Welcome to kindergarten
Starting school is a big step for your child and your whole family. It’s a wonderful and exciting experience, but it also means a big change for you and your child.
We want to help you get off to a great start by giving you and your child information that will help you prepare. This section provides:
- an overview of the kindergarten program
- information about how children learn and develop
- suggestions for ways to help your child get ready for school expectations and routines
- activities to help make the most of those important learning opportunities at home
Learning and growing in the "kinder-garden"
The word kindergarten comes from German and means “children’s garden.” It’s a place where your child will grow and learn. Here are some of the things you can expect in your child’s kindergarten class.
Stimulating learning environment
The kindergarten classroom is alive with activity centres, artwork, toys, learning spaces, creative materials, books, letters and words, dress-up clothes, art supplies, listening centres, sand and water tables, child-size furniture, blocks, puzzles, games, paper, writing tools and much more. Many classrooms have computers, plants and pets.
Variety of learning activities
Children benefit from a variety of learning activities, including listening to stories, singing songs, chanting poems, solving math problems, investigating science and creating through art. Children learn through play. Each child’s emotional and social development, oral, reading, writing, math and science abilities are nurtured in rich, real-life contexts.
Every day, the educator(s) provide exciting activities. Children explore, discover, inquire and problem-solve together. The educator(s) also provide intentional instruction to the large group, small groups and individual children, based on each child’s developmental learning stage. Children also participate in daily outdoor or indoor physical activity.
Learning from each other
Your child may make friends who speak an assortment of languages, are part of diverse cultures, and are at various stages in their development. The educator(s) designs a program that honours each child’s uniqueness—so everyone is included, and children will learn from each other.
Various learning styles
Your child’s learning style is one of the factors the educator(s) will assess during kindergarten. Watch for clues about how your child learns best. Share your observations—your insights will help the educator(s) understand your child’s learning needs.
If your child is always active, for example, as many children are, it may be hard to learn while sitting still. Here are some learning ideas that involve the entire body:
- Have your child draw and scribble on giant sheets of paper, using thick markers or large paintbrushes.
- “Write” with a flashlight in a dark room.
- Draw letters, numbers and pictures in the sand.
- Make letters from bread dough, macaroni, yarn, clay, toothpicks, straws, twigs or wire.
- After you read a story with your child, act it out together.
- Have your child use different body parts to measure things—how many “feet” long is your kitchen? How many “arms” long?
Here's an activity to do with your child:
What ideas does your child have about going to kindergarten? Write down some of your child’s answers. Ask your child to draw a picture of what kindergarten will be like.
Children learn best through play
Children learn best through real-life experience. Playing, experimenting, doing things, taking on different roles, imagining, pretending—these are all important components of learning. Educators combine learning areas to create learning opportunities that resemble real life—for example, playing store as a way of learning about letters, numbers and social skills.
Through play, children learn academic skills such as reading, writing, math and science. They also learn problem-solving, creative thinking and essential social skills.
Kindergarten classes also have many learning activities modeled by the educator(s) and practiced by the children—such as asking good questions, creating a learning plan, problem solving, identifying letters of the alphabet and their sounds, demonstrating numbers, and illustrating science facts. Children write throughout the day, drawing, printing letters, words and numbers, and capturing their experiences.
At this age, play is an important way of learning for your child. Play continues to be important in the early grades—and throughout school and life. Through play, children learn about the world and how it works, about other people and about themselves.
Play is your child’s homework
Watch your child at play—your observations will give you insights into how your son or daughter prefers to learn. All play—in fact, anything your child does—is a learning experience. Here are some ideas to help you make the most of those opportunities as you prepare for the start of school:
- Look for shapes together. You might say, “I see a blue square. Can you find it?” Your child can ask you to find the next item.
- Fill your sink with water. Let your child find objects that sink and float.
- Give you child opportunities to finger paint, draw, and cut and paste.
- Fill up drinking glasses with different levels of water. Use a spoon to tap the side of each glass. Notice the different tones. Help your child make observations about the sound and the level of water.
Here's an activity to do with your child:
Create a story together. Have your child tell you a story. Ask your child to draw a picture of his story. Write down your child’s words and ideas. Read the story with your child.
