Reading: What Happens in the First Few Months of Kindergarten?
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And they’re off! Your child has officially become a kindergartener, and the race to read has begun. Don't worry if you have a turtle, not a hare. This race towards reading is definitely the “slow and steady wins it” type. Expect a thorough progression through literacy basics-- at least until December. The new year will be your child’s cue to start her sprint. If she can keep pace with what the teacher lays out through June, she’ll be a reading champ in time for first grade.
Wondering what kind of reading skills will be handed to your child in the first couple months of school? While all teachers take different routes, based on the needs of their students, there are some foundational reading skills that every kindergarten teacher teaches in the first trimester of school:
1. Name Recognition: Which cubbie should your child put her lunch in? Which painting on the wall is hers? Your child will learn to recognize her own name right off the bat in kindergarten.
2. Letters and Sounds: Before a student can begin “sounding out” words, he must master the alphabet. Some teachers do a quick overview of the entire alphabet first, and then go back and review. Others start with A and teach one letter at a time, very thoroughly. Still others chunk letters together (sometimes out of order) for various teaching purposes. (For example, they might teacher "w" in wintertime because "winter" starts with w. Or they may teach "p", "q", and "g" together because they are similar in shape.) But whichever way it’s mapped out, the first several months of kindergarten revolve around teaching kids to recognize letters and know the sounds each one makes. Kindergarten students will be taught to recognize each letter in both its capital and lowercase form.
3. Phonemic Awareness: Not only will your child learn to recognize each letter and match it with the correct sound, she’ll also learn that those sounds come together to make words. She’ll learn how to break a word apart into several sounds, and how to "slide" individual sounds together to form a word. Towards December, your child may even begin learning simple digraphs. In plain English, a digraph is a group of two or more letters that come together to make a single sound, such as the th in think or the ng in ring.
4. Concepts of Print: Learning to recognize letters is very challenging if the book is being held upside down! And even if a child can sound out a word, a sentence won’t make any sense unless she knows where one word stops and a new one begins. This is why something called "concepts about print" will be a major focus of reading instruction for the first few months of kindergarten. Your child will learn basics such as reading from left to right and top to bottom. He'll learn the difference between a letter, word and sentence and start to grasp the idea that words hold meaning. He'll also learn where to find the title, author and illustrator of a book and gain practice with simple punctuation, among other concepts of print.
5. Comprehension Skills: Even before students begin to read independently, it's important to exercise their comprehension skills. It's not enough to be able to read words: kids need to be able to figure out the meaning behind the words they read! Your kindergartener will be taught how to maximize his understanding of a story through a process that combines questioning, predicting, classifying, visualizing, and comparing. He’ll learn how to identify the main idea of a story, as well as the characters and the problem or conflict they're trying to work through. Teachers also work on a skill called sequencing, which basically means retelling a story in the proper order. They'll work hard on all of these skills in the first several months of the school year.
6. High Frequency Words: Some words pop up in what we read and write at a much more frequent rate than others. Several specialists have come up with lists of the most common words in the English language. Teachers use these lists as a basis to select anywhere from 10 to 50 words for their students to learn by sight. They call them "sight words" or "high frequency words" and the goal is for kids to learn them by heart, so they don't have to pause to sound them out. Some of these words, like the or to, don't follow the sound-it-out rules. Others, like and or it, do. Either way, these words are so frequent in text that it saves a lot of time and frustration not to have to pause to sound them out phonetically. Teachers usually begin teaching these words with repeated exposure in October or November, and continue to teach them throughout the entire school year.
7. Rhyming and Word Families: Kids love to make rhymes! And kindergarten teachers take full advantage of that in the first months of kindergarten. Why? Because rhyming helps kids see patterns in reading and writing, and recognizing those patterns makes reading and writing simpler. Expect to see word family books, lists, and worksheets coming home with your child starting in October and November. She’ll be taught simple word families first (such at the "at" family: cat, mat, pat, hat…) and more difficult word families later in the year.
Does all of this sound a little intimidating? Asking your child’s teacher for a curriculum map or guideline for reading instruction is a great way to see the approximate progression of her reading instruction. Staying on track with what your child is learning in class means that you can reinforce those reading concepts at home with fun kindergarten reading activities that keep the ball rolling.
Remember that while the first few months of the reading race may be slow and steady, it's likely to feel like an uphill climb to your new learner. Talk to the teacher about ways that you can support what she is teaching in class at home, and celebrate the small successes of your beginning reader. Does she know a new High Frequency word? That just may be cause for a celebratory ice cream cone or a trip to the park. Did he recognize his name on something at home? A high-five or hug is certainly in order!