Although I mainly designed this site for my students' parents, I hope anyone with a toddler, preschooler, or kindergartener can find some useful ideas here.

For specific info about our class, click here, and also read our Parents' Guide to Kindergarten

For general tips and information, use the links on the right to find what you're looking for.

Questions, comments, or suggestions? Email me at cubbymama@hotmail.com

Thanks for stopping by!

Testing and Report Cards

Trimester Testing
At the end of each trimester, we assess each student one-on-one on a variety of standards we have worked on during that trimester. Although this is a loooooong process, it allows us to give parents very specific feedback on how their child is doing when report cards come out!

Below are links to the handouts we send home each trimester, letting parents know what skills will be tested, and what is expected of students in order to earn an "S" grade.

First trimester
Second trimester
Third trimester

Report Cards
Our report cards come out before we track off at the end of October, February, and June. Kindergarten grades are slightly different from the other grade levels:

O= Outstanding (exceeds grade level standard)
S = Satisfactory (meets grade level standard)
NT = Needs Time (does not meet grade level standard but is making progress)
SC = Special Concern (far below standard and/or not making progress)

Parent-Teacher Conferences
There is only one set of scheduled parent-teacher conference during the year, which are held at the end of the first trimester (last week of October). Parents are always welcome to request formal or informal conferences at any other time if they have questions or concerns!

Here's an outline of what usually goes on during our kindergarten conferences:
  • Parents are given the 1st trimester report card; each category is explained and the student's grades are discussed
  • Student work samples and assessments are shared with parents
  • Parents and teachers list one or more goals for the remainder of the year
  • Parents ask questions and/or bring up areas of concern

Repeating kindergarten?

Parents are often concerned about the chances that their child will be "held back" if s/he is struggling in kindergarten. Here are some facts about retention and the way we handle the process at our school:

  • Retention is always ultimately the parents' decision. Your child cannot and will not be retained unless you agree in writing!
  • Birth dates are a huge factor in retention: if a child barely made the cutoff date to enter kindergarten and is struggling with academics and/or social maturity, giving them what we call "the gift of time" is often very helpful!
  • Kindergarten is the easiest time to retain a child, because they have no expectation of what happens at the end of a school year, anyway! There is no stigma among kindergarteners about "flunking" or being "held back" so its effect on a child's self-confidence is much less than in higher grade levels.
  • Repeating kindergarten is fairly common--we have about 1-3 students per class, per year, who come back for another year before moving on to first grade. In every case I have personally seen, the student thrived the following year...not because s/he "already knew the answers" or "had done everything once before," but because maturity and readiness to learn kicked in!
  • There are no surprises! If we have concerns that your child MAY be a potential candidate for retention, we will usually bring this up during the 1st trimester Parent-Teacher Conference. There are 3 separate written notices that must be given to parents throughout the year, alerting them that the child is at risk for retention and outlining the reasons. Parents may always refuse to retain their child if they feel it is not in his/her best interest.

Fine Motor Skills

For incoming kindergarteners who struggle with fine motor skills and/or have a hard time gripping a pencil correctly, here's a link to some fun ways to help strengthen those little finger muscles:

Ready for Kindergarten: Fine Motor Activities

We sometimes use activites like these as centers early in the year, and they can definitely help improve kids' handwriting!

Letter Sounds

Kids don't need to know all of the letter names before they can begin to learn their sounds--it's perfectly natural and often easy to learn them all together!

Some good resources
Starfall (click on ABC’s)
LeapFrog Letter Factory DVD
Alphabet Floor Mat (foam puzzle)
PBS shows: "Word World," "Super Why"

General Tips
1) When you talk about letter sounds, be sure not to add an “-uh” sound at the ends of the sounds. The letter “c” just says /c/, not /cuh/…otherwise, when sounding out a word, it comes out “cuh-at” instead of just “cat.”

2) Most letters make their own sound when you name them: in other words, you make the /t/ sound when you name the letter T. This makes these letters/sounds easier for kids to learn. (The exceptions are short vowel sounds, and the letters c, g, h, q, w, and y.) If your child already knows the alphabet, you might be surprised to ask, “What letter do you think t-t-t-tiger starts with?” and hear your child guess “T” right away!

