Seven Things You Can Do to Prepare Your Child for 1st Grade

Summer vacation is in full swing. After a month of playing outdoors, trips with grandparents, and just hanging out, it’d be easy for my six year old to lose direction and become a slug.

But it’s important to my wife and I that our daughter maintains the skills she learned in kindergarten and has a smooth transition into first grade.

Here are seven strategies I’m putting into practice this summer to help her along. Many of these exercises are based off the common core standards, the educational initiative implemented by president Obama.

1. The shapes game

1st graders are expected to have a strong grasp of different shapes. My daughter fortunately learned these in pre-school, and has continued to demonstrate a high level of shape recognition. So I decided to apply her knowledge of shapes into the real world.

The shapes game is kind of like eye spy. I tell her I’m looking at something in the room made out of a circle, square, etc, and she guesses what it is. As she gains proficiency, I add in more complex shapes like polygons and trapezoids. To demonstrate mastery, we identify objects that are made of multiple shapes.

2. How many ways can you make a number

This game is all about keeping the child’s emerging math skills sharp. My daughter and her class learned basic addition this year, working with numbers up to 10. For instance, she knows that both 2+2 and 3+1 equals 4.

Our goal is to preserve those skills using both number sentences (x+y=z), and word problems. Eventually, we’ll attempt to introduce three part number sentences like x+y+z=a, for example.

3. Weekly word lists

Every week, I generate a list of 5 words. My six year old and I pronounce them, define them, and practice spelling and writing them.

This serves to maintain spelling ability and the recognition of letter sounds, expand vocabulary, and further develop writing skills.

4. Drawing with labelling

I hated hand writing as a child. I remember having to drill writing exercises over and over. But the advancement of educational techniques have taught us that rote memorization only goes so far; learning occurs more thoroughly when situated within a context.

My daughter loves to draw, and the motor skills that go along with art are crucial to development. So this exercise seeks to combine the two. My daughter will draw a scene, and then label the characters and elements that she drew. Writing, creativity, and motor skills all in one game.

5. Daily reading with sight words

At this stage, reading is of the utmost importance. We have a pretty good collection at our house, and are frequent visitors at our local library. I try to read everyday, but I’m lucky: my daughter loves to read books by herself. We close our day with a book, in group story time or independent reading.

If you’re looking to maintain reading skills on the fly, challenge your child to pick out sight words on advertisements in a store, off menus, or on Street signs.

6. Physical accomplishments and motor skills

Physical accomplishment goes hand in hand with intellectual development.

Achieving mastery over motor skills, ranging from the simple act of learning to tie your shoes to learning to ride a bike, fosters self esteem and independence, traits that become increasingly necessary as the child progresses though school.

7. Independent play

It’s summer. I’m not running the house like a prison! Never forget, or underestimate the value of self-directed play. I’m not talking about letting them binge watch a season of My Little Pony on Netflix. I’m talking about play that stimulates their imagination. Let them spend an hour knee deep in Legos, or exploring the yard with a pail and shovel. It may not seem like it, but children maintain such a rich internal life, that self-directed play helps encourage academic and social development.

There are hundreds of different exercises and games that you can play with your school age children to help keep them on the right developmental trajectory. Remember that it’s not always about formal lessons, but teachable moments.