Tips for school success

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    Understand How Early Childhood Development in 8 Specific Areas Is Critical to School Success

    As an experienced preschool and kindergarten teacher, I identified eight key developmental areas that play a critical role in a child’s success in preschool, kindergarten, and beyond.

    Understanding more about each of these 8 key developmental areas will help you assess your child’s readiness to begin school and foster his growth in each area. For each of the 8 key developmental areas, I provide:

    -          An explanation of the developmental area, including a discussion of how and why that area is critical to success to in school.

    -          Tips for accelerating your child’s development in that area can be found on the site.

    Fine Motor Development

    Fine motor movements involve the coordination of small muscles in the hands and fingers. Strong fine motor skills are essential to complete tasks such as writing, cutting, using a fork or spoon, threading beads, moving puzzle pieces, zipping, buttoning, and tying shoe laces. Without well-developed fine motor skills, a child may have difficulty learning to write or performing many of the other critical tasks presented in the preschool and kindergarten classrooms.

    Auditory Processing

    Auditory processing is the ability to recognize, interpret, and analyze spoken language. Strong auditory processing skills are critical components of two different activities in the classroom: following a teacher’s instructions and successfully interacting with peers.



    Visual Discrimination

    Visual discrimination is the ability to identify differences in visual images. Many parts of a preschool or kindergarten classroom use visual imagery, including: 1) Reading and writing; 2) Mathematics; 3) Social studies and science; and 4) Social interactions.

    Letter and Word Awareness

    Letter and Word Awareness is the ability to identify individual written letters and words.  Once children are able to identify printed letters, they develop the ability to identify entire words. The entire developmental progression from letter awareness to word awareness to fluent reading typically begins around age three with letter awareness and continues through age five, six or seven with fluent reading.

    Phonemic Awareness

    Phonemic awareness is the ability to recognize, differentiate and manipulate the individual sound units in spoken words. As if the term “sound units” wasn’t pretentious enough, early childhood educators and speech therapists often refer to individual sound units as “phonemes.” Phonemes are more than just syllables. The word “hat” has one syllable, but three phonemes: the /h/ sound, the /a/ sound and the /t/ sound.

    Math and Number Awareness

    Math and Number Awareness involves a variety of skills, including: 1) Numeral identification (recognizing all 10 numerals from 0 through 9 and knowing each numeral’s name); 2) Counting; 3) One-to-one correspondence; 4) Counting on; 5) Patterning recognition and creation; and 6) Sorting and classifying.

    Social and Emotional Development

    Children learn best when they are comfortable in their environment. When children feel comfortable, they can relax in their surroundings and concentrate on the lessons being taught.

    Gross Motor Development

    Gross motor skills involve movement of the large muscles in arms, legs, and torso.  Gross motor activities include walking, running, skipping, jumping, throwing, climbing and many others. It may be easiest to think of “gross motor” skills as skills most utilized in a gym class or on a playground.

    Gross motor skills also include small movements of the large muscle groups. There are always a few children in every preschool or kindergarten classroom who suddenly fall out of their chair during a lesson. In each case, the child was probably shifting his weight, but inadvertently moved his leg, hip or torso muscles too much, causing him to fall out of his chair.

    Preschool and kindergarten children need strong gross motor skills so they can engage in age-appropriate physical activities (such as running, climbing, and throwing) and so they can participate in classroom activities that require body control (such as walking in a crowded room or sitting still during a lesson).

    Classroom Expectations

    Just as all children develop on unique schedules, all schools follow a unique curriculum and all teachers have their own expectations for the students in their classes. However, the following is intended to provide you with a basic explanation of what skills most teachers expect most students to have at the beginning of kindergarten.

    This information is not intended to be used as a checklist of skills for your child to master by a specified time. Instead, it is intended to give you a glimpse inside the classroom.

    After reviewing the classroom expectation for each of the 8 Key Developmental Areas, I suggest you complete the Kindergarten assessment. The results of that assessment will include a detailed discussion of your child’s strengths and weaknesses in all 8 Key Developmental Areas. This will help you to create a plan for working with your child on areas in which he may need additional practice to master all of the skills required to start school prepared to succeed.

    Gross Motor

    At the beginning of kindergarten, teachers expect that children will be able to sit quietly for approximately 25-30 minutes without becoming restless. This includes sitting with their hands in their lap or on the table in front of them and not allowing their legs to swing or tap. Children may not yet be able to maintain eye contact with the teacher for the full 25-30 minutes, but they should develop this skill within the first few weeks.

    When lining up at the end of the day or to walk to a special classroom, children are expected to stand in front of and behind classmates without bumping, pushing or touching their peers. While walking in a line through the halls, they are expected to not only control their own bodies, but also keep an equal and constant amount of distance between themselves and the child in line in front of them. Children should not need reminders while walking and teachers will likely not walk alongside the children to monitor them and will, instead, walk at the front of the line only.

