“Kindergarten readiness” is an often discussed topic for preschool parents, but what does it really mean? While academic concepts and skills are certainly a part of it, there’s much more to preparing for kindergarten. You can’t ensure that there won’t be any bumps in the road during this transition, but there are things you can do now to prepare your child to be emotionally, socially, behaviorally, and academically successful in kindergarten.

Work on Oral Communication

Oral communication is essential for learning, and one of the simplest and most effective activities to practice oral communication in the summer before kindergarten is talking with your child about everything, all the time:

  • Don’t just point out the animals at the zoo; talk about their features and colors. Resist the urge to simplify explanations; if the sign says “White Siberian Tiger”, don’t just say tiger.
  • Before you read a book, ask your child lots of questions and encourage her to look at pictures and guess what might be happening
  • Strengthening vocabulary is an important part of emerging literacy. Increased vocabulary has been linked to higher reading proficiency and overall academic achievement. Young children acquire, on average, 2-3 new words per day. You have more than 365 days left to boost your child’s vocabulary before the first day of kindergarten, and if your child hits those numbers every day he’ll have learned a lot!

Hone Fine Motor skills

Before learning to write, your child must learn how to properly hold a pencil. Holding scissors correctly, using glue without creating a puddle of white, and gaining control over a paintbrush and the amount of paint on the brush when it’s dipped; these are all essential skills that children will benefit from practicing. And the only way to perfect these skills is through experimentation and repetition. Give your child old magazines to cut up. Let him glue together scraps of paper and old craft odds & ends into an abstract masterpiece. Allow him to paint with brushes of various sizes. In a year’s time, he’ll be gluing like a pro!

Practice Writing & Name Recognition

Your child’s name should be frequently visible, and she should begin to practice writing it. Throughout this year, whenever you send a greeting card out to relatives and friends, allow your child to sign her own name on greeting cards. Whenever you take a trip to the store, ask your child to write her name at the top of the grocery list and help her list the foods she’s hoping you’ll get. Don’t worry if it’s not perfect or even remotely legible; you’ll see huge improvements on this throughout the year, which is why it’s so important to focus on practicing now.

Get Counting

Use everyday opportunities to practice counting. When walking, look for things to count: how many squirrels you see in the park, how many trees you pass on your street, how many dolls or action figures are in a row. The goal is for counting to become easier over the course of the year, so that children will eventually be able to count small groups of objects without pointing and counting one-by-one; for example, your child may look at a handful of fruit snacks and determine that there are four without counting aloud—a important skill to practice in the year before kindergarten. As less concentration is required for counting, he can more easily concentrate on new math concepts that he will learn in formal school.

Encourage Independence

Now is the time to encourage independence, by teaching your child to attend to his own needs. By the time kindergarten rolls around, he should be able to finish using the restroom without assistance. Afterwards, check that he’s washing his hands, thoroughly, without a reminder (and even when he thinks you’re not watching!) Make sure that he can wipe his own nose and dispose of the tissue after. It’s important to focus on these skills now, while there is still a whole year to turn these tasks into strong self-care habits.

Get Experience in a Group Setting

It isn’t necessary that your child be enrolled in a formal preschool in order to prepare for kindergarten, but it does help to have some experiences in group settings throughout the year before kindergarten. Storytimes at the library, classes at a YMCA or community center, or activities at the art museum are all great opportunities for your child to practice waiting turns, meeting new people, and sharing an adult’s attention with many others.

Learn to Work Through Frustration

Begin to work on developing your child’s frustration tolerance; watch how he handles being angry. Encourage verbal rather than physical expression of feelings. He will encounter lots of new challenges in kindergarten, and behavior issues can prevent your child from performing to his fullest potential. Behavior doesn’t change overnight, so use this year to prepare your child to interact positively with his peers.

When it comes to requirements to enter kindergarten, every school system differs in its expectations. It may be helpful to contact your child’s elementary school or your state department of education to ask for kindergarten readiness guidelines and other pertinent information.