Screening for kindergarten is one of the most helpful things for kindergarten teachers as they head into a new school year. The purpose of kindergarten screening is for teachers to get an idea of where each individual child is in regard to skills – both academic and social-emotional. If you are a kindergarten parent, you may be tempted to focus on things like whether or not your child can identify all letters of the alphabet. However, if you have ever been a teacher in kindergarten, you will likely agree that social-emotional skills will be most helpful for your child to have a great transition from any type of pre-k setting.
If you are a kindergarten teacher or new to teaching kindergarten, this post will provide with you 10 tips to keep in mind for kindergarten screening that will make your year start off on the best foot possible!
If you are a parent of a soon-to-be kindergartener or know someone who is – please download this free pdf. You will get a behind-the-scenes, hilarious look into kindergarten and understand what kindergarten teachers REALLY want you to know – BEFORE they go!
When kindergarten starts
When kindergarten starts each year, it's sort of like the wild wild west. You never know exactly how 20+ five-year-olds are going to mix and match up. At the end of school each year, we help make the class lists going off of all the information we have accumulated over the year. (For instance, Billy is probably going to need to be in a different classroom than Bobby.) We have a solid year's worth of parent communications, academic data, and just general “school” stuff we can pass on to the 1st-grade teachers.
But in kindergarten? Not so much.
We have kids coming from public preschool programs, private preschool programs, mother's day out-type programs, daycare programs, and no programs whatsoever. 😉 As you can imagine, we have five-year-olds with lots of skills, some skills, and not-so-much skills.
This, believe it or not, is what teaching kindergarten is MOSTLY about the first month. Trying to wrangle all the personalities and skill sets into a little family that understands how school works. This is one of the reasons screening for kindergarten is oh-so-important. Kindergarten teachers need to have some sort of idea of what in the world they are going to be faced with on that first day of school. It helps to be as prepared as possible.
This is where screening for kindergarten comes in.
New Kindergarten Teacher Tips
I have taught kindergarten for 10 years now. It's been said that you either ARE a kindergarten teacher or you AREN'T. I don't know for certain if that's true, but there are most definitely areas where you, as a kindergarten teacher, are going to be teaching them how to “do school.”
I had a stellar mentor teacher when I was getting my master's, and I learned so much from her regarding routines, expectations, and more. At my first job, I was across the hall from two of the best veteran kindergarten teachers on the planet – and I tried to soak up every bit of their expertise that I could.
I think that as you go along, you pick up little tips and tricks that may seem insignificant at the time – but end up making or breaking things. Certain things can save you BIG headaches later – trust me. Every one of these top 10 things I've either been warned to do beforehand or learned the hard way for NOT doing them.
Screening for kindergarten: My TOP TEN TIPS
1. take a picture of each child
Do you have a Polaroid camera? Let me tell you, this little camera has been a game-changer.
First of all, when you have 60+ new kindergarteners coming in to be screened, it can be hard to connect all the names to all the new faces. We forgot to do this one year, and it made it really made a difference when we were trying to create our class lists. Write their first name on the bottom, and then paperclip to their assessment packet.
Second of all, it is the perfect icebreaker for nervous five-year-olds. So many times, they are barely saying a word when they cross the hall away from their parents. I will say, “Have you ever seen a camera like this? I'm going to take your picture, but I'll need your help.” I'll then let them pull the picture out of the top and have them shake it so they will “magically appear.” While they are doing the shaking – I'll get settled in and ask them questions like how old they are, do they know their birthday, etc. They quickly forget they are nervous when they see themselves appear. I let them hold it while we conduct the assessment if they want.
I also love having this camera for times when I just want to snap a pic and send home for families. They LOVE it!
2. make notes of things like pencil grip, separation anxiety, etc.
We have an assessment/data packet for each child. This packet is actually what we will keep for each child throughout the year, saving us an extra step! So, for instance, whatever letter names they know, we will use a highlighter to mark them off. Then, in August, we will just start adding to this packet with a different colored marker for each month to show progress.
On top of each data packet is a sheet where we have them write their name and make notes on things like the total number of letter IDs and sounds, counting, etc. Use this sheet to make special notes on things like pencil grip, if they had a really hard time separating from their parent, if they know any other friends coming to kindergarten, etc.
I have had the best of intentions of going back and writing things down after all assessments are completed that day – and 9 times out of 10, if I don't do it in the moment – it doesn't happen.
Why is this helpful? Because for instance, when you make class lists, you will not want to put all the kids who have trouble separating in the same class. This is just one example of many I could offer you!
3. Have a questionnaire for parents to fill out
We have tables set up in the halls for parents to fill out forms as we conduct the screening. There are some forms the office provides so they can knock out some ‘must-do' things while they are there. We also provide a “Through Your Eyes” questionnaire for parents to fill out about their child. This includes questions like:
- What preschool did your child attend?
- What words would you use to describe your child?
- What things interest your child the most?
- Do they have siblings? What is their birth order?
- Anything special you think we should know about your child?
- Are they excited to come to kindergarten? Nervous?
- What do you most want for your child during their kindergarten year?
- Any allergies or medical/behavioral issues we should know about?
This form helps us immensely, as we want and need to know as much about their child as we can – but some of these things won't come up immediately. I keep my questionnaires and refer back to them when school starts, and often will refer back to them throughout the year for various reasons.
4. Use the data collected as your starting point for your data notebook
I mentioned this earlier, but we have started saving so much time by using the actual kindergarten data packet during screening. In the past, we've filled out a screening packet – but then had to transfer all of the data into their actual kindergarten data packet. No more! One and done!
