As the parent of a soon-to-be kindergartener, you might be a bit astounded by the reading goals your school has set for your child. Today's parents are often shocked when they come to school for orientation and see what's on the docket when it comes to reading. What happened to a full day of crayons? What happened to unlimited time in the sand box?
Without a doubt, the skills taught in kindergarten today look more like the skills taught in first grade a decade or two ago, especially when it comes to reading. But fret not, because these high reading expectations for young students are accompanied by very strategic teaching methods, and a meticulous progression of skills that build upon one another. Your child can meet the reading goals set by his teacher, especially if he's on track when he first enters kindergarten. So, is he?
While every teacher and school has their own set of “prerequisites,” there's a set of general reading expectations that most teachers share, when it comes to kids entering kindergarten. Before entering kindergarten, a student well prepared for reading should be able to:
- Read her name
- Recite the alphabet
- Recognize some or all of the letters in the alphabet
- Correspond some or all letters with their correct sound
- Make rhymes
- Hold a book right side up with the spine on the left, front cover showing
- Recognize that the progression of text is left to right, top to bottom
- Echo simple text that is read to them
- Recognize that text holds meaning
- Re-tell a favorite story
If your child is not quite steady in all of these areas, don't panic! Every child enters kindergarten at a different level and teachers expect a huge variation in the skills each student brings. They're trained to optimize success for each individual, no matter what. According to Lesley M. Morrow, Ph.D. and Distinguished Professor of Literacy at Rutgers University in New Jersey, one of the main reasons kindergarten reading is taught in small groups, is so teachers can easily cater to different levels of reading readiness. More advanced readers can be taught in a way that limits boredom, and more beginning readers at a pace that minimizes frustration.
On top of utilizing small-group time, the teacher will "scaffold" the reading skills she teaches. In other words, reading skills will be taught in a systematic way that allows skills to build upon one another: The kindergarten year will start out strong with an intense teaching of letter recognition and sounds. This lends itself to beginning phonemic awareness skills, like sounding out words. Once a child can sound out simple words, teachers move on to showing them how to recognize patterns in words, such as rhyming, vowel/consonant patterns, and word families. If a kindergartener can recognize letters and sounds, use phonetic skills to sound out words, and use word patterns to figure out unknown words, she's ready to read sentences and simple books! Hold onto your hat as teachers move emerging readers on to this final, and very exciting, part of the learning process.
From there it's all a matter of reading as much as possible. So be sure to encourage your child to practice, practice, practice. Keep lots of books around and offer plenty of encouragement. Skill-building in preparation for your child’s first year of formal schooling is important, but it's even more important to foster a love for reading. By all means, play rhyming games with your child. Ask him to re-tell a story after you read it together. Practice reading words around the neighborhood, like stop signs, or logos. But if your little one experiences frustration, take a break, or rework your plan in order to get her buy-in.
Most of all, keep in mind that kindergarten-age kids are going through huge developmental changes. While some reading skills may seem impossible for your child to grasp one day, he may have them down pat the next. Therein lays the beauty of kindergarten!
So keep the pressure low, and the book list heavy. “If a parent loves reading and reads to their child, the child is likely to assimilate that behavior,” says Morrow. She suggests getting into a reading schedule—setting a specific time each day for reading, and talking afterward about what you’ve read together. The leap in reading from pre-kindergarten to first-grade-ready is huge. But keep those books in hand, and have confidence that your little reader will progress steadily as he builds his skills, one on top of the other.
Check out Education.com's kindergarten activities page for tons of ideas on how to work skill-building into playful activities. The more fun you make things, the more eager she'll be to participate.