Kathy Holt

“Count Down to Kindergarten” is an awareness campaign designed to help parents know what is expected of children entering kindergarten and to help the children be prepared for the transition to school. If this awareness campaign is compared to running a hundred yard dash, we are now on the 40 yard line.

Entering the fourth month of the Count Down to Kindergarten awareness campaign, it is a good time to review the skills that have been introduced thus far. The skill for September was personal information. Children entering kindergarten are expected to know their full name, full address, phone number, age, and birthday. In October, the kindergarten readiness skill was the alphabet specifically that children need to be able to recite the full alphabet, as well as recognize and name all of the upper case and lower case letters. Last month, Count Down to Kindergarten focused on color, with children being able to identify and name frequently see colors, such as blue, red, yellow, green, purple , orange, pink, black, white, gray and brown.

Along with these academic skills, children entering kindergarten will be screened for gross motor and fine motor skills. During the past three months, the large muscle skills introduced included standing on one foot for fifteen seconds, hopping on one foot, and walking heel to toe. The fine motor skills introduced included zipping items such as jackets and backpacks, holding a pencil, and holding a crayon.

The new Count Down to Kindergarten skill for December is counting. Children entering kindergarten should be able to count to twenty-five (25). The basic foundation of math is understanding numbers through counting. Teaching preschoolers to count will improve their readiness for other math concepts that will be taught in the future, such as addition and subtraction.

Counting usually starts early with parents/caregivers holding up the correct number of fingers to represent their child’s age. Eventually, the child too can represent his or her age by holding up the correct number of fingers. Parents/caregivers may also model counting at meal time when they spoon out food for the child’s plate. Both of these examples are good ways to introduce counting to toddlers and to set the basis for eventually counting to twenty-five (25).

When teaching preschoolers to count to twenty-five (25), start with counting to five and move up in small increments, such as to ten, fifteen, twenty, and eventually twenty-five. The purpose of counting is to give quantity to a set of objects. So, the best way to teach this concept is simply to let children count objects that they see and encounter daily.

When coloring, children can count their crayons. Parents and caregivers can help children count toys, stuffed animals, blocks, dolls, toy cars, action figures, game pieces, books etc. Point to objects in your house and count them for and with your child. Examples may include pictures on the wall, clothing items such as wash clothes and socks, items in the kitchen such as spoons, and plastic cups. When possible and safe, the child should be allowed to touch the objects as he or she is counting them. At this time of year, children can even count Christmas presents and ornaments on the tree.

Remember that the more senses a child uses, the easier it is to learn. Take a walk outside and count leaves, rocks, sticks, and other items in nature. While COVID-19 has changed the way we do things, children may not be going with parents/caregivers to stores. When things return to a more normal routing, however, use shopping opportunities to practice counting. When in the grocery store, let your child count the number of items you purchase as you put them in the buggy or as they are scanned at check out. Play board games that require the child to move a game piece a specified number of spaces.

Also consider that children love music. Sing “counting” songs. Make a drum out of a box and spoons, and let your child count the beats.

As a child is able to count a set of objects, say blocks, it is easy to introduce addition. For instance, let the child count ten blocks. Next, separate the blocks into two sets of five each. Count each set of five, then put together (add), and count the total. Children will see that it is still ten blocks. Practice this with different combinations that make ten and extend to larger groups of blocks such as fifteen, twenty, and eventually twenty-five.

There are so many ways to help children learn to count! As always, teaching this skill should be fun. Make counting a natural part of your interactions with your child, and the child will not even realize he or she is learning.

The gross motor skill for December is hopping, skipping, and going up and down stairs. What a wonderful way to practice counting! Children can count steps, hops, skips, and especially stairs as they go up and down them.

The fine motor skill for December is picking up small objects using the pinch motion. The development of these small muscles in the hand are essential to holding a pencil correctly, using scissors, or coloring. Examples of this skill include picking up coins, game pieces, counters, beans, buttons, or other small objects. This is a very important skill that we might think will develop naturally, but it does not. It may look easy to develop, but it is not. The small muscles in the hand can only be developed and strengthened by repetitive use.

Research shows that many children are arriving at kindergarten lacking the basic fine motor skills needed to hold a pencil and write. This lack of dexterity in their fingers and hands can be attributed to the increased use of touch screen technology and decreased use of crayons, paints, pencils, scissors, clay, and other manipulatives in their daily lives. Along with social-emotional skills and curiosity, fine motor skills are among the priority readiness skills for kindergarten. If children arrive at school lacking the fine motor control and finger strength necessary to hold a pencil, they will struggle to master other requirements in kindergarten. This is a huge problem because today’s kindergarten demands so much more writing and desk work than ten years ago.

Ensuring a child is kindergarten ready is an on-going process that requires commitment, consistency, and engagement. The Rural Accelerator Initiative leadership team would like to express our appreciation to all parents, grandparents, family members, and caregivers who are helping their children with these kindergarten readiness skills. If you have not started practicing the skills yet, we encourage you to start today. The development of all kindergarten readiness skills can be accomplished by committing a few minutes each day for fun practice.

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