Ideas for Teaching Letter Sounds

Use book titles as you read, or signs at stores.
--“There’s the Target sign. See? T-t-T for T-t-Target!”
--“This book is called [point to the words] F-f-f-Fancy Nancy. The F says f-f-f, so this word is F-f-f-Fancy.”

Again, just keep it casual—every word doesn’t need to be a drawn-out lesson. You’re just planting the idea that letters make sounds.

Have your child help you make a grocery list
Keep it to maybe 3 or 5-items that your child can carry in addition to the “real” list. “Let’s see, we need apples. A-a-apples…what letter should I start it with? A says /a/. A-P-P-L-E-S.” Draw an apple above the word as a picture clue. At the store, have your child consult the list: “What do we need now? Bread? Good, that’s right! That says b-b-b-bread. B for bread.”

Use the alphabet puzzle mat or write with sidewalk chalk outside.
Have your child grab or jump on a letter as you call out its sound.

Make a family directory.
Post photos of people in your family on the pantry door or the fridge, and have your child watch you write each person’s name on a label beneath their photo. “Who’s this? Right, Uncle Mike. M says mmmmmm so his name is spelled M-I-K-E.”

You don’t need a million, but a few is fun for teaching a handful of letter sounds. Every once in a while, ask, “Where’s the word MmmmMike?…That’s right! Mike starts with M. M for Mike! You’re reading!”

Later, you might remove the photos and mix the names around and see if your child can use the first letter sound to figure out which name is which.

Play “Guess My Word.”
You make the sounds: “/r/.../a/.../t/” (with a one-second pause between each sound) and your child puts them together to guess “rat!” This teaches them to blend sounds, which is exactly what they do when they first learn to read.

This game will be hard at first--don't be surprised if you make the sounds for "rat" and your child yells, "Refrigerator!" or even "Green!" It doesn't take long, though, for them to catch on!

Early Reading Skills

The best way to teach basic, pre-reading skills is while reading to your child.

Storytime Tips

Here's a video demonstration of how to sneak "teachy-learny" moments into storytime with your child, and make read-aloud time fun!

This is another video, with an even younger child:

Family Education's Raising Ready Readers page is full of ideas for parents.

Reading is Fundamental also has tons of lists and tips for parents.

Tracking print
Two of the most basic reading skills are knowing that

1) words are separated by spaces and can be used to build sentences, and

2) sentences are read from left to right.

You don’t have to teach this explicitly; when you read simple books with only a sentence on each page, just point your finger under each word as you say it aloud, reading at a normal pace. (This becomes very tedious and makes your reading sound silly if you try to do it with long stories, so don’t even try to do it all the time!)

**NOTE** Make sure your finger “jumps” from word to word rather than sliding across the page, so your child starts to learn that each word is separate, just like in speech.

Think-Alouds and Asking Questions
Teachers use “think-alouds” to teach kids what and how to think while they read. As you read aloud, just pause occasionally and voice your thoughts:

“Hey, David is throwing his food just like your little sister does sometimes!”

“Ooh, I can tell Fancy Nancy is really upset. Her face looks so sad.”

“I wonder where that lost puppy could be hiding?”

“This part reminds me of that time when…”

Occasionally, stop to ask a question like:

· How do you think [character] is feeling right now?

· What do you think is about to happen?

· What would YOU do if you were [character]?

Doing this constantly is annoying; doing it every once in a while can teach your child how to think critically, use his/her imagination, and better understand what s/he reads!

Toddlers and Preschoolers

I've seen kids start kindergarten already reading chapter books, and I've seen kids walk through the door knowing almost zilch, academics-wise: no letters, numbers, letter sounds, colors, or shapes. Both of these types of kids, and all the kids in between, can absolutely succeed in school.

The main factor--bigger than what they know coming in--is how they feel about learning. Confident, motivated kids who enjoy learning almost invariably fare better in the long run than kids who decide early on that school is boring, learning is hard, and reading is a punishment worse than broccoli.

