Learning How to Learn: How Kindergarten Prepares Students for First Grade

by Kayla Yoder

Every spring, 5- and 6-year-olds file into the first grade classroom at Elida Mennonite School. They are here for kindergarten, their introduction to the world of classroom learning. What can they learn in a few short weeks? How can the teacher manager the extra students in class? Kayla describes her goals for kindergartners and some of the strategies she uses to ease them into an exiting new journey.

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In first grade, they just learn so much. If they have to spend the first three weeks or month of first grade trying to figure out how to sit still and learn, it’s not a waste of time, but it feels like you’re spending a lot of time at the beginning of first grade just learning how to learn. And so, if you can do a lot of that in kindergarten, that helps tremendously.

In the curriculum for the kindergarten, they do, they learn all the sounds, all the letters and all the sounds, and it does teach them to sound out simple words, just short vowel sound words,mostly just three-letter words. So it kind of gives them a taste of it before they come to first grade, which I kind of like because I’ve heard moms say already that after kindergarten is done, they go home and they keep working on that. I would have a list of stuff that the parents could do with the children more.

Something that I ask the moms to try to work pretty hard on is a lot of their coordination stuff, using scissors, knowing how to run a glue stick, that’s something that takes a lot of practice. I mean, some children come and they are just very naturally good at it, and some it takes a long time.

And a lot of kindergarteners come to kindergarten and they don’t know, they can’t even recognize letters. They might be able to say the A-B-Cs all the way through, but they can’t recognize the letters, and I work really, really hard on that, making sure they can recognize letters and sounds.

Yeah, we do a lot of counting, and there’s stuff in their books also to help with their coordination, doing dot maps and learning how to trace well, lots of cutting, coloring.

Kindergarten, be careful between the two color words “black” and “brown.”

Things like left hand, right hand. I give them a card every morning and I tell them, “Hey, this card you want to keep as nice as possible.” Then I kind of give them a list of things that we’re going to work on, talking without raising their hand, jumping out of their seat when they’re not supposed to, turning around or sitting backwards in their seat, whatever. And every time they do one of those things, then I give them a hole punch in the card. At the end of the day they’re supposed to see how few hole punches they can have. If they get a hole punch in it, I usually write on the back of the card what they did or why they got it, and then they take it home and the parents can see. And if they don’t get any hole punches, then they get to keep it, and keep it for the next day as well.

I always tell parents, if their child comes home with a hole punch or multiple hole punches, it is, I’m not at my wits end. It doesn’t mean that they’re being a brat or being terribly naughty. It’s just they’re learning how to act in school. And it works wonders.

I used to wait about a week into kindergarten to start it, and I finally, I give them the first day, and then usually on day two is when I start that, and it makes things much easier for me and for them. The first day, I’m a little bit more relaxed about it. They learn so fast; I mean, usually all it takes is for about one student to mess up and the others really perk up. Especially by the end of the first week or something, if they’re going an entire day without getting any hole punches I’ll give them a little reward or something for it. It’s been pretty effective. There are high school students that I taught that still talk about their hole punches and they remember how many they got.

I do try to give them breaks. I realize that when they come to kindergarten they’re used to roaming and bouncing around or whatever, and it is, it’s hard on them. I try to get them out of their seats a couple of times between each break, whether it’s just standing up and doing flashcards or coming over to the corner and quick reading them a story, or even just make them stand up for a couple, 20 seconds, and say okay, touch your toes 10 times, or practice right and left.

They come Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Yeah, I like having a day off in the middle of the week to catch my breath and be with my other students, my first graders. It is a big adjustment for first grade. They’re used to just pretty much having me all to themselves up until kindergarten comes. And it’s good for them to have to work a little harder, and concentrate better on their own, and not have help as soon as they want it.

And I rely on my first graders a lot for helping the kindergarteners, because suddenly they realize they’re the big people in the class, and they enjoy trying to teach them the ropes here at school.

What should parents do if their school doesn’t offer kindergarten?

I would highly suggest going, if they want to do books, to use whatever curriculum (publisher the school uses in first grade), because usually it goes along, flows into Learning to Read or math, or whatever, which is why I like the CLE kindergarten so well. This uses the same setup, all the same pictures. Some of the pictures they have in their kindergarten books they’ll see again in their Learning to Read and math, and it helps prepare them better than if you just use something else that’s random.

I’ve often said that I think I get to see my children develop and mature in probably more ways than about any other classroom gets to. They come in here and they don’t know anything. They have no idea what words are and how to connect letters with words and by the time they go to first grade they’re reading books, and that’s just so fun to me.

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