baby just turned 1 and you want me to start thinking about preschool!?
Do I even need to send my kids to preschool?
I’m here to tell you that you don’t. YOU are more than capable of preparing your toddler for kindergarten WITHOUT sending your child to preschool. If you want to, that’s fine too. But, contrary to popular belief, preschool is NOT necessary and NOT sending your child will NOT mess him or her up. YOU can teach your child everything that he or she needs to know before starting kindergarten. And, yes, you can also make sure your little one is plenty socialized, all without stepping foot into a preschool classroom.
So, if we’re not sending our little ones to preschool, how can we prepare them for kindergarten?
It’s actually quite simple.
If you think about it, odds are, your parents didn’t go to preschool. It likely wasn’t available back then (and for good reason!). Your grandparents didn’t go to preschool either. And, they all turned out fine, right? So, what did their parents do to make sure their kids would be successful? They talked with their children, included them in the daily life, and taught their children themselves. If it worked then, it’ll work now. You don’t NEED all the fancy gadgets or to spend hours perusing Pinterest or preparing trays or cutting out shapes or anything time consuming like that (if you want to, that’s fine, but you certainly don’t HAVE to. There are easier ways!).
So, what do you need?
- Keep a routine (or schedule).
- Investigate your surroundings.
- New experiences and explorations.
- Enjoy play.
- Read and discuss!
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Schedules are great for toddlers and preschoolers (and kids in general!). But, it can be SO difficult to stick to a routine or schedule, especially as a stay-at-home mom without a “real” need to stick to a schedule or routine. Check out my tips for creating a routine or schedule that works for you and your family here.
1. Schedules and routines are a great way to prepare our toddlers and preschoolers for kindergarten. How?
- Predictability- when kids know what to expect, it’s easier for them to go through their day. School is FULL of routines and predictability, so by having this at home, our kids are already one step closer to being prepared for kindergarten WITHOUT the use of preschool.
- In kindergarten, your child’s teacher will have routines and procedures for doing things (like coming into the classroom, or lining up for recess).
- The school day goes in a certain order, and it’s in a predetermined order. So, your little one will have to adjust to that. Having a schedule and an order to each day at home will help!
- Schedules let us know what’s coming, but also make us wait for stuff that’s scheduled for later in the day. It can be hard to make our toddlers and preschoolers wait, but sticking to a set (even if it’s just loosely set!) schedule helps with this.
2. Investigate your surroundings!
Regardless of where you are, talk about what you see, what you’re doing, why, and everything in between! Kids are naturally curious about the world around them. Use that to your advantage! Here are a few ideas:
- Driving and traveling places. Oh, the sights and sounds of the world around us! They make for great learning opportunities.
- Talk about what you see, hear, and smell.
- If you’re walking, try talking about the textures of things around you and letting your toddler or preschooler feel those things (tree trunks, different buildings, anything goes!).
- Do a scavenger hunt or play “I spy.”
- At home: cook new meals together, let your little one help you bathe the dog or wash the car. Talk about the steps for each and why. Your toddler is bound to think it’s more fun than you do! 🙂
3. New Experiences and Explorations
- Learn through play (sit down and play with your child and talk about what you’re doing or what your toddler is doing).
- Have fun trying new things.
- For example, if your little one is like Buddy Boy and interested in wheels, race toy vehicles down the slide at the park.
- You could even visit the car dealership and talk about all the different wheels you see. Older kids might have fun comparing the different rims and types of tires or vehicles.
That’s just ONE example. There are PLENTY out there!
Talk, talk, talk, and talk some more! Answer all those “why” questions. The more words your child knows, the more successful he’ll be. So, talk! Even when your little one is too little to respond, it’s good to talk because she’s still hearing the words you’re saying, picking up language patterns and analyzing your tone and the context. So, talking is super important. It really doesn’t matter what you talk about, just that you’re talking.
My kids LOVE going over to my parents’ house and seeing what my dad is doing. I think a large part of the reason why is because he always stops what he’s doing and explains it to them. He answers all their questions. And, my kids follow him around the yard like little lost puppy dogs, hanging onto his EVERY word.
They’ve learned about rust, how to clean a bar-b-cue grate, how to prepare and bar-b-cue or smoke all kinds of different meats, what cobblestones are and what their purpose is in Grandma and Grandpa’s backyard, about weeding, and raking leaves… you get the idea.
Is it stuff they need to know at 1 and 3 years old?
But, it’s the words. It’s the order of things. The processes involved. And, it’s making connections and building a relationship with Grandpa (related post: Grandpa’s Powerful Message).
So, what can you talk about with your little one?
Odds are, your interests will be interesting to your children. So, if you don’t know where to start, I suggest starting with your hobbies and interests (a good chance to start doing them again, right?!).