So, sending a kid to school already knowing a few things, and feeling excited about learning more, can absolutely be a plus. The key is to keep it simple, casual, and fun. I like to call this "Instruction Incognito"--sneaking teachy-learny stuff into every day activities.

General Tip

When teaching your child to recognize something new (whether it be a letter, number, color, or shape), sneak it into your reading time together by following these steps:

1) Introduce it: Point to a picture. "See this color? That's called red. Here's a red truck...and this is a red hat. Hey, check out this red kite!" Continue reading, pointing out examples once in a while, keeping your tone fun and casual.

2) See if your child can point to it, given just 2 or 3 choices: "Can you find something red on this page?" If yes, high fives and smiles! If not, continue to point out some more examples occasionally as you read: "Oooh, and here's a red fish..."

3) Once your child can point to it, move to naming it: "I bet you know what color this cup is!"

4) When your child starts to master it, don't be surprised if s/he starts recognizing examples everywhere! "Hey, Mom, that car is red! And Dad's shirt is red!..."

CAUTION: Storytime is a great teaching opportunity that can go horribly wrong if you get too caught up in turning every page into a lesson! Remember, it's Instruction Incognito--just sneak it in here and there.

Ideas and Resources

Click here for a list on Amazon of books that teach colors.

Click here for a TON of ideas on teaching shapes (and other preschool concepts).

Click here for my list of Ideas on Teaching Letters.

Preparing for Kindergarten

What does a child need to know when they walk through the door on that first day?

Technically, nothing. A good kindergarten teacher is prepared to teach a child with no knowledge of letters, sounds, or numbers, as well as one who's already reading Hemingway and working on his first novel. Obviously, though, it's ideal for a child to have a basic set of knowledge and experience when they enter kindergarten, including:
  • how to correctly hold a pencil and a pair of scissors

  • recognizing some or all letters of the alphabet

  • counting to 10 (minimum)

  • recognizing basic shapes (circle, square, triangle, rectangle) and colors

  • how to sit quietly and listen to a story

  • how to use the bathroom without help

Another school district has an awesome chart of Daily Activities That Prepare Children for Kindergarten; you don't necessarily have to follow this to the letter, but it has some great ideas.

Also, check out this article on What Kindergarten Teachers Wish Parents Knew.

To help your child feel less nervous, check out this list of great stories about starting kindergarten!

Writing in Kindergarten

As in all other areas, kindergarteners start school with a range of writing abilities: some don't yet know how to hold a pencil correctly, while others are able to write their names (often all in capital letters), or even--rarely, in my experience--sentences. Our state standard is for students to leave kindergarten able to write one sentence correctly, but many leave writing paragraphs!

Here are a few tips on how you can support your child's development as a writer at home:

Beginning Letter Formation
  • Name First: Start by teaching your child to write his/her name, capitalizing only the first letter. It may help to write the letters in yellow marker or highlighter and have your child trace over them at first.
  • Mr. Bear: When teaching kids to write on lined paper, we have a clip art "Mr. Bear" on the left-hand side, with his hat next to the top line, his belt next to the middle (dotted) line, and his shoes at the bottom line. We teach letter formation by modeling how to "start at the hat and make a straight line down to the shoes" and so on.
  • Leap Frog's Scribble and Write is a fun computerized toy that teaches letter recognition and formation.
  • Basics: There are billions of handwriting worksheets on the internet, and workbooks in every bookstore; but try to keep writing fun by having your child practice making letters in shaving cream, with Play-Doh, using sidewalk chalk outside, with a wet sponge on concrete, etc.
Beginning Writing
  • This article from Scholastic gives a good basic description of what writing skills you can expect your child to learn in kindergarten.
  • Real-World Writing: At home, try to involve your child in everyday, authentic writing activities rather than sitting down for practice drills and workbooks. Have him/her help you make the grocery list: "Hmmm...we need milk. What letter do you think milk starts with? That's right! Can you make the m for me?" and so on. (Obviously, sounding out an entire grocery list is too huge a task for a 5-year-old, so keep it simple and upbeat and stop when s/he seems restless.)
  • Dory-Style! Practice having your child "stretch out" words to sound out their spelling. We tell kids to "say it like Dory" (from Finding Nemo, when she's talking like a whale) and write the letters they hear.
  • Kid Spelling: Beginning writers do not need to spell words correctly--if your 5-year-old can write "apl" for apple, s/he has great letter-sound knowledge for that age.
  • Copycat: We encourage students to use our word wall and their environment to copy words they need. This isn't cheating--it's being resourceful!
Kindergarten Writing Goals
By the end of the year, our standard is for kindergarteners to write (at minimum) one complete sentence, including
  • capital letter at the beginning
  • ending punctuation (period, exclamation point, question mark)
  • spaces between words
  • sounding out words
  • spelling basic sight words (the, and) correctly
  • legible letter formation
For example: "I see the big red apl."