Help your child prepare for the transition to kindergarten
How ready is my child for school? That’s a question many parents ask. Your child already has many skills. Your child:
- knows the difference between him or herself and others, between family and strangers
- grasps the connection between cause and effect
- understands and can express spatial relationships—up from down, in from out, front from back
- can use the grammar of your first language and has a large vocabulary of words
Your child will build on these skills during the early years of school. There are activities you can do with your child now to help prepare for kindergarten. Here are some ideas:
Language, reading and writing development
- Make your own alphabet book. Let our child decorate each page with drawings and cut out pictures. Read the book together.
- Play “Go Fish.” Put letters of the alphabet that your child knows (like the letters of his or her name) on homemade playing cards. After shuffling, give seven cards to each player. Take turns asking each other for cards—for example, “Do you have a ‘C’?” Each time you make a pair, discard it. When this game gets too easy for your child, use words instead of letters.
- Read aloud with your child every day. Your reading time doesn’t have to be long—5 to 10 minutes each day is great. Make reading a regular part of your day.
- Talk with your child about things you see. Try to spend time each day talking with and listening to your child. Conversations in your first language or English build strong oral communication skills.
- Play a guessing game. Put buttons or jelly beans in a small jar. Have everyone in the family guess how many items are in the jar, then count them and give a prize to the winner.
- Play bingo and dominoes.
- Play “store.” Put price tags on toys (under 20 cents) and let your child use pennies, nickels and dimes to pay for them. Then switch places—let your child be the shopkeeper and “make change.”
- Create a picture telephone book with your child. Put a picture of the people your child phones regularly—grandparents, friends—on a piece of paper with their phone number. Your child can use a toy phone to “call” them when it’s not possible to really telephone them.
- Let your child help you follow a recipe to cook something. Measuring is math, cooking or baking is chemistry.
- Measure the rain. Use a plastic jar with straight sides and a flat bottom and a marker. On the outside, mark “half full” and “full.” Keep track of the amount of rainfall.
- Give your child a magnifying glass to inspect things up close—bugs, leaves, fabrics or anything your child is interested in. Encourage your child to draw pictures of what he or she sees and keep them in a “science journal.”
- Let your child become a bathtub scientist. Give your child different objects—together, predict which will float and which will sink, then test the predictions.
Developing listening skills
Listening is a complex skill. Help your child by understanding and practicing the steps involved in listening:
- Stop what you are doing.
- Look at the person who is speaking.
- Don’t talk or move around when the person is speaking.
- Think about what the person is saying.
Dress for (kindergarten) success
When you’re shopping for school clothes for your child, here are some tips to choosing the ideal wardrobe for “power learning”:
- In the course of an average kindergarten class, your child will jump, run, walk, bounce, stretch, crouch, bend and sit in a chair or on the floor. Choose clothes and footwear that will be comfortable during all of these activities.
- Choose clothes, jackets, shoes and boots that are easy to put on, take off and fasten.
- Kindergarten children learn best when they explore, discover and experiment—in other words, get messy. Choose clothes that are durable and easy to clean.
- Outdoor play is an important part of the kindergarten program. Your child needs outdoor clothing for all types of weather.
More helpful hints
- Speak positively to your child about starting school.
- Expose your child to fun activities that include the use of crayons, markers, paint brushes and scissors, etc.
- Teach your child how to dress themselves.
- Read and look at books with your child.
- Contact the school to find out if there is an Open House event you can attend with your child.
- Visit neighbourhood and school playgrounds together.
- Encourage your child to play with other children.
- Practice washroom routines like flushing the toilet, washing hands and dressing.
- Teach your child how to tidy up after themselves.
Make the ‘big day’ a happy one
School is an exciting experience. At first, your child may be nervous about being away from home. Your attitude toward the start of school can help set a positive tone. If you do feel anxious or worried, try not to pass those feelings along to your child.
You can help your child view the start of school and the new independence as an adventure and a challenge—this is easier if your child feels prepared and knows what to expect. Here are some ways you can help your child have a good experience during the first few days of school.
Before the first day
In the weeks leading up to school, practice walking to school or to the bus stop often, so it begins to feel like a familiar routine. If your child will ride the bus, attend the bus orientation session. You will find a letter about the session in the kindergarten package you receive when you register for school. Go over bus safety rules with your child a few times.
A few days before school starts, begin to get your child and yourself used to the bedtime and wake-up schedule that will be required during school.
