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When I served as the director of a prekindergarten-12th grade tutoring center, I assessed incoming students to determine their ability levels. The assessment for early learners was the most intensive (and extensive!) because there are so many different categories on which to evaluate students for scholarly skills and classroom skills.

While I had a whole (HUGE!) list of kindergarten/first grade readiness skills with which to test students, I noticed that there were some specific key skills that, if missing, would indicate to me that the early learner would struggle the most in either keeping up or catching up in school.

While it's difficult to teach classroom skills at home (that's what early learning centers are for!), there are a number of ways to begin assisting your early learner in preparation for kindergarten during prekindergarten, helping to keep up in kindergarten, or assisting in catch up during first grade.

1. Learning the letters in their name

Start with helping your child know all of the letters in their first and last names—then move onto upper and lower case letter recognition, letter sound recognition, and letter formation (writing) ASAP!

While prekindergarten and kindergarten teachers do teach these skills, it is difficult, particularly during kindergarten, for them to differentiate instruction for students of varying levels. Some students may know all of their letters and associated skills, some may know a few, and some may not know any—make sure your child has the advantage by going in knowing them all.

2. Learn and/or memorize how to write first and last name

Following along with letter recognition and writing, it is essential that your early learner know how to spell and write her first and last name. This is for safety reasons as well as part of their learning plan. I can't tell you how many children I've worked with who did not know their last names—a frightening fact, especially in the case of little wanderers! Speaking of first and last names…

3. Memorize phone number and address

Now that the majority of us have smart phones, it has become less essential for us to memorize the phone numbers of our friends, family members, and colleagues. However, since most early learners don't have smart phones (or if they do, they don't use them as an address book), it is paramount that your child have his address and (your cell) phone number memorized. I've worked with fifth graders who don't know this—and at that point the majority of them did not have the desire to learn it. Memorize, repeat, memorize, repeat!

4. Start with direction words, left, and right

You can make a game out of this one. Direction words are generally prepositions like up, down, over, around, etc. Try playing "Simon Says" to give your early learner a leg up in following the teacher's directions in class.

5. Start with colors

Work on color identification as soon as possible. There are countless books that assist early learners with colors, but another way to advance color identification is simply pointing out an object and asking what the color is. 

6. Critical Thinking & Motives

Start with critical thinking and motives—even if you know the questions will be difficult for your child to answer.

Examine the stories, books, and television shows that your early learner enjoys the most. Can you find ways to ask about the characters' motives, emotions, and actions? Ask your early learner why characters make the decisions that they do. What are the consequences of their decisions? As early as second grade, your child will be posed critical thinking questions like these—early exposure can give them an advantage.

Even if your child says they are learning these skills in their early learning center—test them at home! Make sure that your early learner has the smoothest path to enter their next level of schooling!

For more early learning tips, please download our free ebook, 10 Reasons Why Kindergarten is Too Late.

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Topics: Child care

Claudia Auger

Written by Claudia Auger

A volunteer for Child Care of Southwest Florida