Our Classroom: Info & Resources

Two Teachers??
Mrs. T. and I are jobsharing, which means that we divide the school year up evenly and each work half-time. Most weeks, I teach Mondays & Tuesdays, and she teaches Thursdays and Fridays; we alternate Wednesdays, and trade days as needed so that we rarely need to use substitute teachers.

Having two teachers means your child gets the benefit of two sets of experience, and two different personalities/teaching styles. Mrs. T. and I work hard to stay in close communication, and to keep our routines and expectations consistent so that students aren't confused. We think it works out wonderfully for everyone involved!

Daily Folders and Homework
Daily Folders are the lifeline between home and school, and we use them (of course) daily! Laminated inside your child's Daily Folder are all of the basic kindergarten standards we will be working on this year (coins, numbers, letters, shapes), which we encourage parents to review with students at home on a regular basis. Also, inside the back cover are instructions for logging in to your child's Raz-Kids account.

Students turn in their Daily Folders each morning on their way into class; we check them, put any paperwork inside that needs to go home, and put them back in their backpacks to go home that afternoon. Please check your child's folder every day for important notices, forms, and information!

Homework comes home in Daily Folders each Friday, and is due back in the folders the following Thursday. At first, parents will need to help their children with some or all of the packet; but as the year goes on, students should be able to complete much of it independently. We encourage you to let your child do the writing, cutting, and coloring on his or her own as much as possible. Please remember to initial the front page as each item is completed!

Sight Word Testing Procedures
1)Parents sign off each list in the Daily Folder as they feel their child has mastered it.
2) On testing day, we pull individual children for tests using flash cards, which they need to read "on sight"--if the student is sounding out a word or taking more than 3 seconds to read it, s/he does not yet know it "on sight."
3) If the child passes, we celebrate and send home a certificate that day; if not, we mark the ones that were missed and encourage the student to keep practicing!
Once students pass Lists A through E (the standard for kindergarten), we present them with a special "Sight Word Superstar" t-shirt. Students are welcome to keep going and pass as many of the 1st and 2nd grade lists as they can, too!

Sight Word Lists
Not all schools or districts use the exact same sight word lists, but our lists can be found here. Printable flash cards for lists A-E can be found here.

Check your child's folder for login instructions and his/her picture "password" and then log in here. Kids can earn points by listening to books (click on the ear icon beneath the book), then reading the books independently (click on the book icon). They also earn points each time they complete a book level, and by taking quizzes on the books.
This is a great way for you to help your child practice reading at his/her individual reading level from home! (Heads up: make sure s/he doesn't just click "next" all the way through--have your child practice reading the words aloud so you can be sure the reading is happening!)

Numbers and Basic Math

What Do They Need to Know?

Here are some of the key California standards for kindergarten mathematics. The complete list can be found here.

Number Sense
Compare two or more sets of objects (up to ten objects in each group) and identify which set is equal to, more than, or less than the other.

Count, recognize, represent, name, and order a number of objects (up to 30).

Students understand and describe simple additions and subtractions.

Algebra and Functions
Identify, sort, and classify objects by attribute and identify objects that do not belong to a particular group (e.g., all these balls are green, those are red).

