It's a lot of pressure sending your own kid to kindergarten.  Pressure that comes from a public school system that makes kindergarten harder every year.  As a first grade teacher for 10 years, I watched first grade look more like second grade by my 10th year in the classroom.   And 25 years before that first grade was essentially kindergarten and kindergarten didn't exist in many schools.

Yet today, there is pressure on moms to put our children in the best preschools where academic learning is a priority.  Although my son is 16 short months from starting kindergarten, we made the decision to keep him out of preschool.  Our decision wasn't made lightly, but based on a number of decisions that I'll save for another time....except to say this: I started homeschooling Cooper when he was 3 to help him, "get ready for kindergarten."  And while he loved every minute of it and soaked up the learning, I soon stopped giving him structured "school time" because I felt like I was taking away his childhood because of my academic expectations for him as a teacher mom.  I still find ways to work academics into our daily conversations, but it's no longer my focus.

As a primary teacher, there are so many skills I see lacking in kids even in first grade...even if they were the highest performing students academically.  Maybe we've raised "smarter" 5 year olds over the last decade, but holistically speaking we are failing our preschool children.

Here's how I'm preparing my preschooler for kindergarten (and life!) while still letting him be little!

1. Free Playtime

The single most important thing we can do for our preschoolers to get them ready for kindergarten is to let them play.  Play and learning are not enemies.  They are friends.  They can and should be done together.  Especially for preschoolers.  When a child "free plays" he is inventing, creating, engineering, problem solving, learning to cooperate with peers or learning to work independently.  Research is clear on play: it is a necessary part of early childhood learning.  Children who engage in play have better social skills, language skills, empathy, and self-control.  They are less aggressive and have higher order thinking skills.

Whoah. Did you hear all of those skills in there?  No, not many of them will show up on those performance tests in 3rd grade that many are so worried about preparing our preschoolers for, but those are some serious life skills.  And some serious skills that will indirectly affect those test scores in a significant way.

So, play with your preschooler.  Play with her.  Let him play alone.  Schedule play dates with friends. And don't feel guilty about it.  Not one little bit. #steppingoffsoapbox

2. Doing the Dishes

This may seem silly, but yes it's important.  You would be shocked at the number of first graders that know nothing about what to do with their cafeteria food at lunch.  I could always pick out the kindergarteners across the cafeteria during the first week of school that were responsible for putting up dishes at home.  Yes, eating in the cafeteria is different than eating at home, but there are enough similarities.  I can not tell you how many forks and spoons get thrown away in school cafeterias on a daily basis!  Preschoolers are old enough to learn what is trash, what is liquid and needs to be poured down the sink, and where silverware needs to go.  And it will do them good to have something they can feel proud they know how to do on their own!

So, do your child a favor and make them take their dishes at home and when you go out to eat!

3. Cleaning Up

In a classroom of 20 kindergartners, every little mess is magnified times 20.  And if your child's kindergarten teacher is like me, messy just isn't going to cut it.  Not only does it drive me crazy, but it's hard to efficiently work and learn in a messy space.

So, resist the urge to clean up after your preschooler.  Before they move on to another task, make them clean up the mess.  If they spill something on the floor, make them get a rag and wipe it up.

My first year teaching I had a first grader that spilled her water bottle on the carpet.  She interrupted my teaching another group of students to tell me she had spilled her water.... "Well, what are you going to do about that?" was my reply then and every time after that.  I always had at least one student who was helpless when a mess was made around them.  So, every time my own preschooler makes a mess, we reply, "What are you going to do about that?"  Not only does it put the responsibility on him for his own messes, but it makes him problem solve.  And both of those are skills he needs!

4. Using a Mouse

A computer mouse.  You know, the thing that is used with real computers, but not laptops?  Or iPads, or iPhones or anything else we have around our house?

If your house is like ours, it's full of plenty of screens, but none of them include a mouse.  Yet when our kiddos go to kindergarten they will be in a computer lab at least once a week and need to know how to use a mouse.  Even 10 years later, I still laugh every time I watch kindergartners tap on computer screens hoping it's a touchscreen.  #itnevergetsold

Learning how to use a mouse isn't difficult, but it is a skill that can be time consuming to teach 20 kindergartners at the same time.  Let your preschooler experiment for a few minutes with a "real" mouse and a laptop mouse (many schools have chromebook carts for kids to use laptops in their classroom as well!)  It won't take much of your time and my own kiddo giggles like crazy when he gets to try out Mommy's mouse!

5. Finding Letters on a Keyboard

This one may not be as big of a deal as the mouse...depending on how your child's school handles kindergarten logins.  The schools I taught in required kindergartners to log in to their computer by typing in their name and a number the school assigned them.  It wasn't difficult, but it was time consuming.  There is no way you will be able to find out your child's login before hand, but you can help out by letting your kid practice typing on a computer.