    Children are expected to handle large bins or baskets with ease. Even when working with a tub or basket for the first time, children should know to first look inside and then to assess the weight of the materials inside the basket so they can anticipate the heaviness or lightness of the basket. As a result, there should be few, if any, accidental spills.

    The majority of children at this age will walk up and down stairs smoothly by placing only one foot on each step. Some children may still need to hold a hand rail for support, but they should be able to reach for the rail themselves and not require an adult’s hand. All children will be expected to comfortably engage in gross motor activities, such as running, climbing and playing on playground equipment. Children should be able to climb up a 4- or 5-rung ladder with ease or use a teeter-totter (pushing off with both feet simultaneously as they near the ground).

    Soon after the start of the kindergarten year, teachers hope that their students will know and accurately name the right and left sides of their bodies.

    Fine Motor

    At the beginning of the kindergarten year, children are expected to be able to properly print their first name in upper case letters. Children may still be forming some letters incorrectly (such as flipping a J to look like an L), but this should be happening less and less frequently. Children may be attempting to write their last names and, depending on the number of letters in their name, may be successful. They should be able to accurately copy a few words from a teacher’s example placed on their work table. (Copying words from a model on a chalkboard is a more challenging task and is a skill that is developed only by the end of the kindergarten year.)

    Children in kindergarten are expected to use crayons with control, staying close to the lines and adding color with small, precise movements rather than with large scribbles. Drawings should be colorful and recognizable with detailed figures and objects. Children should also comfortably handle small objects such as counting rods, beads, or beans and easily manipulate buttons, snaps and zippers on clothing. Children are expected to cut along a printed line to cut out pictures or shapes. Children should use their dominant hand to open and close the scissors and then use their non-dominant hand to turn the paper.

    During the kindergarten year, children should begin tying their own shoes. Shoe tying is a complicated skill for young children as it requires extremely precise movements from a child’s little fingers. While this may differ from teacher to teacher, a general guideline among my colleagues is that teachers assist with shoe tying until the Thanksgiving break or winter break of the kindergarten year. After that time, children are expected to tie their own shoes. (While each teacher may have a slightly different style, I instruct parents to first teach their child how to tuck one lace under and around the second lace to make a half-knot. Then to make two long loops (bunny ears) with the laces and repeat the “loop over and tuck through the hole” motion - known to many as the “around the tree and through the hole” method - to finish tying the laces.) Children should handle buttons and snaps on clothing with increasing independence and be able to dress themselves with pull-on clothing.


    Auditory Processing

    At the beginning of kindergarten, children are expected to consistently and accurately understand verbal directions. This includes following multi-step directions with ease, whether from familiar or unfamiliar people. For example, a child may be asked to color a worksheet, place it in a specific tray when it is completed, then line up to go outside. A teacher will give all three directions at the same time and expect a child to remember and execute all three steps without being reminded of what comes next at each stage of the activity. Children are also expected to respond appropriately to verbal questions such as, “What is your favorite flavor of ice cream?” Although this is a basic question, it is not uncommon for a child with poor auditory processing skills to respond with the answer, “In a cup” or “I eat ice cream all the time.” A child with weak auditory processing skills likely heard the words “ice cream” and maybe the word “favorite” but was unable to process the sentence correctly.

    Kindergarten children will be taught reading skills, number concepts, and science and social studies concepts through verbal explanation and visual demonstration. Children are expected to understand and process the information presented in these lessons.

    Children are expected to interact comfortably and independently with peers in play and work situations with little or no adult assistance. This requires listening to a peer’s directions and responding appropriately. An adult may be needed to begin the group work by suggesting a game or preparing the materials required for an activity. However, once the activity has begun, children should be able to complete the activity without a teacher’s assistance by listening to the other children’s comments and responding appropriately.

    Visual Discrimination

    At the start of kindergarten, children are expected to observe their new classroom and become familiar with any new routines and procedures. This includes learning the names of new friends, using observations about eye color, hair color or height to help. After two weeks, children should be able to remember where all materials are kept, where their locker is, and where they are assigned to sit during a group lesson.

    Children should be able to complete basic games that require visual discrimination, such as the classic matching game where children take turns turning over cards trying to select two cards that have the same picture. Children should also be able to complete worksheets asking the child to draw a line between two identical pictures or to draw a line between a picture and its outline. Lastly, children should be able to follow basic instructions such as “color the top of the house blue and the front door of the house green,” by easily distinguishing between the two colors.

    The names of all 26 letters and 10 numerals will be reviewed early in the school year, but children are expected to remember this information from the preschool curriculum. Children should be able to distinguish between similarly formed letters (such as B and P or J and L) and similarly formed numbers (such as 10 and 100 or 9 and 6).

