Pre-K Games and Activities That Prepare Your Child for Elementary School

Two kids playing with colorful blocks

Preparing a child for kindergarten can be exciting, but it can also be daunting. After all, it has probably been two or three decades since you were a kindergartner yourself, and even then, a lot has changed in that time. In a very real way, we’re taking a shot in the dark as parents, trying to get a child ready when we’re not sure ourselves what she will be doing.

Don’t let the uncertainty scare you. There’s a lot that can be done to prepare children for their first year in elementary school, and none of it requires a degree in teaching or early childhood development. With the right activities and just a little bit of quality time with your little one, you can have her ready for anything that the teacher can throw at her.

Building Math Skills

In kindergarten, depending on what school district you’re a part of, your child is likely to learn basic counting, basic addition, and basic subtraction. Largely, what teachers are going for is helping students associate the actual value with the number (e.g., they want the student to immediately recognize how much five is when they see the numeral 5).

To help your child prepare for that, you can have him practice associating either the written symbol or the spoken word with the actual value. That’s a rather verbose way of saying “have him practice counting with things he can hold in his hands.” Here are some suggestions for how to do just that:

Cleanup Counting

Have the child clean up with you after play and practice counting to see how many items she can pick up. Compete to see who can pick up more (letting her win, of course). Once she has counted down, try asking simple addition or subtraction questions like “How many are left to put away?” and “How many are in the bucket now?” With any luck, practicing like this will have the added bonus of motivating your young one to clean up willingly after playtime.

Playing Sous Chef

Try cooking together with your child, having him count ingredients, scoops, and mixing strokes. Have him set the table, counting out how many plates, cups, and utensils the family needs. While having him participate during meal preparation will likely slow things down, it will give him a chance to practice, and he will likely be more excited about mealtime as a result.

Getting the Wiggles Out

Some games and physical activities lend themselves well to practicing counting. Games like hide-and-go-seek have counting built in, while activities like jump rope, jumping jacks, stretches, push-ups, and so forth all provide something for your child to associate the counting with. Exercises like this also double as gross motor skill activities, which we’ll talk about later.

Building Language Skills

While your future kindergartener has already learned how to talk and communicate clearly (for the most part), she hasn’t quite mastered the language yet. For one thing, her vocabulary is still fairly limited. For another, chances are she’s not yet reading on her own. Remember, at this stage, most of what she knows about language she has intuited, piecing things together by listening to you. There’s still a great deal about the mechanics she stands to learn.

Much of that learning will happen as she begins to read on her own and as that reading happens with more frequency. That’s why doing what you can to prepare her for the basic reading she’ll be doing in kindergarten will be so useful.

Build an Alphabet Book

Kindergarten classes tend to begin their language learning by working on the alphabet. After all, it’s difficult to learn to read if you don’t know what all those little symbols mean. You can help prepare your child for that first step by building an alphabet book together.

How you do this is up to you. You can draw an outline of the letter on the page and have your child color it in. Or you could write the letter as dotted lines and allow him to trace the letter. Get creative, involve your child in the process, and provide a little help where needed. Then, when each letter is done, staple or bind the book together and display it as the work of art it is.

This book can be used to review letters and teach your child what they look like when they’re written, allowing her to begin associating the sounds with the written symbols.

Read a Book Together

One of the simplest things you can do to help your child understand language better is to read with her on a regular basis. This time-tested standby of proactive parenting yields many benefits. It’s bonding time for you and your child. It helps her calm down and get ready for bed in the evening. It exposes her to the thoughts and ideas of other people and helps her learn about things both common and exotic. And, done properly, it can help children learn to read.

Try pointing out common words (often called “sight words” by teachers) that you can help your child memorize and recognize immediately. Once she starts getting the hang of words like this, point to them as you read, and have her read the word for you. Over time, this helps build her reading vocabulary and can dramatically increase her reading speed.

For bonus points, discuss the book with the child as you read, and when the book is done see if she can relate the story back to you, as these steps encourage deeper thinking and improve reading comprehension.

Play I Spy with Letters

I spy can be a very versatile game, as you’ll see below, and with a little creativity it can serve a number of different purposes. Here, it can help your child to recognize letters in things he sees. It’s fairly common for children to do this on their own anyway, but your little one will likely be all the more proud of what he finds when you’re actively involved.

Prompt your young learner by giving him a letter to look for when you’re reading, driving around, or doing anything that provides ample opportunity for reading. Watch as his eyes light up at the challenge, and praise him when he succeeds. You may find, as he learns to string these letters together, that this will lead to sounding out words and full-on reading in time.

Building Science Skills

At this stage, it’s less important to bury your little one in facts and information and more important to give her a reason to be excited about the laws that govern the world around her. Helping her see scientific principles in action will likely pique her interest and have her asking questions about why things work the way they do.

There are some simple experiments that can be done to illustrate principles that children interact with on a regular basis but don’t notice. Here are a few:

  • Demonstrate the water cycle—use a boiling pot of water or a hot shower to produce steam, and then place a cold object nearby (like a glass of water or a can of cold soda on the counter next to the stove) to cause condensation.
  • Demonstrate static electricity—rub an inflated balloon on your head (or your child’s) to generate static, then see what the balloon will stick to, or try discharging the static on something metallic.
  • Demonstrate afterimages—use a flipbook to illustrate the afterimage principle; it’s the same principle that movies use to turn static images into “motion pictures.”