Another great way to practice this would be to write out your child's name or a word and let her type it into the computer.  She doesn't have to know letter names to do this and it's fantastic hand-eye coordination which is an early writing skill!

6. Following Multi-Step Directions

Multi-step directions are a super important language skill.  A typical preschooler should be able to follow 2 or 3 directions given at the same time.  But it is a skill that takes practice.  If I only ever give my preschooler one direction at a time, then he will not develop the skill to follow multi-step directions.

So, give him the opportunity to develop this skill.  This is something that doesn't take any extra time for you and it's an invaluable skill.  Instead of saying, "Go brush your teeth," before bed time, I tell my preschooler, "Go brush your teeth, go to the bathroom, and put on your pajamas."  This requires him to remember all 3 steps and concentrate to follow through with them.

If your child is not able to follow multi-step directions, then start with two directions.  And when you give the directions, get eye level with her and say them slowly a few times and keep it simple:

"Brush your teeth.  Then, use the bathroom.  (wait a few seconds) Brush your teeth. Then, use the bathroom.  (wait a few seconds)   Teeth.  Bathroom.  What do I want you to do?"

Make her repeat the two steps back to you and then send her off.  Giving her wait time will help her process each step and keeping it simple will help her stay focused and not get distracted by extra words.

7. Using Scissors

If your kindergarten experience is like it is here in Arkansas, there will be lots of opportunities for arts and crafts.  And cutting.  Your preschooler doesn't need to perfect cutting before kindergarten by any means, but it will help him to know how to hold scissors and how to hold the paper and cut at the same time.   My little guy LOVES cutting.  He actually begs to cut "big boy lines" at least once a week.  I don't force it on him at all, but I'm happy to oblige when he asks! :)

This is all we do to practice.  It's simple.  It's easy.  And results in tons of giggles every single time.

I get construction paper and draw 4 lines in a thick marker (I use an expo marker).  I always draw 4 different types of lines: straight, curved, zigzag and a loop or circle.

Then, I let him go to town!  The thick lines make it easy for him to see how well he followed the lines.

And I try to encourage him to cut the line in one piece instead of lots of little pieces (which turns into a messy nightmare in kindergarten! ha!)

8. Holding a Crayon or Pencil

Again, this isn't something to master, but most preschoolers can begin to hold crayons and pencils correctly.  It's not necessary that you make your preschooler write with a pencil or even hold one.  But whatever she is holding (crayon, marker, pencil, pen, paintbrush) should be held with a "pinch grip" as I call it.

Too many littles start kindergarten holding a crayon or pencil with a "fist grip."  It's not good for handwriting and it's a hard habit to break once it's formed.  Do your preschooler a favor and break that habit as soon as you see them holding a crayon with the "fist grip."

9. Speaking in Complete Sentences

What's so important about complete sentences?  A lot!! This is a skill we STILL work on in first grade.  Kids who speak in complete sentences are better writers.  Hands down.  In primary grades, we teach kids to write by telling them, "If I can say it, I can write it."  So, if you speak in fragments, you will write in fragments.  If you speak in complete sentences, you will write in complete sentences.

Here's what it looks like:  Let's say we are learning about writing our opinions and I ask kids to write what their favorite food is and give me a reason why they like that food.

A kid who isn't in the habit of speaking in complete sentences will write:
"Pizza because it's cheesy."

A kid who is in the habit of speaking in complete sentences will write:
"I love pizza because it's cheesy."

It is possible to teach the first kiddo to write in complete sentences, but it sure does take a lot of extra practice for him!  Modeling complete sentences and making your preschooler use complete sentence is a way to help her be a better writer without ever having her pick up a pencil!  I have a silly sentences packet in my store that is perfect for practice this in a silly and engaging way.  Even though I used it as a writing activity with my first graders, I just use it orally with my preschooler when we play it together.

10. Read, Read, Read

This may be the closest thing on this list to academics, but it's so important.  I'm not asking you to teach your child to read.  That is not necessary.  I'm begging you to spend at least 20 minutes a day reading to your child.  Don't play a book on tape for him (although there's nothing wrong with that).  Don't replace story time with a video story.  Instead, open up a real book and put it in between you and your child and read out loud to him.

Talk about the story.  Point out interesting things you see in the pictures.  Ask what her favorite part of the story was.  Tell him what the story reminds you of.  Read fantasies.  Read mysteries.  Read non-fiction books with photographs.  Read stories that teach lessons.  Read stories that make you both laugh.  Whatever you do...just read.  Research tells us that reading aloud increases a child's vocabulary, concepts of print, comprehension and interest in reading.  All of these things are crucial to helping our children be successful readers in school!

