What Do Kids Learn In Kindergarten? Its Not All About The ABCs & 123s

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Now that the first couple of weeks of school are over, moms everywhere are breathing a sigh of relief that the initial chaos is subsiding and the kids are settling back into the familiar routine of classes, friends, and "Oops, I left my homework folder in my desk." If you're a parent of a 5-year-old, you no doubt shed a tear or two at how big your child seems now as a kindergartner, as compared to their pre-K year. You may also be wondering exactly what your child is really learning in kindergarten. Just what goes on behind that big classroom door?

The original kindergarten schools were founded in Germany more than 150 years ago, back when schooling for very young children was uncommon. Smithsonian reported that kindergartens pioneered the concept of "whole-child education," offering songs, class meetings, and playthings designed to spark learning through play. Today, that model is what you're more likely to find in a pre-K classroom (take it from me, an NYC-based preschool teacher). The modern day kindergarten curriculum stresses academics more than dress-up games and block-building. Still, that doesn't mean that kids don't have fun learning — and they come away with skills that go beyond the ABC's.

Here's a look at what your kindergarten student can expect to learn during this exciting and important year.

Starting to Read

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By kindergarten, children should already have learned some basic literacy skills at home and/or in preschool, such as letter recognition and the understanding that groups of letters combine to form words. This year, students will learn a wide variety of sight words (words that commonly recur in books), according to Very Well Family. The kindergartners in my school's aftercare program bring in homework assignments that include writing the week's new sight words four or five times in a row.

Your child will also be working on upper- and lower-case letters, phonics, and letter blends like "op" and "at." Come spring, your child should be able to read simple books, and maybe even more advanced ones.

Writing Stories

No, your child won't be asked to compose five-page essays, but this is the year in which students begin honing their writing skills. After learning the beginning-middle-end format, kindergartners create simple stories of their own, just a few sentences long. (I still have my children's first three-page illustrated opuses.) So-called "invented spelling" is common at this age, so don't worry if your child writes "i ga pk" instead of "I go to the park." In fact, a recent study showed that kids who use invented spelling in kindergarten may go on to become better readers and writers in first grade.

Gaining Number Skills

Most kids entering kindergarten can count up to 10 or 20, and understand that each numeral represents a specific quantity. During the school year, the class will continue to solidify these counting skills, and then build on that knowledge by learning math facts such as how to "make 10" using different combinations of numbers, said Education.com. The National Association for the Education of Young Children added that kindergarten classes emphasize real-world uses of math, such as finding patterns on clothing or measuring objects in the classroom.

Understanding Time

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Math is more than counting and shapes, and in kindergarten, children learn a wide variety of mathematical concepts, including the basics of time, said Education.com. They may not be able to read a clock at this age, but they can understand the difference between morning, afternoon, and night. When I work with kindergartners on homework, they often have assignments that ask them to sequence a fictional schedule according to the time of day (Jordan has breakfast; Jordan plays ball with friends; Jordan puts on his pajamas).

Testing Scientific Theories

Children are natural-born scientists, ready to explore, test, and wonder about the world. Their curiosity is nurtured in science class, where kindergartners learn about weather, plants, animals, and other topics, PBS Parents reported. Hands-on discovery is emphasized, so this year, your child might observe caterpillars changing into butterflies, plant seeds and measure their growth, or predict which objects will sink or float in water.

Working Independently

As Education Corner explained, kindergarten classes are large, and teachers can't give a lot of individual attention to every student every day. Kindergarten students are expected to work on their own or in small groups, and parents are encouraged to take a hands-off approach to homework unless their children are struggling.

Becoming Art Critics

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Kindergarten isn't all worksheets and memorization; there's room for creativity as well. A typical year in the life of a kindergarten art class might include not only drawing, painting, and clay sculpting, but also printmaking and papier-mache. An art curriculum for kindergarten includes a wide range of skills that even includes analyzing famous works of art. For instance, a teacher might show the class a famous painting by Van Gogh or Picasso and ask how the work makes them feel. Or the children might look at two paintings featuring animals and discuss the similarities and differences between them.

Waiting And Listening

By kindergarten, children are starting to develop the maturity to sit still in class for longer periods of time, as well as to follow directions, according to Scholastic. Kindergarten teachers spend lots of time during the first couple of weeks establishing the class rules and practicing the prompts they use to get attention ("One, two, three, eyes on me!"). It may not be easy at first, but as the year progresses, the children should develop the self-control needed to be productive members of the class.

Being A Good Friend

The social and emotional goals for kindergartners include recognizing and acknowledging others' feelings, resolving conflicts fairly, and understanding why hitting someone or destroying their property is inappropriate. All these skills may not seem important from an educational standpoint, but in fact, research indicates that kindergarten children with the best social skills are more likely to finish college, have a full-time job, and avoid substance abuse and criminal behavior by age 25, according to analysts at Duke University and Penn State.

By the time kindergarten is over for the year, you'll barely know your own child. The shy, nervous student who clung to your leg on the first day may blossom into a confident first-grader who's reading and counting like a pro. (Time to get out the tissues again.)