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Parents working to prepare their children for their first day of school don’t always know the best way to help them learn the alphabet or to count to 20.

When a student starts kindergarten, teachers need them to be able to recognize letters, print their name and count to at least 20. But parents don’t always know the best way to teach a preschooler these skills, Johnson County Learning Centers director Dawn Underwood said.

A parent who has never had a child entering school might not know what the state’s kindergarten standards are and that the child needs to be able to read before moving on to first grade. This school year, fewer than half the students who began kindergarten at Franklin schools were ready for lessons on reading and counting, largely because not all parents know what to do to prepare students before they start school, Underwood said.

“More is expected of our kids than ever before,” she said.

That’s why next month Franklin schools and Johnson County Learning Centers are sponsoring a workshop where parents can learn more about what their children need to know by the time they start school.

The workshop is open to all area parents but will be aimed toward Franklin families. It will give parents the chance to hear from kindergarten teachers about what students need to know on the first day to be able to keep up in class. Teachers also will talk about the best ways to work with students at home, as well as how to tell whether a child is really ready for kindergarten.

If a child isn’t ready to start kindergarten, parents might want to consider waiting a year, Underwood said.

“I hope that they are familiar with what kindergarten readiness looks like and that they leave with ideas of what they can do at home with their child, understand where their child is individually and what their strengths and weaknesses are,” she said.

Underwood said parents need to start working with their child early on recognizing letters, numbers and shapes as 85 percent of a child’s brain is developed by the time children are 5 years old.

“They are truly sponges at this age, and this is really where they build their foundation through experiences,” she said.

But parents don’t always know the best way to help their children learn, Underwood said.

Sometimes she meets parents who are frustrated because they’ve heard how important it is to read to their child every day, but they can’t get their child to follow the story. She tells them not to focus on whether children are following the text but to find ways to make the story fun for them.

They can talk about pictures in the book or ask about what should happen next, Underwood said.

Parents also can find other ways to make letter and number recognition fun for children. That could include using shaving cream instead of a pencil and paper to write letters or teaching them to count while making dinner together, Underwood said.

Local schools assess students before their first day of school to see how well prepared they are for kindergarten, and if students clearly are behind on the assessment — if they can’t recognize letters, numbers, shapes or cut paper along a straight line — parents might want to consider waiting a year to enroll them in kindergarten, Underwood said.

Students typically can tell early on if they aren’t keeping up with their peers in class, and they may start worrying about having to catch up as early as kindergarten. For example, children might try to change the subject when asked a direct question they don’t know the answer to, Underwood said.

“It’s like ... they have developed the skills to not let you know that’s an area of struggle,” she said.

If a parent decides to wait a year before starting a child in kindergarten that can give them additional time to be sure the student is prepared. And that means the youngster is more likely to be a confident, stronger student when moving on to upper grades instead of struggling to catch up, Underwood said.

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