So, don't stress out about preparing your child for kindergarten.  He will be okay.  She will make it and will learn at the developmentally appropriate time for her.  Take a deep breath and know that your child is worth more than a future test score.  Invest in your whole child.  Read, play, talk and repeat and you will have a successful kindergarten year!
Moving to first grade next year from an upper grade?  Coming back to teaching first grade after a few years at home or in another grade? First time teacher getting a job in first grade?  It can be a daunting task moving to a new grade level and setting up a classroom!

I remember my first year as a teacher moving into my new first grade classroom.  My parents had helped me move the stuff I had collected during college.  We piled it in my brand new classroom and it all fit in like a 5 by 5 square.  No lie.  My sweet, sweet principal came down to check on me and said, "Where's all of your stuff?"  I'm a minimalist by default, but I knew I had to get to shopping to fill up my classroom and be ready for day one.

So, after 10 years of experience in first grade, here is my list of things you just can't live without in your first grade classroom from a minimalist's perspective!

1. Easel

Easels are a MUST for any primary classroom.  They are great for an up close dry erase board on the carpet, a place to hang and write on current anchor charts, and perfect for holding big books during shared reading.

Even in this day of tons of technology, don't sacrifice the easel!

This is the easel that I got my first year teaching.

Now these were the days before interactive whiteboards (think teaching with overhead projectors and vis-a-vis markers...remember those??) so this easel was fabulous!  It has a ton of storage, a perfect holding place for charts and big books.

The down side?  It's huge.  It has a large footprint.  And even though it does work well for big books, the books sit lower on that than on a taller easel so the words can be difficult for everyone to read in the back.  If you are worried about these issues, try this easel that I have also taught with.

This one is great, but lacks the storage!  Whatever your priorities are, an easel is a must!

P.S. I know a lot of first grade teacher friends that have these short easels for small group/guided reading.

I had one and never used it.  Just didn't work for me because it took up space on my table or back counter. #minimalistprobs #iloveclearcounters

2. Rug

Ya'll!  Forget shopping for any old rug.  It won't cut it.  Trust me.  In my first 4 years of teaching I went through 4 rugs.  That's a rug every single year if your math is bad! :) Some were too small and a few didn't match my theme well enough, but all of them unraveled at the corners and were basically threads by the end of the year.  And I'm a carpet Nazi, ya'll.  Like, don't you even think about messing with my carpet, kids!  But it just happens.  They are 6 and the basic rugs just don't hold up.  Finally, 7 years into teaching (and 6 carpet rugs later) I bit the bullet and bought this carpet rug.  Yes, it's expensive.  No, it didn't match my western themed classroom.  But it was the best investment.  Hands down.  No messed up corners and roomy enough for all 25 of my firsties.  Plus, everyone had their own square already made on the carpet so I didn't have to tape off squares anymore! #winning

This rug lasted me 3 years and counting (I left the classroom temporarily to stay home with my baby after 3 years).

So, trust me.  Do yourself a favor and fork out the money for this rug.  You won't regret it.

3. Word Wall

So this isn't necessarily a purchase you need to make...just a space you need to reserve.  A word wall is a must and it's going to take up space.  I intentionally planned my word wall to be easily seen from all areas of the classroom and went out of my way to make sure it was right in front of my writing station in my classroom!  If you need some word wall alphabet cards and word cards, you can find tons of themed options here.

4. Big Book Organizer

You've moved down to the primary grade know the land where everything is BIGGER!  Including books!  You're gonna need to find a way to organize your big books and poem charts if you still have those.  (I had poem posters when I first started teaching until our interactive white boards came along and I went completely digital with my poems!)

I was lucky enough to have my sweet daddy offer to make me this big book box organizer that I painted.

But there are other options you can find out there too!

5. Math Manipulatives

Yes, math manipulatives are important.  I'm a math junkie so I should know.  Math is one of my favorite things to teach.  I was blessed my first year because I opened a new school and our principal gave us a budget for purchasing math tools for our classrooms.  Our team got a LOT of stuff!

But what I learned over the next 10 years is that just a few, high quality math manipulatives are much better than having a ton of bug counters, dominoes and tangrams.

