Let’s talk for a minute about Kindergarten readiness. As a mom whose tough little girl just finished kindergarten let me tell you something; Kindergarten is terrifying. The stress of starting something new, the worry about whether you’re ready, wondering if you’ve done enough…Oh, it’s pretty hard for your kid, too.
What is it about sending your child to kindergarten that suddenly makes you doubt every parenting choice you’ve ever made? Did I breastfeed her long enough? Hold her enough? Raise her kind, but tough enough? Will the teacher love her? Hate her? Ignore her? Will Kindergarten smash her into a joyless robot- round peg, round hole? Can she follow all those directions? I should have read her more books. I wish I worked with her letters more. Is she ready for Kindergarten? Am I?
Beyond all the lists and topics and the “is your child ready for kindergarten?” checklists, here is the one thing you need to know:
If you are sending your child to public school, Kindergarten is the new first grade.
Kids are sponges, but the curriculum now is intense. Not only does your child suddenly get thrown into a foreign environment with 25 (yes, 25!) other children, told to sit still, listen, raise your hand, pay attention, be quiet.. they also must learn how to read, write and figure math problems at an alarming rate. So it begs the questions for parents of preschool aged kids:
“How can I help my child be ready for kindergarten while still preserving their right to childhood and play?”
Here is the long and short of it. In the right, environment, children can master the skills they need for Kindergarten- through play based opportunities. In other words, you can sneak those skills they need in through play filled activities. This isn’t about teaching your child the alphabet, that will come too- it’s about literally building the brain and hand muscles they’ll need to thrive in a new kindergarten environment.
Strong pre-writing skill development mastery requires 3 main skills: hand strength, gross motor development, and visual tracking.
However, to make things a little easier (because goodness knows raising tiny humans as good humans is hard enough), I’ve compiled a list of activities your child can play with that will help them build hand strength. Remember to make these invitations to play fun and encouraging, and introduce them often!
6 Play Based Hand Strength Activities Your Child Needs Today
1. Rubber Bands and Soup Cans:
I love how ingenious this activity is because not only does it help encourage focus and build hand strength and coordination, but it’s something anyone can put together using a can from the pantry and a stack of rubber bands! Set your child at their table with the materials and watch them go! The same idea could be incorporated with pool noodles.
2. Hole Punch and Scrap Paper:
This one took a little guidance with my easily frustrated 3 yo Little, but once he saw the cause and effect result, the “look what I can do!” confidence soared, and he spent all morning going back to the stack of papers and hole-punch spread on the train table to see how many he could do. Again, I love simple drop and forget it tasks that stir up the children’s imagination.
3. Squirt Bottles:
Squirt Bottles are amazing, easy to find, and cheap tools to help your Littles develop hand strength. There are so many fun ways to use squirt bottles in your child or daycare’s daily play, whether indoors or out. Here are a few of my favorites:
- It’s a race! Your child can spray floating objects (think tiny boats, bottle lids, or rubber ducks- if it floats it works) in a race to see who can reach the other side of the tub! This could also be done in the bathtub, in a smaller bin of water over a towel,
- Spray Painting & Letter Identification– This is a win-win-win, because not only does it involve time with your kids favorite person (that’s you), it also becomes a process based art project, AND a fun game to help kids identify letters too. Mix up a simple solution of cornstarch, water, and food or water colors in your dollar tree spray bottle, write a bunch of letters on the side-walk, and ask your child to “shoot” the letter that makes the “ah” sound, etc.
- Practical Life Skills: Give your kiddo a spray bottle of water & vinegar, a microfiber cloth, and have them help you clean your windows! Helping with daily chores not only develops good skills for later in life, but also helps bolster children’s self-confidence. They can do what Mom, Dad, (or teacher) does, while practicing kindness and helping the people they live with!
- Work it at the car wash, baby! Shaving cream, cars, and spray bottles. What’s not to love? Littles of all ages would be wholly occupied with this great play based way to build pre-writing skills. Want to add some letter identification? Stick some masking tape with a letter under the car, cover in shaving cream, and spray to show and name which letter is hiding!
4. Play Doh or Slime
Play-Doh is one of the most essential play materials in my childcare arsenal. If you can’t run to the store, it’s SO simple to whip up a basic doh or slime recipe with ingredients you already have in your home. If you store it right, it can last for MONTHS!
- Try this Super Simple Slime Recipe
- Homemade play dough in less than 5 minutes
Whether store-bought or home-made, Play-doh or Slime makes an incredible medium for building hand strength, creativity, inspiring imagination, building vocabulary, and so much more. Put it inside a balloon for a squishy, handmade stress ball. Let your kids “cook” with it. Build animals or learn letter recognition. The possibilities are endless. Check out my Pinterest Boards, Play Dough, for some great ways to include play dough in your daily play opportunities. And don’t forget to Follow Sensory Play 0-5 for my absolute favorite sensory play inspirations.
5. Cutting with Scissors
A lot of parents avoid scissors. The abject terror you hold in your gut- the fear of watching your child’s curls fall to the ground in an artful disarray, resulting in some truly hideous bangs is real. (I speak from experience. I didn’t hand my daughter with bouncing-blond-curls-that-took-forever-to-grow scissors on purpose when she was younger, and now her teacher is the one in constant fear. She sends me notes that she lives in fear that Ly will cut her fingers off because of the janky way she holds them!) It’s easy to shy away from handing your toddler a pair of scissors, but DON’T let that stop you!
So I’m going to preach something I clearly didn’t practice myself.
Now you can learn from my mom-failings. It’s important to help children learn safe and healthy boundaries by practicing risk management in their play. It’s always better to allow children to take a risk in a safe, controlled, and teachable environment than to constantly restrict them, not allowing them to make a mess or learn proper usage.
Scissor play is important for a number of reasons. It helps build hand strength and fine motor abilities, therefore setting them up for success and sharpening pre-writing skills. It’s an important task to learn overall. Cutting along lines with scissors also helps children with eye-hand coordination.
Because of the young age of my current set of Littles (mostly toddlers), I prefer to introduce scissors in a carefully watched environment. Whether we are playing with play dough, coloring, or cutting and gluing, the Littles know that if they ask for the scissors while playing at the table, the answer is always yes.
6. Let them Color!
The more they work with their hands, even if its undefined scribbles, they are building hand strength, visual tracking, vocabulary, and color identification skills. Get out paper and crayons as often as you can. It’s simple and does a lot.
I’m convinced that Kindergarten teachers deserve a special kind of sainthood.
In the beginning of the year, they get a mess of children, all in different stages of life, with different personalities, skill sets, backgrounds, and knowledge.Yet somehow at the end of the year these same miracle workers turn out kids with a massive new skill set, and with a smile and a hug and a confidence boosting “you did it!”, send the back to our anxious, loving arms. Helping your child build the muscles, motor skills and focus through fun and games goes a long way to raising a successful kindergartner. But the love, patience, and affection they feel with you while doing them, is what raises a successful human.