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What's Different About Kindergarten?

Be ready for these important changes, whether your child has been in preschool, day care, or at home.

Learning Benefits

Hover over each Learning Benefit below for a detailed explanation.
Attention and Focus
Fine Motor Skills
Following Directions
Self Control

There are so many wonderful things for your child to look forward to in kindergarten. He gets to go to the “big” school, make new friends, and maybe even ride the school bus. To prepare him (and you) for the big move, it helps to know just how kindergarten differs from a preschool or day-care setting. Here’s what to expect:

1. A Bigger Building With More Kids
Kindergartens are often housed in neighborhood elementary schools. There will be longer hallways and staircases to navigate, and, most likely, older children in the building. Classes will be larger, often having twice as many students as the preschool classroom.

Prep steps:

  • Give pep talks. Say things like, “You’re so lucky! It’s your turn to go to the big school!” Explain some of the upcoming adventures, such as going to gym or carrying a lunchbox. Tell about the new people she’ll meet, like the school nurse, librarian, and recess monitors.
  • Tour the school during the summer. Point out the bathrooms, the cubbies, the cafeteria, and the playground. Encourage your child to share his concerns and questions. Also be sure to attend any kindergarten orientations or bus safety workshops.
  • Arrange summer playdates. If your child hasn’t been in preschool or day care, it’s important to give her group experiences during the summer. Day camps, community recreational activities, and library and museum programs provide great opportunities for socialization. 

2. Greater Responsibility
Autonomy is critical in kindergarten. Since there’s less one-on-one attention, your child will be expected to be able to put on his jacket, fasten his shoes and backpack, open lunch and juice boxes, and go the bathroom by himself. The schedule is more structured than you’ll find in preschool or day care, and expectations for behavior run high. Your child must be able to sit still and focus on the teacher, raise his hand before talking, move quickly and quietly through the classroom and halls, and work cooperatively with others.

Prep steps:

  • Foster independence. Practice zipping, buttoning, snapping, and getting jackets on and off. Give your child simple clothing that’s easy to manage, like Velcro sneakers, elastic-waist pants, and mittens instead of gloves. Classes will make group visits to the hall bathrooms, so go over the steps of good hygiene and hand washing.
  • Hone listening skills. Reinforce the importance of not interrupting. Also establish consistent routines and break tasks into steps, just like kindergarten teachers do. Give simple, two-part commands, such as “Hang up your jacket, and put your sneakers in the closet.” If your child balks at cleaning up or getting ready for bed, remind him of the ritual by asking, “What do we need to do?”  

3. A Faster-Paced Curriculum
Kindergarten students are now being expected to meet standards that were once reserved for 1st graders. At the beginning of the year, your child should know how to write her name in upper- and lowercase letters, count from one to 10, and identify basic colors and shapes. There will be less free play than in preschool, though the focus will still be on fun. Teachers will use songs and games to deliver lessons about math, science, social studies, and language arts. Another big change: homework. Your child will probably have about 20 minutes a night — usually a math or alphabet activity, journal writing, and listening to you read aloud.

Prep steps:

  • Create a study spot. Establish a homework place — whether it’s a desk or the dining room table — and store pencils, crayons, paper, scissors, and other supplies in one central location. This helps develop the organization skills needed to thrive in the kindergarten classroom.
  • Look for everyday learning opportunities. Instead of drilling your child on numbers and letters, let the lessons unfold naturally through fun things you do together. For example, cooking builds math and measurement skills. Sorting laundry or Legos teaches children to classify. Writing in the sand strengthens fine-motor skills and letter recognition. Most importantly, snuggle up and read to your child every day. Rhyming stories and silly poems are especially helpful because they bring kids’ attention to the sounds in words, an essential pre-reading skill.

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