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Kindergarten Lingo: 10 Important Terms Every Parent Should Know


Do you speak Kindergartenese? If you a have a child entering kindergarten, you'd better learn! You may remember your first year of "real school" being marked by messy desks covered in art supplies, fun outdoor play, riotous games and your teacher reading cute stories. But kindergarten has changed in recent years. The 123's and ABC's have ramped up. Teachers are under more pressure to produce real educational results, and it's up to you to help your child keep up. By learning some common kindergarten words, you'll become a better, more active participant in your kid's learning experience.

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By Lawren Allphin

Every world has its lingo, and kindergarten is no different. If your kid’s teacher starts rattling off questions like, “Has she been working on her HFW’s?” and “How’s her phonemic awareness?” you may feel like you’re in a foreign land. But the good news is that kindergarten really isn’t that complicated. Here's the scoop on some common kindergarten language. Soon, you’ll be speaking Kindergartenese like a pro.


The process of teaching by demonstrating

For example, if you teach a child how to read by sitting with her as you read a book aloud and move your finger across the page, you’re modeling. Your child’s teacher will model all day, and you should too.

High-Frequency Words:

Short, commonly used words

Also called sight words, kindergarten words and HFW’s, these are the most commonly used words in the English language. Students are taught to know them “by sight,” without having to sound them out. “Is,” “the” and “in” are three examples. Practice with our kindergarten sight word flashcards.

Phonemic Awareness:

The ability to recognize the individual sounds that make up words

For example, a child with high phonemic awareness is able to break the word “cat” into three distinct sounds—the hard K, the A and the T—and able to hear the common sound in several words, such as hearing an H sound in “hen,” “hat,” and “hill.” Check out our set of rhyming worksheets for a head start to phonemic awareness.

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Activities to gauge the progress of each child

Teachers do all kinds of assessments through the year. Early in the year, they use assessments to figure out where each child stands in reading, writing and math. As the year moves on, they continue assessments to evaluate each student’s progress and plan their next steps in the teaching process.

Standards and Benchmarks:

A basis of comparison for the progress of each student

Standards and benchmarks help teachers plan their curriculum, set goals and evaluate their students. In later grades, these are also the underpinnings for many statewide achievement tests, which evaluate students’ proficiency and teachers’ effectiveness. Some kindergarten examples include writing uppercase and lowercase letters, writing words based on how they sound and writing simple sentences.

Concepts About Print:

Basic customs relating to reading and books

Sometimes referred to as “CAP,” these include knowing the difference between a word and a letter, knowing to read from left to right, being able to locate the title of a book and being able to point to each word as it’s read.

Reading Fluency:

The ability to read quickly and accurately

How fast does your child read? Can she read fluidly without stopping to sound words out? Does she add expression as she reads aloud? If she does all these things, she’s probably a fluent reader. There are many kinds of assessments that are carried out to test reading fluency.

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The understanding of meaning in written language

In a nutshell, it means how well a child understands what she’s read. Comprehension is often measured the student’s ability to make inferences and predictions about a story. If your kid can read fluently, but can’t follow stories or can’t tell you what a story was about, she may need to work on her reading comprehension.


Tools that can be handled and played with that facilitate the learning process

In kindergarten, manipulatives are used frequently to teach math. Instead of just counting aloud, students are given a set of beads and to play with as they work with numbers. Some manipulatives are specifically manufactured to be math teaching tools, such as colorful, plastic blocks that snap together.

Centers and Stations:

Locations for work in small groups

Many kindergarten classes are structured into small groups that rotate from activity to activity. While one group reads with the teacher, other groups work independently in the math area, or with a classroom helper. The time of the day when group work occurs is sometimes called “center time” or “stations.”

Whether it’s HFW’s or PB&J’s, you can and should be up on your kindergarten lingo to be an active participant in this amazing time in your child’s education!

If kindergarten is coming up for your little one, head over to our parent’s guide to kindergarten for everything you need to know!