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Healthy Kids: Preparing children for kindergarten

(Adobe Stock photo via Kelli Warner)

In Kristen Noor’s kindergarten class at Guy Lee Elementary School in Springfield, learning is colorful, interactive and musical.

“We do a lot of singing, play and have a lot of fun in kindergarten. We also do a lot of repetition—a lot of the same routines every day,” she says.

Kindergarten is the foundation for a child’s education, but starting school means changes to a child’s daily routine, including being away from familiar surroundings, learning new rules and following directions from adults.

Parents can help kids build skills for success through active learning at home. Consider these tips:

Read with your child daily and help them recognize letters and sounds.

Find opportunities during the day to help your child learn to count, adding and subtracting. Incoming kindergarteners should recognize numbers to 20.

Encourage your child to write letters, draw sunsets, make self-portraits and sometimes just scribble. This type of repetition will help strengthen a child’s fine motor skills.

Allow your child plenty of unstructured outdoor play, where he or she can run and get to know their body and their limitations and practice balance to strengthen gross motor skills.

Teach your child how to follow two-step directions, such as “Hang up your coat and come sit at the table.” In school, they will be asked to complete many tasks on their own and to manage themselves.

“They’re learning how to self-regulate, how to identify their emotions and how to deal with those emotions,” Kristen says. “What do we do when we feel mad? It’s OK to feel mad, but then what do we do with it? Those are things we work to explicitly teach kids while they’re in kindergarten.”

Check in with your pediatrician

There’s also a medical component to kindergarten readiness, from good vision and hearing, to fine and gross motor skills and speech development. That’s why regular well-child checkups are so important for a child’s health.

“It’s been a goal for pediatric offices to look at development very systematically from the time kids are infants, and then tracking them over time to make sure their physical development, their fine motor skills development and their cognitive and problem-solving development is on target. Because if they’re way behind, kids may not be ready for kindergarten,” says pediatrician Dr. Pilar Bradshaw with Eugene Pediatric Associates.

Improving kindergarten readiness statewide

In 2017, the number of kindergartners academically prepared to start school was lower than in previous years. This is concerning, and has sparked new conversations at the state level about how to improve kindergarten readiness and ensure more students have long-term academic success.

Some have raised the issue that Oregon needs more subsidized preschool programs around the state. The Oregon Health Authority is also discussing adding kindergarten readiness as one of the quality metrics that pediatric offices must strive to meet, possibly as soon as 2019.

As pediatric medical specialists, Dr. Bradshaw and her team at Eugene Pediatric Associates have volunteered to join teachers and others in education to be part of this discussion, to help identify what it truly takes to help kids be kindergarten-ready—physically, developmentally and socially—and how to provide that readiness, so that every child has a chance at academic success from the earliest age.

“And a lot of parents may think ‘Why would my doctor care about this? They’re just there for my kid’s fever and sore throats.’ But that’s not true. We are very interested in your family dynamics, your kid’s development and their success in school, because that’s a huge part of their feelings of self-worth and confidence going forward. Which is going to directly affect their physical and mental health,” says Dr. Bradshaw.

Have a child entering kindergarten in the fall?

Each spring, schools host orientations to help incoming kindergarteners and their families prepare for the transition to the classroom. To learn more about kindergarten orientation, contact your neighborhood school, or your school district.

Several local school districts, including Eugene 4J, Springfield and Bethel participate in the Kids in Transition to School (KITS) program. Each summer, children who are scheduled to enter kindergarten in the fall are invited to attend a free school readiness group that meets several times a week for 8 weeks. Students are taught early literacy skills, including letter names and sounds; early numeracy skills like recognizing numbers and counting; self-regulation such as sitting still and raising hands; and social skills.

For more information on KITS, contact your school district, or click here.

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