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Go Ask Mom

4 activities to get this year's preschoolers ready for kindergarten next year

Posted August 7

With higher expectations and accountability for early educations and parents, kindergarten curriculums have become increasing more difficult, with more focus on advanced math and literacy. (Deseret Photo)

Editor's note: Azure Cutter, local mom, occupational therapist and co-owner of Skill By Skill, share these tips to get this year's preschoolers ready for kindgarten next fall.

Gone are the days when kindergarten was all about eating paste while gluing Cheerios to the letter C. Kindergarten has become the new first grade with higher demands and requirements. Parents often worry if their preschooler will be ready for kindergarten when the time comes. The good news is there are more resources than ever to help children develop the skills they need.

Most kids will develop them naturally with a little help from parents or preschool. Skills are generally split into six areas: Language skills, learning and cognition skills, phonological/print knowledge, mathematics, social-emotional skills and physical development.

As an occupational therapist, I am going to focus on the last two areas - social-emotional skills development and physical development - and add one more - sensory processing skill.

Here is a great inclusive list of kindergarten readiness skills, but here is some more information about the skills we'll focus on here.

Social-Emotional Skills

These include knowing the difference between boy and girl; knowing their name, age and parent’s name; being able to voice needs; interacting with other children and adults; being able to perform basic self care skills; and being secure without a parent present.

All of these skills are built naturally through play and daily interactions with peers and parents - and by empowering your child to be as independent as possible. For example, sure your child’s hands are cleaner if you wash them, but if they wash them independently, with a little supervision, then they are increasing their life skills and their confidence.

Physical Development

This includes gross and fine motor skills. Gross motor skills like hopping, jumping, running and catching a ball are all parts of active, unstructured play as well as organized games. Fine motors skills like gripping a pencil or scissors and using them correctly and making legible marks after demonstration can be worked on in many different ways.

Sensory Processing Skills

These skills, which I'm adding, are the ways your child’s nervous system receives and interprets information to produce an appropriate motor or behavioral response.

These skills really lay the framework for all of the other skills because they allow for attention to task, emotional control, self-modulation and smooth motor movement. Sensory processing skills vary by age and child, but all children have some kind of sensory demand that needs to be filled in a day. Some children need more or different types, but children whose sensory needs aren't met will struggle in all the other areas.

So the big question is: What can we do to prepare our children? The obvious answer is simply play. Imaginative, interactive, social and unstructured play will help a child develop many of the above skills. However, here are a couple more specific activities that you can do.

Activity: Conversation Cards and Pictures

Conversation Pictures

You can go out and buy cards with pictures of kids doing things or just grab a box of your old pictures and use those. Show your child the pictures, discuss what is happening in the pictures and then ask them a mixture of questions that are open-ended or multiple choice. For example: Is this a girl or a boy? How do you think she is feeling? What is she doing? Why is she doing it? This is also a great activity to do while waiting, using pictures on you phone.

What it addresses: Social-emotional skills: Knowing gender, recognizing feelings, making up basic stories and learning how people interact.

Activity: Shaving Cream Painting

Shaving Cream Activity

Grab a can of shaving cream and some paint brushes and your child will happily sit down and work on shape and letter formation. You can use a foil lined cookie sheet to decrease clean up. I like to start neat and tidy, tracing letters and making shapes then let them use their hands in the shaving cream to make a big mess. Then of course wash their hands and clean the table.

What it addresses: First: Fine motor skills and grasp, sensory processing with the shaving cream, and social and emotional skills for basic self care (cleaning hands and table). It’s a great activity to work on hand washing because they can see the shaving cream and have to practice the scrubbing motion to get it all off.

Activity: Indoor (or Outdoor) Clothesline

Indoor clothesline

If you have a clothesline, grab some clothes pins and a stool and have your kids hang out the wash. If you don't (because it is 2017), then grab some ribbon and mini-clothes pins at the craft store and make a mini one inside. I like to have them hang socks and cotton balls to get different thickness for increased sensory input.

Also, cue your child to grip the clothes pins in different ways to hit all of the muscles in the fingers.

What it addresses: Proprioception, which helps control the force used during activities (perfect for kids who break pencils writing or conversely have a loose grip and light writing), hand/eye coordination and visual skills, strength and dexterity in fingers for fine motor skills.

Activity: Animal Walks

Walk like an animal

This one is great because you don't need equipment or a lot of space. Your child can bear walk, crab walk, crawl, or wheel barrel walk.

What it addresses: Provides heavy stimulation to joint receptors which helps with proprioception (controls force), self modulation and emotional regulation. It also increases shoulder strength and stability, which is essential for fine motor skills and core strength, which has been connected to increased attention skills.

Skill By Skill's website has more information about its programs, which include group sessions where kids can boost their fine motor and social skills.

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