Get everything ready a day or two in advance.
The day before, let your child pick out what to wear on the first day of school. Let your child choose a favourite outfit from clothes that are already “broken-in” and comfortable.
Try to get your child—and yourself—off to bed a bit early so you’re both well rested in the morning.
The first day
Get yourself and your child up early enough to eat a calm, unhurried breakfast. And keep things as normal as possible—if your child normally has cereal for breakfast, make cereal that morning.
When you say goodbye to your child on the first day, make it quick, light and reassuring. Your child will be reassured by a warm hug and a reminder that you, or the usual caregiver, will be there after school is finished. If you have feelings of anxiety and worry, try not to show those to your child.
Plan a special dinner with your child’s favourites to celebrate the first day of school.
Use the first day of school to start some routines that will help make sure the whole school year is great. One of these is to talk with your child every day about what happened at school—here are some questions that can help to start the discussion:
- Did your teacher read you a story today?
- What did you do in school today that you really liked?
- Did you make a special friend? Who is the special friend, tell me about him?
- What do you like best about your teacher or about one of your friends in your classroom?
- What are you most looking forward to doing tomorrow?
Another good routine to get started on the first day of school is displaying your child’s learning and school creations. After you have looked and talked about it, display it on the fridge. Or create a “gallery” by hanging an inexpensive bulletin board in the hallway at your child’s eye level on which to tack your child’s art, writing and photographs. Get the art gallery started by having your child draw a picture about the first day of school.
Here's an activity to do with your child:
Ask your child to draw a picture of something exciting about school.
Documenting and sharing your child’s progress
Twice a year, you will receive a written report about your child’s progress in kindergarten. Your child’s educator(s) will continuously assess your child’s progress—here’s how:
- Observation—watching and talking with your child. For example, every day, the educator(s) will observe and assess students’ language development.
- “Portfolios”—a showcase of your child’s learning development. The educator(s) and your child work together to select examples of all types of learning that represent your child’s best work. Your child will have to explain why he or she picked each sample. As you, your child and the educator(s) review the portfolio over time, it will be easy to see the progress made.
- Your child’s educator(s) will also use many strategies to assess your child’s learning. Each strategy gives the educator(s) another part of the picture about how and what your child is learning.
In addition to the two written reports, parents are encouraged to communicate with the educator(s) about their child’s progress throughout the year.
Your child’s developmental stages
Young children go through many stages as they learn and grow. While assessing your child, the educator(s) will consider the stage of development your child is at. Understanding the stage of development will help the educator(s) plan a learning program suited to your child’s needs.
Each child develops in his or her own way. Here are some things we know about the stage children are at in kindergarten:
- Children see the world differently from adults. Educators find out what each child’s emotional and social maturity is and ensure the learning program meets and supports the development of healthy emotions and positive social skills.
- Since children’s thinking at this age is closely tied to concrete objects and experience, they learn best by doing. Telling is not teaching. Educators help kindergarten children learn from their personal experiences.
- Since children make sense of their world through make-believe and play, much of their learning in kindergarten needs to resemble play.
- Each child’s developmental stages are individual and unique to the child. They need time to practice, learn and grow. It’s not a race.
- Since children learn from their direct experience in the here and now, the most important goal of kindergarten is to nurture their development. We place most emphasis on experiences that require curiosity, thought and imagination.
Record your child’s best learning in a “home portfolio”
As you prepare for kindergarten, create a portfolio of your child’s best learning at home. Include photographs of your child engaged in learning—exploring, running, jumping, imagining, drawing, painting, creating. Keep it in a box or scrapbook.
Here are some ideas about what you might include:
- drawings and paintings—along with a sentence or two in which your child describes the picture and why it’s an example of “best” effort
- a copy of “writing” your child has done—you can “translate” what it says. Writing refers to scribbles, marks, dashes, lines, shapes, etc. and the meaning your child attaches to these markings.
- a story your child has dictated to you
- a sample of your child’s attempt at printing his or her name
- a photograph or drawing of something your child did very well like putting toys away or helping you in the home or outside
- a photograph of something your child planted or made
- a list of your child’s favourite stories
Here's an activity to do with your child:
Ask your child to create an autograph. Print your child’s name in this space, then let your child practice copying it.