    Children are expected to use visual discrimination skills to help them understand information presented during science or social studies units of study. This includes observing a demonstration, remembering any steps in the procedure and remembering what the final outcome should look like. Children may be expected to replicate an experiment or activity at their own work station.

    Letter and Word Awareness

    At the start of kindergarten, children are expected to recognize both their first and last names written in upper case letters, and accurately spell aloud both their first and last names. They are expected to comfortably point to and count each word in a printed sentence, demonstrating their knowledge that a word is a group of letters with a particular meaning.

    Children will see words posted on bulletin boards, on a “word wall” or as labels in the classroom. They are expected to incorporate these new words into their “sight word vocabulary”.

    Letter names and sounds will be reviewed at the beginning of the year to make sure that all children, regardless of their preschool background, have this knowledge. Even children who did not attend a preschool program should be able to identify all 26 letters and remember each letters’ corresponding sound(s) within a few months.

    Phonemic Awareness

    At the start of kindergarten, children are expected to be comfortable with the first five stages of phonemic awareness development. This means a child is expected to (1) recognize sounds in individual words, (2) count words in a sentence, (3) recognize words that rhyme, (4) count syllables in words, and (5) identify the beginning consonant in each word.

    In many cases (and based on the school curriculum), children are expected to attempt inventive spelling to communicate their ideas through writing. Children should be able to consistently identify the first letter or beginning consonant of each word they are trying to communicate, as well as any ending consonant or strong vowel sounds. As a general rule, a kindergarten child’s inventive spelling should be advanced enough that an adult could look at the letters written by the child and, by sounding out the letters written, guess the intended words in the sentence. At this point in the year, children are not expected to spell words correctly. As such, the letters C and K or Z and S, for example, will be considered by children largely interchangeable due to their similar sounds. This understanding is absolutely expected and permitted.

    Math and Number Awareness

    At the beginning of the year, children are expected to identify numbers 1 through 20 by sight. They are also expected to know the amount each numeral represents and properly apply one-to-one correspondence when counting a group of up to twenty objects. Many children may be able to count, perhaps with some hesitation, by ones, twos or tens up to 100. Other children will develop this ability during the kindergarten year.

    Children should recognize and identify increasingly complex patterns, such as AABCAABC or ABBCDABBCD. They should be able to extend these patterns for several additional repetitions using colored blocks or beads to represent each letter. They should also be able to create, without a model, their own simple pattern with several repetitions. After creating a pattern, children are expected to label the pattern for a teacher or other adult using descriptive words such as “blue, blue, green, yellow, blue, blue, green, yellow” or “square, circle, circle, triangle, square, circle, circle, triangle.”

    Children should be able to consistently sort a group of objects into three, four or more groups based on the objects’ dominant characteristics. For example, a child in preschool may have been expected to sort a pile of buttons into two piles: large buttons and small buttons. In kindergarten, a child will be expected to sort the same pile of buttons into four piles: large blue buttons, large yellow buttons, small blue buttons, small yellow buttons. In addition, children will be expected to articulate their thought process when sorting, such as explaining how some of the buttons were big and some were small and how there were two shades of blue, for example.

    Social and Emotional Development

    Teachers understand that children may feel nervous during the first week of school. They are in a new
    classroom and may used a more flexible routine from the summer. As with the beginning of the preschool year, it is not uncommon for some children to cry on the first day of school. However, by the second day of school, it is expected that children will recall the familiarity of a classroom environment and enter the room without hesitation. Even children who did not attend a preschool program should be comfortable in the classroom by the second or third day of school, as they see other children working confidently. Children are also expected to separate easily from their parents on the occasions when parents visit the classroom to drop off a birthday snack, to read a book to the class or for other special events.

    Children will be expected to interact comfortably and independently with peers in play and work situations without adult assistance. An adult may be needed to begin the group work by suggesting a game or preparing the materials required for an activity. However, once the activity has begun, children will be expected to productively complete the activity without needing further assistance.

    Children should attempt to solve personal problems (from locating a missing jacket at recess time to resolving minor conflicts with friends) independently before asking a teacher for help. Kindergarten students are expected to demonstrate empathy by recognizing others’ feelings and being willing to help a friend who is upset or needs assistance.

    Children are expected to share materials, take turns, respect others’ ideas and collaborate comfortably with a group of their peers. Children are also expected to be able to wait patiently for needed help, if the teacher is working with another child. It is expected that children will not cry when they are frustrated or disappointed.

    Please visit and click the top link Assessment for School Readiness to answer a few questions about your child to gain some helpful hints to prepare them for kindergarten.

    We hope this website provides you with helpful information and great tips for bringing out the best in your child and helping him start school prepared to succeed!