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How can I prepare my child for kindergarten?

By Linda Murray for

Beginning kindergarten is a huge milestone for you and your child, and you can help prepare him for it in many ways. In kindergarten, children learn more about social and communication skills than academics, so instead of drilling your child in his ABCs and numbers, concentrate more on his ability to cooperate, to talk to and play with others, and to follow directions.

Here are the best ways to get your child ready for his first big year of school.

Focus on your child's social life

For most of your child's school day, he will relate to and work with the other children, learning to collaborate on projects and share toys. Children who are comfortable working in groups do the best. If your child has been in preschool, he's probably already adept in this area. If he hasn't, then consider enrolling him in a group activity such as a gymnastics or music class. You can also sign him up for a part-time camp program the summer before kindergarten begins.

Try to encourage him to participate in group activities whenever they occur, such as during birthday parties. If you know he's reluctant to join in games like "Pin the Tail on the Donkey" or "Musical Chairs," practice these at home with him. You can also take him to playgrounds, pools, libraries, and other neighborhood places where he can meet other children and learn to play with them.

Boost his self-awareness

Besides learning to be aware of others, children who begin kindergarten need to be aware of themselves. Help him memorize basic information about himself such as the correct spelling of his name, his age, address, and phone number. He should also be able to name his various body parts. This way, he won't be caught off guard when children or teachers ask him these questions. If he has difficulty memorizing rote facts, such as his phone number, adapt it to the melody of a song he knows.

Expand his mind

Informally begin to teach your child about numbers and letters as you go about your daily lives. While unpacking grocery bags, for instance, you can count the items and ask him to count with you. You can ask him to put your cans in size order, or to alphabetize them if he already knows some letter sequences. You can ask him to count how many windows are in the house, or to find all the objects that begin with a specific letter. Knowing colors is also useful, so ask him to identify colors on his clothes, cereal boxes, etc. In these casual ways, your child will pick up all the knowledge he needs to begin kindergarten.

Devote some time to teaching concepts as well. Understanding the difference between words like "same" and "different" or "more" and "less" will help a child express his thoughts. Another important tool is the art of describing and making distinctions; this is why the characters on Sesame Street play "One of these things is not like the other..." You can do the same at home. Put three oranges and a banana in a bowl, and ask him to choose the one that's different. Discuss "place" words, or prepositions, such as "under," "above," "beside," and "through," and words that describe time, such as "before" and "after."

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