Measurement and Geometry
Compare the length, weight, and capacity of objects by making direct comparisons with reference objects (e.g., note which object is shorter, longer, taller, lighter, heavier, or holds more).

Demonstrate an understanding of concepts of time (e.g., morning, afternoon, evening, today, yesterday, tomorrow, week, year) and tools that measure time (e.g., clock, calendar).

Name the days of the week.

Identify the time (to the nearest hour) of everyday events (e.g., lunch time is 12 o'clock; bedtime is 8 o'clock at night).

Identify and describe common geometric objects (e.g., circle, triangle, square, rectangle, cube, sphere, cone).

Statistics, Data Analysis, and Probability
Identify, describe, and extend simple patterns (such as circles or triangles) by referring to their shapes, sizes, or colors.

How Can We Practice At Home?
  • Education.com's Kindergarten Math Activities page
  • KidPort has several kindergarten math games kids can play online
  • A great list of printable and hands-on math activities can be found here
  • Game Classroom has tons of fun kindergarten-level math games to play online
  • Another school district has this HUGE list of kindergarten math activities (almost like a scavenger hunt) using things around your house!
  • My daughter learned all of her coins by dropping money in her piggy bank as potty training rewards. We taught her to call the coins "Big Quarter," "Brown Penny," "Tiny Dimey," and, well, "nickel"! This helped her remember which coin is which by its appearance, before she got familiar with them. Just by naming each coin she dropped in, she learned the coins' names within a couple of weeks!


At my school, we use ZooPhonics to teach kids the letters and sounds, using an animal, a sound, and a motion for each letter. If you're interested in a crash course, check out this YouTube video.

More handy resources for practicing letters:
Other tips for practicing letter identification at home:
  • Teach the letters in your child’s name. Point to the letters as you say each one. When you come across a letter that appears in his/her name, you might say, “Hey, here’s a J, just like in your name! J-A-C-O-B! A J for Jacob!”
  • Word Searches: At restaurants, the children’s menu often has word searches that are too hard for younger kids; but ask if your child can find any letters he/she knows, and celebrate each one he/she can point out. You might throw in one you know is new: “Do you know what letter this is? This is an M for Mommy. Let’s see if we can find some more M’s…”
  • Make it Memorable: Instead of just naming letters alone, call it “D for Daddy” or “C for caterpillar”. This gives you a head start on teaching the sounds, too.
  • Storytime: When you read to your child, look at the front cover together. Ask if s/he sees any letters s/he knows. Keep it casual. If they don’t know any, point out one (“Oooh, I see an M like in Mommy!”) and then move on.
  • Play-Doh: Form a letter your child knows and ask, “Hey, guess what I made?” Let your child squish it in celebration, then do another one. Throw in a new letter or two. (My 3-year-old loves to do this with markers or paint: I make a letter, she names it and then scribbles/paints all over it, and I get pretend-mad and call her a little stinker for destroying my letter. Repeat, repeat, repeat. She finds this hilarious.)
  • Alphabet Mat: Call out letters and have your child jump on them on an alphabet floor mat (or write them with sidewalk chalk outside). Or, take turns rolling a ball onto the mat and calling out the letter it lands on.
  • Have a letter hunt. You can focus on just one letter, or a few, or do all of them if your child knows most or all of the alphabet. Print up big letters on sheets of paper, or use the letters from the foam alphabet mat, and hide them around one room or the whole house. Help your child find and announce each one: “Hey, here’s one! What letter is this? We found K for kangaroo!”
  • Don't Forget the Babies! Match the “baby letters” (lower case) with their Mommy/Daddy (capital) letters using flash cards spread out on the floor. Many lower-case letters look just like the capitals, or are very similar, so those are much easier; throw in one or two of the harder ones (i.e. E and e or G and g) at a time.
  • Sing the alphabet song together as you point to each letter, or jump to each one on the floor mat.