When all else fails, go outside and hunt for bugs, frogs, birds, and other creatures that your child can identify and observe. When you find some interesting specimens, look up more information about the creature online to see what fun things you can learn together.

Building Motor Skills

Motor skills fall into two categories: gross motor skills (how your body moves as a whole) and fine motor skills (the use of the hands to accomplish delicate tasks). Here’s an example to illustrate: As a baby learns to walk, he is developing gross motor skills. As he learns to pick up gummy snacks by pinching them, rather than by using his whole hand to grasp them, he’s developing fine motor skills.

Even as a five- or six-year-old, your child is still developing his gross and fine motor skills. He’ll practice using both in school, so doing things to help him develop his dexterity and learn to control his body will be useful regardless of the type of activity you choose. Below are some ideas.

Develop gross motor skills by:

  • Teaching how to do somersaults.
  • Holding races and playing tag.
  • Playing catch.
  • Choreographing a dance together.
  • Coming up with a fancy secret handshake.

Develop fine motor skills by:

  • Creating a collage by cutting out shapes with safety scissors; help by outlining shapes for your child to cut.
  • Practicing tying and untying knots.
  • Practicing writing the child’s name.
  • Practicing sign language letters.
  • Playing a computer or video game together.

As most kids like to be active during this stage, most of these activities will have them excited to participate, so you’re likely to have a willing participant as you implement this kind of education.

Building Social Skills

For oldest children, only children, and children who are much younger than their siblings, social skills aren’t always easy to develop prior to school. Still, there are things you can do to prepare them for interacting with other children in a healthy manner.

Try introducing your child to other children her age. If she already has friends of her own, invite them over for playdates. When conflicts arise, teach her healthy methods of negotiating such situations and how to avoid unfriendly behaviors.

Playing board and card games can also teach your child a great deal. By playing structured games, your child can learn to take turns, follow instructions, how to be a good sport, how to avoid being upset when losing, and how to avoid gloating when winning.

Also, as your child prepares for school, it’s important that she know how to handle separation from her primary caregivers. Give her some practice by letting her play at a friend’s house, leaving her with a babysitter for date night, or by leaving her to play at a friend’s or relative’s birthday party (where appropriate).

Lastly, remember that you are the child’s primary example for how to interact with other people. Set a good example of the kinds of behavior you want to see, and your child will likely follow suit.

Building Cognitive Skills

Not everyone is aware of this, but IQs are not set in stone. Though your child can work on increasing cognitive prowess at any age, early childhood is especially influential to developing a high IQ. This makes prekindergarten a great time to stimulate higher brain functions in your child, and it can be done with some surprisingly simple activities. Here are a few:

Play sorting games with your child; give him instructions to sort by similarities such as size, shape, color, etc. Putting silverware away is a good example, as is sorting out the toy box. You can also hold a scavenger hunt for your child, though if leaving clues for specific items seems to advanced, give him instructions to collect things of specific sizes, shapes, or colors.

For something a little more advanced, try playing variations of I spy by interacting with your child’s various senses:

  • Audio version—have him listen for and identify specific sounds.
  • Tactile version—have him close his eyes and try to guess an item that you put in his hand.
  • Taste version—use something that comes in multiple flavors (drinks, candy, popsicles, etc.) and have him taste test it, asking him to identify which flavor is which.
  • Olfactory version—use scented candles or other products that come in a variety of scents, and have him guess what the smell is.

Stimulating your child’s senses, and his ability to think and process ideas or instructions, will help him prepare for the kind of learning and thinking he will be doing in school.

Building Creative Skills

Even Michelangelo and Shakespeare started somewhere. Whatever your child’s level of proficiency or creativity, encouraging her to engage her creative side will be both fun and beneficial. Here are some ideas:

  • Finger paint with your child.
  • Encourage pretend play, and participate in her imaginary world whenever you can.
  • Role-play with your child; that is, give her a part to play (doctor, tiger, superhero, monster), and let her imagine how that person or creature would act.
  • Use paint, crayons, pencils, or markers to create masterpieces fit for the Museum of Modern Art (or at least the refrigerator).
  • Using an image as a guide, “compete” with your child to see who can recreate it best.

Lastly, you can try playing “fiddlestick stories” with your child. Do this by helping him invent a story and then taking turns to decide what happens. This is often broken down along sentence-by-sentence lines, alternating the storyteller with each sentence. This can even be a fun family activity, involving as many members as are willing to participate.

Learning does happen on its own, but a lot can be done to accelerate it and foster it, especially in the home. The better educated a child is on how to learn and understand things, the more self-sufficient he or she will be when doing schoolwork. So use some of these activities to prepare your young student-to-be, and instill a lifelong love of learning.

For more information on what you can teach your child, to discover what you can expect her to learn in school, or to see sample curricula, for online public school, visit Connections Academy’s website today. To learn about online private school, visit Pearson Online Academy 's website.

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