Getting Ready for Kindergarten

By: Dr. Emily Levy
Originally published in Parent Guide Magazine

Reading basic words. Forming letters and numbers. Solving math problems. These are all skills that are important parts of Kindergarten success. As students progress towards Kindergarten, they begin to develop the fundamentals of learning that will help them excel as they move through school. There are several strategies you can do at home to help your child establish these academic foundations and ease his or her transition into Kindergarten. The exercises outlined below are fun, engaging, and, of course, educational. So grab some note cards, markers, colored sand, and a cookie sheet – and let’s get to work!

The ability to decode, or sound out, words is one of the most important skills for school success, and one that is often emphasized in Kindergarten classrooms. Yet before students can decode words, they need to develop an understanding of sound/symbol relationships – in other words, the names of the letters and their corresponding sounds. By learning these letters and sounds students can ultimately blend the sounds together to read words. So how can you reinforce this skill at home? Try following the tips below, and remember to keep the activities fun and engaging for your child!

Audio-Visual Cards
Start by teaching your child groups of five letters at a time: four consonants and one short vowel. Begin with some of the easier letters/sounds to master: for example, p, f, s, t, and the short vowel a. For every letter that you introduce, create a colorful note card with the letter on the front and a key picture that begins with that letter on the back. For example, for the letter p, you would write the letter p on the front of the card with a black marker, and you might use “pizza” as your key picture. Thus, you would draw (or cut out from a magazine) a colorful picture of a pizza on the back of the card. Feel free to add mushrooms, pepperoni – the works! (see the example below). Create similar note cards for all letters in this group. You might use “fish” for f, “sun” for s, “top” for t, and “apple” for a.


Card Drill
Now it’s time to put those cards into action! Hold the letter side of the first card up to your child (in this case, p), and using as close to the following language as possible, say, “This is the letter p, like pizza (flip card around), it makes the sound /p/ (flip card back around).” Then have your child repeat that sequence to you. Finally, the goal is for him or her to repeat that sequence back to you three times as you reverse the card for the picture name and turn it back around for the sound.
For example:
Parents says: This is the letter p, like pizza, it makes the sound /p/.
Parent and child say together: This is the letter p, like pizza, it makes the sound /p/.
Child says alone 3x: This is the letter p, like pizza, it makes the sound /p/.

Sky writing
Once you have completed the audio-visual card drill, you are ready to work on forming lower case letters with sky writing. You should model the formation of the letter first (we’re still on p), by holding your hand in the air, and, using your pointer and middle fingers, say out loud as you draw, “When we write the letter p, we go down, up, and around.” Make sure you draw a big letter in the air as your child watches. Next, your child should repeat the same motion in the air with you. He or she can even stand up while drawing to engage gross motor muscles. Finally, the goal is for him or her to draw the letter in the air three times, without your help or modeling.
For example:
Parent says, while drawing in the air: When we write the letter p, we go down, up, and around.
Parent and child say together, while drawing in the air: When we write the letter p, we go down, up, and around.
Child says alone 3x, while drawing in the air: When we write the letter p, we go down, up, and around.

Sand writing
Here’s where the fun part comes in – sand writing! Many kids love this part of the exercise. Pick up some colored sand from an art supplies store and pour it onto a cookie sheet or large plastic plate. You can even use kitchen salt or sand from the beach. Using your pointer and middle fingers again, model the formation of the letter – in this case p – in the sand, as your child watches. As you trace, you say out loud (for the letter p), “down, up, and around.” Then shake the sand and have your child trace the formation with you in the sand. Again, the goal is for him or her to trace the letter independently three times. You can try this exercise with flour while you are cooking, sand while at the beach, or dirt in the park. Have fun with it!

Paper writing
Using a sheet of Kindergarten lined paper, draw dotted lines for each letter and have your child trace each letter ten times. Then have him or her try to write it alone ten times, without tracing.

Putting it all together
Follow that same sequence of activities for every letter in the group you are working on. For example, do a card drill, sky writing, sand writing, and paper writing for the letters p, f, s, t, and a (or n, r, c, k, e, and so on). Then, once you have finished the exercises for that group of letters, put your cards back into a pile and it’s time for review! Hold each card up separately to your child and he or she should be able to tell you, without guidance, the name of the letter, picture, and sound (for example: p, pizza, /p/; f, fish, /f/, and so on). If you notice any difficulties, practice the steps above again.

You have now reached the most exciting part – reading! Once your child has a fluid knowledge of the letter names and sounds of at least one group (four consonants and one short vowel), you can work on teaching your child to blend those letters for form words – which, in essence, is reading. For example, place the a card in front of your child. Ask him or her to tell you the sound that a makes. Then put the t card next to the a card and ask your child what sound t makes. Since we know that a says /a/ and t says /t/, what happens when we blend those sounds together? We form the word “at!” Now try that exercise with different letters from that group. For example, hold out the a and p cards to form “ap” (the words can be real or nonsense). Eventually, add in a third letter – /p/ /a/ /t/ reads pat! You can also add in magnetic tiles, blocks with letters on them, and white boards to make this exercise even more fun.

Keep practicing these exercises and in no time your child can be reading! Remember to keep these exercises fun, engaging, and as multi-sensory as possible. The more you practice, the easier these exercises will be for your child, and the more excited he or she will be to start Kindergarten.

Dr. Emily Levy is the Founder and Director of EBL Coaching, which offers one-on-one tutoring and intensive summer programs. For more information, visit or call 212-249-0147.

Dear Dr. Levy, My son received an excellent report card. I can’t say enough good things about his EBL tutor. She has done a tremendous job helping him improve his reading and writing skills. Most importantly, she is wise and kind. She is always patient with him. Because of his tutor, my son writes with much more ease.
– Parent