Here are my go to math tools that I use every single day in my classroom when we do CGI problem solving (read about my CGI math routines here).  I've divided them into tubs for each table group to make it easy for kids to get to quickly.  They are stored on their group shelves.

unifix cubes: I use these for 2 digit addition and subtraction in place of base 10 blocks...which I threw in the trash years ago.  You can read about that here. Also, I prefer these to pop cubes which were bought for me in my classroom.  Pop cubes allow you to make 3D objects...which might be good for a shapes project, but is super distracting during problem solving! :) (Allow about 50 per kid... really each kid needs at least 100, but during problem solving not all of my kids use tools so I have about 200-250 for a group of 4 kids and that works just fine.)
two sided counters: great for composing/decomposing numbers, using with ten frames and simple addition and subtraction to 20. (Allow about 25 per don't use these for double digit problem solving, so even 25 per kid is very generous)
counting bears: These are good for the same reasons as the 2-sided counters, but they have more colors so it's an easy way to show intervention groups 3 addends or decomposing into 3 parts. (Allow 10-15 per kid and you will be just fine.  These are only used by my lowest babies it seems like each year.)
rekenreks: These are fantastic for math talks and making 10's to add and subtract. This set has 30 student rekenreks and one teacher.  It's perfect for sharing with a partner teacher.  (Having one available for each table would be sufficient for problem solving.  If you want to use them for math talks, it's nice for every kid to have one, but not necessary...I had 1 for carpet partners to share and it worked just fine!)

And here are a few others I use outside of problem solving:
pattern blocks: for geometry skills (Allow 200 per table group to share--about 4 kids)
colored squares: for measurement (Allow 200 per table group to share--about 4 kids)
Judy clocks: for time (one for each kid is ideal, but 1 for partners to share would work just fine too!)

6. Classroom Library

Every teacher loves books.  Finding books that are perfect for emerging and beginning readers can be a challenge though.  I've found that organizing books by topic is the easiest for my young readers.  You can find my classroom library tub labels here.

And here are just a few of my favorite easy reader series that I keep in my classroom library:

Scholastic non-fiction readers
I Can Read books

7. Browsing Boxes

Browsing boxes is the term I use for our book boxes.

Each kid has one and they store their library books they check out each week as well as abc and blends charts and readers they get from guided reading.  My firsties use these to read from if they finish early or during buddy reading or read to self during literacy stations.

My browsing boxes are ice buckets that I got from Wal-Mart for a little over a dollar each 10 years ago.  You can also find them here.

8. Calm Down Corner

After 10 years of teaching first graders and having lots of friends with special needs or emotional issues, a calm down corner became a must in my classroom.  This is a tiny area (yes, tiny is better) where any kid can go when he/she feels overwhelmed.  You can read more about it here.

This is my list of must haves in our calm down corner:

>>something soft like a stuffy to cuddle.  This is the one we had and we named him "Telly the Turtle" and shared all of our worries with him! :)
>>a mirror for looking at ourselves to determine our emotion
>>a great book about emotions like Today I Feel...
>>a chair...mine was just a normal hard chair.  It may have been more inviting to have a small bean bag or something that could "hug" an upset kid, but I found that anything that could be torn apart would be when an irritated child needed the calm down corner.  So I stuck with my wooden chair. :)
>>stress balls or sensory balls for squeezing.
>>Instruction posters on what to do so the child stays focused on regulating his/her emotions and returning to the group
>>sand timers to make sure my kiddos don't overstay their welcome!

9. Flexible Seating Options

These days, flex seating is all the rage.  I left the classroom on a temporary mommy leave just before the craze hit my area!  But, I think flex seating has always been a part of who I am as a teacher.  Yes, I still had desks and chairs (although I definitely want to try more flex options when I return!), but I also had other options around the room.  Here are some simple ways I incorporated flex seating without having to go "all in."  If you're wanting to dabble in flex seats, these are a great starting place:

>>stools: I found some of these on clearance and repainted them for our writing station table.  These were a kid favorite for sure!

>>pillows: perfect for our classroom library!  I had both throw pillows and floor pillows to choose from.

>>ottomans: I had teammates that swore by these for guided reading groups!
>>old student desks: I used this for my student of the week and during group or partner work, my kids flocked to this desk to be the first ones to be able to use it!

>>the floor: it's the cheapest flex seating option ever and what 6 year old doesn't love to lay around on the floor and work!

10. A Touch of Home

From even my first year, it was important to me to include parts of our classroom that reminded my littles of home--and reminded me of home!  I added curtains to our windows,

lamps around the room,


touches of fabric,

and plants!

These plants were my favorite because it was a bit of the outside in our classroom which I loved!  Also, each group had the responsibility of keeping up with their plants which was fabulous!

11. Lots of LOVE

Above all else, you need lots of love in your first grade classroom!  There is a reason the Bible tells us "The greatest of these is LOVE."  It's your greatest asset.  It's the one thing you can't go out and buy.  And it's the single most important thing your firsties will feel and learn from in your classroom!

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