Learning Guide: Kindergarten
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Learning Guide: Kindergarten

These newbies may be squirmy and restless, but by the end of the year they'll amaze you with the things they've learned.

Portrait of a kindergartner

Kindergartners are eager, often filled with energy, and -- especially at the beginning of the year -- have a hard time sitting still for very long. Most kindergartners want to be liked by their classmates and their teachers. They'll develop friendships and cooperate in the classroom because they seek adult approval. "If I do this to help you, does that mean I'm a good child?" As the year progresses, these five- and six-year-olds begin to develop the ability to wait, to understand the notion that you defer an act in order to do something else. They also grow in their capacity to listen to directions -- and actually follow them, as requested

What your child will learn

The 21st Century's "children's garden," is still the classroom of kid-size chairs, cubbyholes, "circle time" and painting easels. But today's kindergarten is also different -- more academically advanced -- from those of a generation ago: Children are taught to read, write, and compute, as well as to cut, paste, skip and share. Whether your child attends a full or half-day program, he will move beyond the names of the letters of the alphabet to a clearer sense of their sounds; he will learn a lot about how print works on a page. Kindergartners discover how to dictate and to write their own stories. Your child will learn to add and subtract using counters, and you may be stunned by his mastery of the part of a plant, names of the planets, or even the functions of parts of the human body.

You won't find any desks in kindergarten. These children move about the classroom constantly, either working on the floor or at tables. In some schools, your child may not even have an assigned seat. His day will include time to work alone, then come together in a "circle" for group activities; ample opportunities for outdoor play as well as moments of quiet, listening to music or poetry; a period for creative arts and one for academics.

High-tech has a place at the kindergarten table, too. Classrooms may have two or more computers, frequently set aside in a corner that may be labeled "the learning center." Kids typically go there in shifts to use educational game and drill-and-practice software. In fact, many schools purchase special educational software packages for grades K to 2. You won't find these programs in stores; they sometimes are set up to give teachers reports about the child's performance on that software. The effectiveness of this kind of software has not been conclusively proven one way or another; to download a report comparing the programs, try this site: http://www.mff.org/.


Developing social and emotional skills, however, is key to the early elementary years. Kindergarten teachers will spend a great deal of time encouraging children to see that mistakes are a natural part of learning, trying to support kids' self-confidence. Awareness, too, is important: In most classrooms, teachers will lead discussions of fairness and justice and the world outside.

In the classroom

Teachers will show students how to...

  • Develop small motor skills by cutting, pouring liquids, tracing, molding clay, coloring pictures and writing their names.
  • Follow directions, describe objects and events, share tools, and play in a group.
  • Label and express feelings such as anger, frustration and sadness with words instead of actions.
  • Identify colors and shapes; match objects; distinguish directions; recognize the alphabet.
  • Tell time to the hour on analog and digital clocks; identify coins; recite personal data (birthday, address, phone number).
  • Count and write numbers from 1 to 10; count objects in a set; divide objects into halves.
  • Explore basic science -- plant growth, magnetism, freezing and thawing -- ideally with experiments.
  • Learn about the community, often with local field trips (firehouse, post office, library); study the child's family.

6 ways you can help

  1. Read to your child every day, and talk together about what you've read. When you finish a book, have him tell you what happened first, in the middle, and last. Ask him how he felt about the book and why.
  2. Use songs and nursery rhymes, word play and rhyming games to engage your child in the fun of language.
  3. Challenge your child to find different ways that numbers are used at home. Places to start include telephone books, measuring cups, calendars, clocks, house numbers, and scales.
  4. Explore shapes together: Search for them in the street, learn about circles, squares, cylinders and rectangles by opening boxes. Examine dishes, pots, baking tins, and the contours of the cupboard itself for shapes.
  5. Make a shopping list together with your child. At the supermarket, ask him to help you find products and identify them.
  6. Make a conscious effort to listen to your child -- and to help him learn to listen, too. Take a listening walk together. Point out quiet or loud sounds. Help him determine where the sounds came from. On your way home, see how many different sounds the two of you can remember.

What the experts say

"The first years of school are still primarily about developing social skills. Despite all the amazing academic learning that goes on, kids in kindergarten and first grade are really learning to relate to one another, how to handle being in groups, how to manage emotions. Even today, when so many children are in preschool, these are the big skills that children need to master in the early grades." Ruth Roemer, teacher trainer, New York City