The Hechinger Report is a national nonprofit newsroom that reports on one topic: education. Sign up for our weekly newsletters to get stories like this delivered directly to your inbox.

Get important education news and analysis delivered straight to your inbox

Choose from our newsletters

A kindergartener in Lyon, Miss. Credit: Jackie Mader/The Hechinger Report

I teach kindergartners at East Mississippi’s Southeast Elementary, about 40 miles from the Alabama line.

At our preK-12 Title 1 school, 78 percent of our students are on free or reduced-price lunch.

After 21 years as a kindergarten teacher, I believe the most important thing children need in order to be ready for kindergarten is for their parents or other caregivers to take the time to give their children a firm foundation of language and math skills while their children are small.

Related: Mississippi tops rankings as ‘highest priority state’ in rural education

Research tells us that the brain is developing quickly between birth and five years of age, making connections that will impact future learning.

Parents who are actively involved with their children on a daily basis enhance the child’s ability to navigate our world. If they talk to their children and read to them, their children will have a firm foundation entering kindergarten.

If parents have to work, which most parents do nowadays, they need to make sure that their children are in daycare centers, Head Start centers or family homes where there is a caregiver who talks to them, reads to them, plays games with them and engages in other activities.

Related: Mississippi Learning: Five programs you should know about in Mississippi’s ESSA plan

My colleagues and I have created a simple list of skills we send home with parents at kindergarten registration and pass out to local daycare centers and Head Start programs. Here are the skills we see most beneficial for children entering kindergarten to have mastered:

“To the show our commitment to reading we give away a book at the beginning of school, a book at Christmas and a book at the scavenger hunt nights.”

In language arts, children should be able to recognize and write their names, with an uppercase letter at the beginning and the rest lowercase, and to pick their names out of a list of names.

They should be able to recognize and name at least 10 lowercase letters (which we focus on because they are harder to learn than uppercase* letters). They should be able to say the color of an object when shown the eight basic colors – red, blue, yellow, green, orange, purple, black and brown.

Children should be able to speak in complete sentences. They should be able to identify when words sound the same.

Children should be able to take turns, share, listen and be able to play together at centers with other 5-year-old children and know it is OK that they do not always get their way. They should to be able to sit and listen to a story.

Essential math concepts include being able to recite number 1 to 30 in correct order; recognize, name and write the numerals 0 to 10; be able to say the name of the number when shown a numeral and write the number correctly (not backwards).

The children should be able to count a set of objects and tell the number of objects in the set. They should be able to correctly name and identify four basic shapes – the circle, square, triangle and rectangle.

My team and I are constantly trying to find new ways to involve our students’ parents. We stay in contact with them through a Remind app on our phones, with notes that we send home and with monthly calendars.

We have held workshops so parents can come and see how we teach a certain skill, so they can help their child at home.

Our school has also created a parental involvement committee that meets to set up family fun nights that focus on literacy and math. For the past two years, we have done scavenger hunts at night. Parents and children are given clues about a story and instructed to follow the clues to different locations.

Once they find the location, students are asked a literacy question before they can earn a sticker for that clue. When they have collected all their stickers they turn their sheet in to receive a prize.

It is a fun way to get kids excited about reading and to inform parents of the many benefits of reading to and with their children every night. To show our commitment to reading we give away a book at the beginning of school, a book at Christmas and a book at the scavenger hunt nights.

Children see the importance of things we, as parents, put as priorities in our lives. That’s why education should be a top priority for every home.

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education.

Sonja Murray is a kindergarten teacher in East Mississippi. A teacher for 21 years, she is a National Board Certified teacher with a master’s degree from Mississippi State University.

*Correction: The story has been updated to reflect that uppercase letters are easier for young children to learn than lowercase letters.

The Hechinger Report provides in-depth, fact-based, unbiased reporting on education that is free to all readers. But that doesn't mean it's free to produce. Our work keeps educators and the public informed about pressing issues at schools and on campuses throughout the country. We tell the whole story, even when the details are inconvenient. Help us keep doing that.

Join us today.

Letters to the Editor

At The Hechinger Report, we publish thoughtful letters from readers that contribute to the ongoing discussion about the education topics we cover. Please read our guidelines for more information. We will not consider letters that do not contain a full name and valid email address. You may submit news tips or ideas here without a full name, but not letters.

By submitting your name, you grant us permission to publish it with your letter. We will never publish your email address. You must fill out all fields to submit a letter.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *