What An Experienced Teacher Told Me About Preparing My Preschooler For Kindergarten

by Rachel Garlinghouse
Originally Published: 
Rachel Garlinghouse/Instagram

My youngest child misses the kindergarten birthday cutoff by three weeks. Despite her desperation to attend big-kid school, she’s got another year of pre-k. I decided that this year, because of all the (necessary) COVID precautions plus my work-at-home schedule, it was best to homeschool her this year. Not only would homeschooling save us money, time, and energy, but we would reap the benefits of one-on-one time.

This isn’t my first stint with homeschooling. Three out of my four kids have been homeschooled at some point thus far in their educations. Each of my children is so different, and we did what we needed to each semester for each kid. Homeschooling has many perks, and I’m excited to continue embarking on this year’s homeschooling adventure with my newly-five-year-old. I decided to check in with a kindergarten teacher, just to make sure I was on the right path to meet my daughter’s pre-kindergarten skill needs.

One night, I sent the teacher a lengthy message explaining our situation. Despite my confidence in choosing to homeschool my daughter, I believe I was searching for a hint of approval. After all, preschool is so engrained in our society as the norm. I knew my child would totally be fine with homeschooling, including the big S: socialization. She’s got three older siblings and tons of friends. I don’t worry at all about her ability to mature and have appropriate social skills.

In my message, I mapped out everything I planned to work with my daughter on this year. I remembered from my older kids that fine motor skills can be very important in kindergarten. Thus, we’ve been working on cutting, gluing, letter and number writing, and tracing shapes and lines. She’s also been doing age-appropriate jigsaw puzzles.

I know from past experience that gross motor skills may actually hold the key to helping our kids with their fine motor skills, so we’ve also, as usual, been doing a lot of outside and gross-motor play. Climbing, for example, can help a child’s hands strengthen and prepare them for fine motor activities.

We’ve also been going over days of the week, months of the year, seasons, the alphabet, and counting to twenty. (I secretly love when kids make up numbers, like “leventeen.”) Some days we play games together, or we do activities like paint. If you’re thinking homeschooling a preschooler sounds kind of fun, it is. It’s playing with a purpose.

After I hit send on my message, it didn’t take long for the teacher to respond. (Aren’t teachers freaking amazing that way? They always have kids’ backs—even kids who aren’t their students.) Her words stunned me. She told me, “Just enjoy her. I’ll teach her what she needs to know when she gets here.”

Just enjoy her? I admit, I wanted a little more than that. Maybe a workbook suggestion or a short list of skills that my daughter needs to have down-pat before next fall. Instead, because teachers are so wise, she told me what I needed to hear.

I needed this reminder. We live in a time when parents want every single thing their kids do to have “educational value.” We don’t want our kids to “fall behind”— especially not after the pandemic greatly disrupted our school flow. When they are behind, we desperately want to catch them up as quickly as possible. We over-focus on grades, awards, behavioral charts, and attendance records.

It’s a dangerous path to put these things about our kids’ mental health, for example. We also need to let kids be kids. Unless they have a legitimate need for honing in on certain skills, especially kids with special needs who require therapies and special programs to continue progressing, we really need to lay off. Take our chill pills.

We don’t need to put our kids in gobs of adult-directed activities, either. Yes, ballet class, the basketball team, STEM club, and others can be fun and teach our kids important skills. However, why must our kids always, always be learning, excelling, and making sure they don’t fall behind their peers?

As far as kindergarten, kindergarten is for preparation for first grade. If I’m furiously teaching my child to do all-the-things now, will kindergarten bore her? Also, why am I taking time away from her last year before kindergarten? Kindergarten has a purpose, and perhaps I need to let it be.

I’ve wasn’t an academic-driven parent when my kids were babies. I didn’t hold up sight word flash cards and obsess over teaching them their animal sounds, colors, and shapes. In fact, these things make me roll my eyes. Every parent think their kid is so smart, but in reality, kindergarten mostly levels the playing field for typically developing kids. Maybe I’ve lost my way a little bit, mostly because I have this slight inner panic that my youngest, my baby, is nearing the time in her life when she’s going to school.

I enjoy teaching my child through play—and I certainly won’t be stopping that any time soon. However, the teacher I spoke with gave me a permission slip to take my energy regarding homeschooling down a notch. It’s perfectly okay if my youngest doesn’t have a “well rounded” home education. If all we do that day is jump rope and have a snack together, that’s good enough. Some days are more educationally productive than others, whatever that means, and that’s fine.

I am so thankful for these days with my youngest. I’m also grateful for the teacher who reminded me of what matters most — or should I say who matters most?

This article was originally published on