And, if that doesn’t work, try something else. Or, go with my personal favorite- pretend you’re hosting a cooking show (or laundry show, or whatever you’re doing). Provide the commentary and your child is bound to pay attention and giggle a little. 😉
5. Enjoy play!
Kids learn best through play. And, there’s a lot they can learn by playing.
- New vocabulary (from all that talking with you!)
- Social skills (from you, kids at the park, their siblings/friends/cousins)
- Problem solving and other cognitive skills (from open-ended play that allows them more opportunity, from interacting with others…)
- Motor skills and physical development (they learn how to use their bodies)
- Emotional development (trying out new ideas and concepts, pretending, etc.)
It comes naturally to them! Use that to your advantage. As the saying goes, “work smarter, not harder,” right?
Plus, we can set up “invitations to play,” which is when we structure things a little bit to allow our little ones to explore a concept. This helps you prepare your toddler for kindergarten because they’re learning new things and learning how to learn. For example, if your toddler is interested in watching things roll, set up balls and ramps from cardboard boxes so that he can test how different balls roll (how quickly? how far?).
Here’s an example of an invitation to play and explore that’s science-based, which is something many moms tell me they struggle with helping their toddlers learn.
6. Read and discuss!
We all know reading is important. I think that point has been driven home by countless experts, from the pediatricians at well-baby checks to TV and radio ads telling us that the first five years of our child’s life are the most formative ones, so we need to read with our kids and talk with them. So, how can we maximize our reading time?
- Read books around topics your child is interested in.
- Read often.
- Have books readily available. Ours are stashed in key places throughout our house (related post: Why I DON’T read to my kids every night).
- Discuss the books you read. Talk about the 5Ws and H.
- Who? (Who is the book about?)
- What? (What happened first? What was the problem?)
- When? (When did the story take place? When did ___ do….?)
- Where? (Where were they when….?)
- Why? (Why did…. do…?)
- How? (How did the story end? How did ___do…?)
These are just sample questions. Use your own based on the book you read and your child’s interests and ability to ask questions.
You can also ask your child if he liked the book or what her favorite part was. Practicing giving and supporting an opinion is a great skill to have! TRUST me! Even my 7th graders struggled with this. Start early and your child won’t. 🙂
Learn more techniques and reading strategies in The Academy.
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See? You’re already doing a LOT of stuff to prepare your toddler or preschooler for kindergarten! 🙂
Maybe you’re not doing EVERYTHING I mentioned above, but that’s ok. Neither am I. It’s impossible to do everything in one day, every. single.day! But, sprinkling in these types of activities and these strategies here and there is what counts. Over time, it’ll add up to a LOT.
It’s not too early to start preparing your little one for kindergarten, (provided you’re not holding up flash cards and doing “drill and kill” with a baby!).
Talking to your baby at the grocery store? Great idea!
Reading with a new walker who can barely sit still for two pages? Possibly a bit frustrating, but still a great idea.
ALL fabulous ways to start preparing your little one for kindergarten!
But, kids don’t come with instruction manuals. And, we’re busy. Busier than ever. Being a mom is exhausting too. It doesn’t seem like it should be “that” hard, but it can be. If you’ve ever doubted yourself, worried about messing up your kid, felt overwhelmed, like you’re losing brain cells, like it should be easier, wondered what you should do with your kid all day, questioned yourself or how to teach the alphabet/numbers/etc, wanted to tear your hair out because all you do is dishes and diapers all day, wondered when the last time you washed your hair was… you’re not alone!
I can’t help you with everything (though I wish I could!), but I can use what I learned in the classroom and from being a mom of two toddlers to help you prepare your toddler for kindergarten. My simple, but powerful and interesting activities will save you time scouring Pinterest for stuff to do so you can make it to nap time and bedtime. I’ll also help you learn teaching strategies to maximize your time and streamline things for you. Plus, we’re using stuff we have around the house and a basic set of supplies, so you’ll always have what you need to do the activities.
If you’re interested in taking it to the next level, please check out The Academy. I’m looking for toddler moms who would like to be a part of a great community of moms teaching their toddlers at home. If you’d like a free sample activity from The Academy, please register here.
Not ready to join The Academy? Snag my FREE Busy Bags Guide today (plus a whole slew of other FREE resources!)! Busy Bags are great for restaurants, plane rides, road trips, or even just for doing at home while you work, cook dinner, or feed the baby. 🙂
Read more about the importance of play and why delaying the start of formal education (picture a typical American classroom) is actually MORE beneficial to kids than starting formal schooling early here. Hint: The Academy, which is a premier in-home education program for modern toddlers, is in alignment with this. 🙂
You might also be interested in The 11 Dangers of Screen Time and What you can Do Instead.