Sight Words

What's the point of sight words?
Sight words (also called Dolch words) are words that kids need to know "on sight," without having to sound them out, because
  • knowing these basic words helps kids read and write similar/rhyming words
  • they're so common that stopping to decode them every time is frustrating
  • many of them do not follow the "rules" for sounding out words
Sight Word Lists
Not all schools or districts use the exact same sight word lists, but our lists can be found here. Printable flash cards for lists A-E can be found here.
How can I help my child learn sight words?
  • Find it first: When reading together, ask, “Hey, do you see the word the on this line?” Once s/he can do that well, move on to pointing to particular words and asking your child to name them.
  • Out of Sight, Out of Mind! Post sight words inside your pantry, on the refrigerator, on the bathroom mirror, on the back of your seats in the car--anywhere your child will encounter them multiple times a day--and spend just a minute or two at a time practicing: "Can you poke the word for? Punch the word as? Flick the word my? Scratch the word he?" etc. Later, move on to having your child read the words to you.
  • Storytime: When reading with your child, you could also pick one basic word (“the” or “you”) or one meaningful/repeated word in that particular story (such as “good” in Good Night, Moon) and teach it, pointing it out on the cover when it’s in large letters first. “This is the word ‘good.’ What letters spell ‘good’? …Right! G-O-O-D spells ‘good’!” Read the story as usual, but pause 2-3 times during the book to ask, “Hey, do you think we can find the word ‘good’ anywhere on this page?” Praise, high-five, etc. if your child can find it, and repeat: “That’s right, there it is! G-O-O-D spells good! Great reading!” Doing this a million times ruins the story, so don’t overdo it, unless your child decides s/he loves finding the word and wants to keep searching for it on every page.
  • Mix it Up: Always be sure to practice sight words in any order, in different fonts (your handwriting, typed, in books, on signs) to make sure your child isn't just memorizing them in order on a list!
  • Sight word games: Click here for a great list of sight word games your child can play online, and here for other fun ways to practice sight words. At school, we play a simple "game" with flash cards: get the word right, you keep the card. Get it wrong (or take more than 3 seconds to read it) and the teacher keeps it. We total up the student's points at the end, and then go through the ones s/he missed several times. Finally, we mix them all up and play a final round to shoot for 100%. You can also print up two of every flash card and play Memory/Concentration--just make sure your child reads each word aloud after flipping over the card!
  • Sing It! We use simple tunes to help kids remember certain sight words: "The" goes to the tune of "Three Blind Mice," for example. Coming up with a little song or chant to spell out the word can help it stick!
  • Mini Books: Another way to introduce and practice sight words is to use simple books like some of the printable ones at DLTK Teach or Hubbard's Cupboard. (Our students bring home books like these every week, but there are plenty more at these sites!) Print and color them with your child, then read them together. On the first reading, you might do something like this:

    1) Read the first page, pointing your finger under each word as you read (you want the finger to “jump” from word to word, not slide across the page—this helps kids recognize that each word is separate.) “I like corn.” Tell your child, “This word, like, is on every page of this book! L-I-K-E spells like. Let’s look for it on the next page.”

    2) Read the second page. “I like bread.” Ask your child, “Let’s see if we can find like on this page. Do you see L-I-K-E like?”

    3) If your child wants to “read” a page or the book by themselves, let them have at it! Help him/her point under each word just like you did. At first, they're just reciting from memory, and that's okay!

    4) Encourage your child to use the pictures to help them “read” each page whenever s/he is ready. Using picture clues is something good readers do! You might also model making the first sound of the word to help figure out what it is: “I like b-b-b…(look at the picture) Oh, bread! I like bread.”
· Some good printable books to start with:

“Thanksgiving” book (“like”)

Another “Thanksgiving” book (“can” and “see”)

“My Daddy” book (“my” and “Daddy”)

“My Mommy” book (“my” and “Mommy”)

“I Can Draw” book (“can”)

“Go Car Go!” book (“see” and “go”)

“My Body” book (“this,” “is,” and “my”)

*Caution: These printable sight word/early reader books are great for teaching, but not terribly exciting. Throw one in every once in a while, but keep reading good picture books together for most of your reading time, lest you AND your child become bored to tears!