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Your kindergartner and language arts

Children learn to read at different ages, but most discover the connection between letters and sounds in kindergarten.

By GreatSchools Staff

In Your Child's Classroom

Engaging your kindergartner

The first look at a kindergarten classroom can make parents feel uneasy even if they've thoroughly researched the school. Some parents look at the reading and writing centers and wonder, "Is my child ready for this?" Others see the painting easels and alphabet charts and think, "My child can already do everything here." Our advice: Do pay attention to what goes on in your child's classroom and how your child feels about school. But rest assured that a good kindergarten teacher engages and challenges children with a wide range of abilities.

Children need to be intellectually, physically and socially ready for kindergarten, but few are equally mature in all areas. They develop at different ages and stages. Some are already reading when they enter kindergarten, while others have not yet discovered the connection between letters and sounds. A rich kindergarten program includes activities appropriate to both kinds of learners.

Learning letters and words

Early in the year, kindergarteners typically develop their knowledge of letters by naming, recognizing and writing them in both upper and lowercase. By the end of the year, most children will be able to read words that are spelled like they sound (like cat and sit), frequently used words (such as the) the names of their classmates; and simple sentences.

Here is a list of more high-frequency words.

Reading aloud

You can expect your child's teacher to read aloud often from a rich collection of children's literature. A kindergarten teacher typically uses big, illustrated books, and songs and poems displayed on charts to teach students to recognize words that occur frequently.

Your child will be exposed to books with lots of repetition, rhythm and rhyme. These texts instantly engage and motivate young children to learn words. Poems and songs help build a community within the classroom. Children love to bring home copies of poems and songs they have learned in class to share with their families. An added bonus is that repeated readings increase your child's awareness of the sounds that make up spoken words and build her sight-word vocabulary.

Connecting oral and written language

A good kindergarten teacher will look for different ways to connect oral and written language. Depending on your child's skill level, the teacher may write a story that your child dictates or ask him to write a simple story on his own. Eventually, students will start to write words on their own. They won't spell every word correctly, but they will write down the sounds they hear in the word. For example, kindergartners at different levels might write the word coat as kt, kot or cote. At this age, practice using letters is more important than getting the spelling right. Learning to spell is a developmental process, and children learn the rules for conventional spelling as they learn more about letter patterns in English words. You'll enjoy seeing your child progress from making scribbles to printing letters to writing words to sentences to composing stories.

Want to see what this progression looks like? See real kindergarten work at Linda's Learning Links compiled by Linda McCardle, a kindergarten teacher at Mathews Elementary School in Columbus, Georgia.

"Children at this age are learning all about the concepts of print, but the number one priority in a good kindergarten class is to foster a 'love of print' that will remain with your child for many years to come!" says our consulting teacher, Jane Ann Robertson, Arizona 2004 Teacher of the Year.

What to Look for When You Visit

  • Students singing songs, acting out plays, reciting silly poems and discussing stories. These activities increase a child's ability to read, write, speak and listen.
  • Independent reading time, which encourages children to engage with books, whether they're reading or looking at the pictures.
  • Repeated practice working with letters and sounds, using a variety of approaches. Your child might be asked to clap once for each syllable in a word or to stand up and trace the shapes of letters with her arms.
  • Writing, writing everywhere! Labels on cubbyholes, signs on activity centers, a calendar marking each child's birthday - all convey the power of language and the many ways it is used.
  • A cozy library corner with colorful books at different reading levels and on different topics.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

09/3/2008:
"This entire section is OUTSTANDING!!! I like the links to writing, spelling, frequency words, etc.!!!! I appreciate the research and the how tos. Would you provide some research on developing comprehension with kindergarners and the best ways to do this? Thank you."
09/3/2008:
"Thank You Thank You Thank You!! I am moving to the US in December from Australia and I am trying to prepare my children aged 5 and 7 for mid year entry into your school system. You have provided me the most valuable resource. I now have a resource to provide me with information about how their grade will be progressing before they arrive. This will enable me to set expectations and work with them to ensure they are ready and confident to enter their new school. A Y, Melbourne Australia"
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