Kindergarten Readiness - Literacy
Kindergarten Literacy Goals And Ways to Help Your Children Meet Them
Getting Ready for Kindergarten
Over the years, our educational goals for young children have changed dramatically. Preschool programs were originally designed to help children become a successful learning community, to socialize and cooperate constructively with each other while developing the essential life skills of self-control and self-regulation.
(For example, using words to express feelings, and asking for things they want in place of throwing tantrums)
Once the highly functioning classroom community was created, the children could explore hands-on props and materials that enabled them to practice and apply their understanding of the mostly abstract academic content (alphabet, numbers, etc.) that was being introduced. As much as mastering the content itself, the goal was to motivate children as lifelong learners, with a love of learning for its own sake.
Today “kindergarten readiness” is more focused on academic content knowledge, and what children used to learn in kindergarten is now what they are already expected to know before they get there.
Kindergarten Literacy Goals And Ways to Help Your Children Meet Them
Early literacy goals include a lot of storytelling and understanding how stories work. While this might seem easy to you, we all had to learn it at some point! We’ll be talking about some benchmarks included in most state standards, along with some fun ways to help your child grow in those areas.
Standard 1: To retell familiar stories, including key details.
The expectation of this goal is that children in kindergarten will be able to hear a story multiple times and be able to tell it back to you, including describing what happened with a character or characters. This means practice in comprehension (understanding the story), memory (remembering the story), and accuracy (putting the key elements of the story together the right way). A great way to build these skills is to use books that have repetition, clear steps, and a cause-and-effect story line. I recommend:
by Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle
In this story each character asks the next one, “What do you see?” Young children can readily memorize the sequence of the animals appearing in the story as it is read multiple times, which makes it more likely they will be able retell it to you. It also provides the opportunity for children to learn the names of animals and colors, especially if these are new concepts for them.
by James Dean and Eric Litwin
Pete’s shoes are changing color throughout the story, related to something that is predictable along the way. When you read this book to the children multiple times, they can memorize the order in which the shoes change colors, which makes the possibility of retelling the story accurately more probable. It also promotes learning about cause and effect as the colors change.
by Laura Joffe Numeroff
This adorable story is about how giving a cookie to an energetic mouse can lead to ongoing consequences that could apply to real-life situations. It works very well for children to memorize and re-tell the story in the order in which things happen since the mouse is doing things that people might do.
This is another one of my favorite books, especially for creating discussions with young children about cause and effect, and what else they think could happen!
Standard 2: To identify characters, settings, and major events in a story.
The expectation of this goal is that children in kindergarten will be able to name the story characters, tell where the story is happening, and talk about what is happening with the characters. This means understanding the story as a whole, and being able to know what parts matter most. Some excellent books for this are:
by Jan Brett
In this tale a grandmother knits mittens for her grandson, who requests that they are white. She tells him he will lose them in the snow, but he insists. He does lose one, but the major event is what happens to it after he discovers it is gone. The story features multiple animal characters, which children to re-tell the order in which they appear. In addition to reading the story, a hands-on activity could be to draw and cut out paper animals included in the story so that children can physically arrange them in the correct sequence. This book was a favorite in my early childhood classes.
by Jan Brett
Based on a South African lullaby and folk story, this book involves a father and son using problem solving skills to eliminate a giant character who is coming to destroy the town in which they live. It features a song that can be sung, with any tune that one makes up, and illustrations that clearly depict what all of the characters are feeling and doing. The whole family can enjoy reading this together, and also discussing how effective the solution was. Another conversation might be sharing other ideas for what else to do in the story’s situation.
by William Steig
A most unusual friendship is formed between the two main characters, a whale and a mouse, who lived very different lives before they met. The book includes surviving in diverse environments, sharing about each other’s experiences, hopes and dreams, and using critical thinking skills that enable them to help each other. There is higher level vocabulary that adds a richness to the story being told, and that you can enjoy explaining to your younger children. This book readily invites readers to engage in discussion about characters, setting and major events.
As a bonus, all of these books include story elements with a real-life application and will spark discussions that are meaningful in real life.
Games to Help With Early Literacy Goals
One big, key element of the early literacy standards is the ability to remember and restate. Because of this, practicing memorization and specifically word memory will help your child feel more comfortable in working with the elements of a story. These games are excellent for promoting memory and tying it to literacy:
This simple spelling puzzle game has pieces with pictures of parts of animals or objects that will only fit together to correctly spell words, such as c-o-w and c-a-k-e. Be sure to say each letter and the sound it makes as you and your children find the pieces that go together. When the picture and word are finished, model saying the word and encourage them to say it, too. This activity promotes children’s memorization of the order of the letters to make the word that matches the picture.
Kindergarten and preschool-aged children will advance their letter and word memory skills as they find and put letter cubes in a tray that holds a picture of an object for them to spell. It involves identifying a specific letter needed on each cube, and then putting the cubes in the tray in the correct order to spell the word that matches the picture. The more often the children play this game, and experience success with spelling the words, the more this multi-step process will enhance their strategic thinking skills and self-esteem.
Free and Low-Cost Activities to Build Literacy
Real-life application for these literacy standards:
- With your children, write down a simple recipe for a food you would like to cook together. Show them the matching measuring cup and measuring spoon as you write it. (1/2 cup, ¼ teaspoon). As you and your child follow the recipe, point to key words such as “stir” and have them stir in the ingredient(s).
You can make this dish multiple times with your children, encouraging them to follow along with the recipe you have written out. You may be surprised at how readily they begin to recognize the numbers and words because they are learning them in the context of this enjoyable cooking activity.
- Create a shopping list with your children when you are going to a store. Have them help you find the items on the list and cross them out. In addition to reinforcing academic skills, this can keep them engaged so they are not disrupting others as you are trying to accomplish your task.
If you use coupons, have your children look for the ones that match the items on your shopping list. The coupons often have visual cues (pictures of what they are for) as well as the words, to make it easier for the children to identify.
- Make books with your children about anything. An easy starter is to have them cut out or print out pictures of foods when you are searching for items on sale. They can glue the picture on a piece of paper of any size and tell you something about the food. If you cut 5 pieces of paper the same size, one serve as the cover, and the other pieces as four pages of the book. When the children are done with as many pages as they want, staple the pages together, or make small holes and thread a string through them. Make sure they give the book a title and add their name. They will then become the author of their book!
Be sure to connect with your children’s school and teachers about their academic expectations for each grade level. Many programs welcome a family’s participation in promoting their students’ achievements, and also to providing assistance with understanding new content as learning standards continue to evolve.
And remember: Reading books and telling stories to your children is key to promoting their literacy skills and lifelong love of reading!
Karen is an Early Childhood Specialist with more than 40 years of experience in teaching, consulting, and curriculum development for young children.