I've collected data in several ways – keeping info in file folders being the main one. However, let me give you a tip that has been a game-changer for me in terms of ease, access, and general shuffling around!
I have a large three-ring binder, and I put numbered dividers in it. At the start of each year, once I get my class list, I assign everyone a number. I do this in alphabetical order. (I have cubbies, book boxes, supply boxes, etc., with numbers – it saves TONS of time each year) Once I assign them a number, I three-hole punch their kindergarten screening/assessment packet and insert all the packets into the three-ring binder.
Every time I call someone to my table to assess or update their data packet – it's all in one place! I know that seems super obvious and simple and maybe even not that big of a deal. But the hassle from grabbing-dropping-reshuffling file folders each time is GONE.
One notebook. 20 dividers. All data in one place. BAM.
5. get a writing sample
Trust me. DO THIS.
Hand them a pencil, and ask them to write their name. You will notice:
- pencil grip
- letter formation
- fine motor skills
- can they write their whole name
- is it all uppercase?
I love this because, at the end of each quarter, I will have them write their name. I cover up the previous names when I call them back. Then, at the end of each year, after they write their name, I will uncover all of the other names they've written. The look on their faces when they see how far they've come NEVER gets old! Sometimes they bust into laughter – and sometimes, they really don't believe that they are the ones that actually wrote the first few!
6. provide important dates to parents
If your office doesn't have a school-year calendar with important dates on it for parents, DO YOUR BEST to get dates like fall break, winter break, spring break, etc., and provide this info to your parents. Every year we have kindergarten parents who have planned a trip without considering these dates, and every year we run into attendance issues.
Kindergarten IS real school. Attendance DOES count. It DOES matter if they are there or not.
Now, sometimes these trips are planned well in advance, and sometimes even if you do provide school calendar dates in plenty of time, parents will plan trips and take their children out of school. Impress upon your parents the importance of regular attendance as kindly as you can.
7. provide a school supply list to parents
If your office has not provided a list of school supplies to your parents – do your best to point them in the right direction or try to provide this for them. We conduct our kindergarten screenings in May, so there is plenty of time for parents to get supplies.
However, I have taught at a school where we did the screenings the week school started – and parents were scrambling. Parents will appreciate you providing all the info you can as soon as you can.
8. If they can't make it in person – get a video submission
During May 2020, we weren't able to conduct our kindergarten screenings, of course. This provided us with a challenge that we needed to work to find a solution to.
- We put together some instructions for parents, asking them to record their child on their phones.
- We told them they would need a laptop, computer, or iPad to show their child a PowerPoint.
- We asked them to prop the phone up, hit record, and just let it run.
- We put together a PowerPoint with everything we assess.
- At the start of each section, we have a slide with directions.
- For example: For Parents: The next slides are going to show uppercase letters. Please go through the slides, and ask your child if they know the letter name, then ask if they know the sound it makes. PLEASE DO NOT assist your child. IT IS OK IF THEY DON'T KNOW THE ANSWER! 🙂
- We put a direction slide in before each new section – always reminding them not to help their child.
We then had them email the videos to us, and as we watched them, we made notes on the assessment/data packet just as we would if they were in person. For the handwriting sample – we had them write it on paper, then hold it up to the camera.
It wasn't ideal or what we were used to, and we knew we were asking a lot of the parents – but they all came through for us, and we were able to gather all of the information we needed. Now, we have this as a backup in case the families can't come to our kindergarten screening dates.
9. Let parents know what to work on over the summer
I would share this…IF THEY ASK YOU. 🙂
Here's the thing. I'll say it until I'm blue in the face. If a child comes into screening for kindergarten and knows NO letter names, NO letter sounds, NO numbers, CAN'T rhyme or tell me any beginning sounds…I'M NOT WORRIED. Nope. Not at all. It could be for any number of reasons – most likely because they didn't attend a prek and have just had a lack of exposure.
BUT… and this is a delicate subject for a lot of parents.
If they have a REALLY hard time separating from the parent (or the parent can't seem to let the child go into the room solo), if you note on the parent questionnaire that they still have bathroom accidents or need assistance in that department – I would very kindly suggest that over the summer they might come up with some fun, easy ways to get them ready for the first day of school.
If this sounds like a nightmare for you to have to bring up – then write this down for them:
Tell them to download my free pdf of the 10 things all kindergarten parents NEED to know before their child goes to kindergarten. Tell them they will laugh, and tell them it's hilarious, and you just want them to read it because they'll enjoy it. And in the process…I'll help you get all the sticky, tricky points across without putting you in the hot seat. You're welcome. 😉
10. Be Certain you are aware of allergies, medical, and behavioral issues
How can you do this? Be sure you highlight this section on the parent questionnaire if you need to.
It is NOT uncommon that a parent will not bring up the fact that their child is allergic to bee stings – until there is a bee sting. Or, when you call to tell them about a bathroom accident – they will say, “Yes, they still do this at home all the time too.”
Often times when I bring a child back out from the screening, I'll glance at the filled-out questionnaire and say, “I can't wait to read this to get to know more about Sally! Thank you for filling it out. So, I see there's no allergies – anything else we might need to know to get Sally set up for the best year possible?”
You never know – this might be just the friendly invitation a mom needs to share with you that, yes, in fact, she is currently in a divorce, and it's been really hard. Or she might share that, now that you mention it, Sally is going through a phase where she hits her baby brother – should I be concerned?
I promise you; parent communication is KEY.
You'll find out one way or another – and on the front end is always preferable. 😉
There ya have it! 10 top tips to make screening for kindergarten as seamless as possible for you! Is there anything I left off? Any other questions you have? Please, please write your thoughts below, and I'm more than happy to offer up an answer or point you in the right direction!