If your child will become a kindergartner in the fall, congratulations! Your child is about to embark on a great adventure.
Although this change can be filled with new discoveries, the anticipation of what is to come may be unsettling. The uneasiness that your child might feel is not only understandable, it’s normal. Even if he/she has been involved in a preschool or day care program, kindergarten is the beginning of a more mature phase in his/her educational career.
For some children, kindergarten may seem just a continuation of what they are already experiencing. For them, playing and sharing with other children and the routines that go along with a formal educational setting are nothing new. For others, going to school may be their first experience away from the security of home.
The following are some tips designed to help ease the transition. Use your child’s questions and individual temperament as a gauge when deciding which and how many of the following suggestions to try before the big day. For a particularly anxious child, too many pre-kindergarten activities may only increase concern.
- Trips to visit the kindergarten teacher and classroom, library and playground are a great way to help entering kindergartners feel at home before they start school. Point out the cubbies, the nearest bathroom, classrooms of older friends or siblings, and the offices of the school nurse and secretary.
- As you walk or drive by the school during the summer, talk with your child about the route from your home. Point out landmarks, familiar houses and businesses.
- If your child will ride the bus, remind him about where he will be dropped off and picked up each day. Assure him that you or someone you trust (babysitter, grandparent, adult friend) will be there to meet him when he arrives home each day. If you will be picking your child up from school, remind him of this and set a place to meet that is familiar to you both.
- When choosing clothes for school, make sure that they are kid-friendly. Jackets should be easy to put on and take off. Zippers should move easily. Pants and shorts should be easy to get out of and back into when using the bathroom. Have your child wear shoes with Velcro closures to school while she is learning to tie her shoes. Start your child on a schedule.
- It is easier for children to ease into a new school year bedtime, wake-up time, and breakfast time if they start to adjust their schedule before summer ends.
It’s easier than you might think
When they are newborns, we worry about where our children’s height and weight fall on growth charts. As they become toddlers, we compare notes with parents at daycare or the play group about when their children took their first steps. We consult parenting books and magazines and check the checklists to ensure that our children are growing just as they should in relation to others their age.
As children move into the preschool years, parents’ worries often shift to whether or not they are doing all they should to help their children be successful once they reach school age.
A quick search on the Internet will produce a variety of lists with very specific school readiness skills for young children. These can run the gamut from the fairly simple skill of counting from one to 10 to the sometimes daunting ability to tie shoes unassisted or sit still for lengths of time.
However, early childhood experts, such as those with the National Association for the Education of Young Children, as well as preschool and kindergarten teachers say the skills that help children do well in school are not necessarily the ones that make the lists. They aren’t even ones that children achieve at the same rate or by the same age. Instead, early childhood teachers say the best skills are those that come naturally from children’s daily activities, such as going to the grocery store with their own lists of items to shop for, mailing a drawing they have made to grandma and grandpa or going for a swim with a friend. These include:
- Good health and physical development – achieved in large part through adequate rest, nutrition and lots of play.
- Emotional development – which comes primarily from the positive encouragement they receive from parents and other important adults in their lives.
- Strengthening of muscles in early childhood lead to other refined motor skills, such as grasping and pinching-skills needed to hold a crayon or pencil or cut with scissors. They also allow children to hold themselves upright, make eye contact and sit for lengths of time when learning such skills as reading and writing once they reach school age.
- Social development-from playing with children their own age.
- Language development-which evolves when children use words to communicate, have their needs met and enjoy themselves, such as with reading.
An understanding of the world in which they live.
Below are some practical ways families can enhance their children’s learning during the early childhood years that will lay the groundwork for doing well in school. Chances are many of these are the types of things you and your child are already doing:
- Activities, such as preschool, daycare and trips taken in the care of other nurturing adults. These help provide children with the experience of being cared for by and learning from adults other than their parents.
- Limiting the amount of time children spend watching television and videos or playing computer games, which are passive, isolating activities. Instead, families should emphasize such activities as formal and informal play groups, library story hours and other activities that involve active learning and put children in contact with their peers.
- Reading to your children every day from the time they are babies from both fiction and age-appropriate, non-fiction picture books. Even though very young children may not understand the story or poem you are reading, they learn a lot about language just from hearing your voice.
- Exposing your children to language. Share what you know, talk about what interests you, ask your children to talk with you about what they are interested in and why. Aside from helping form a close relationship with your children, this type of ongoing dialogue pays off once children enter school. Children who have had a chance to develop a large vocabulary are often capable of handling more information than those with limited language skills.
- Drawing. Children begin to draw and write very naturally. Simply provide them with a comfortable space, materials for writing (chunky pencils and markers are ideal tools for little fingers to grasp), paper and the freedom to experiment. Children’s first writing will likely look like squiggles, loops and drawings. Over time (and with lots of encouragement for their first efforts), children will begin to incorporate some letter shapes. Though some children show signs of recognizable writing in the years before school, in others it is not until they are school age that their writing evolves.
- Math. Children who are encouraged to learn the many uses for math in the “real world” are more likely to enjoy math once in school. Clocks, telephones, road signs, even price tags on canned goods at the supermarket all involve number recognition. Make a game out of counting all the dinosaurs in your children’s collection. Count out the number of forks, spoons and napkins needed to set the table at dinner. Many children’s songs, rhymes and finger plays include counting and other language associated with math (think Five Little Monkeys or This Old Man.) Each time you ask your children if they want their sandwich cut in half or you count out loud as you stack blocks on top of one another, you are teaching them the words they will use to understand math concepts. Expand your children’s math vocabulary by making a game out of coming up with all the words that mean “big” (enormous, huge, gigantic) or “little” (small, tiny, miniscule).
- Knowledge of the world. Trips to the bank, playground, restaurants and other parts of the neighborhood, town, state or country provide wonderful opportunities for expanding children’s knowledge of the world beyond their homes. As you travel about, talk informally about what interests you and ask your children to do the same. You can encourage children to think creatively about what they are experiencing by asking open-ended questions such as “Why do you think there is a rainbow in the puddle?” or “Where do you think that ant is going with that piece of grain?” Let your children’s curiosity fill in the blanks.
- Getting plenty of physical activity. To learn to control and coordinate the muscles in their arms and legs, children need to throw and catch balls, run, jump, climb and dance to music. These types of activities give them the strength to hold their arms steady and in a proper position for writing and their upper bodies upright in order to sit for lengths of time (an ability that becomes important once they reach school age.) To learn to control and coordinate the smaller muscles in hands and fingers, children need to color, put together objects like puzzles, use child-safe scissors, practice zipping their jackets and pick up small objects like cereal pieces, dried fruit or cotton balls.
- Be realistic about your children’s abilities and interests. So your child is set to enter kindergarten in the fall and hasn’t yet begun to write her name? Relax, she will. Young children often learn at dramatically different rates from the preschool years through age eight. While most children can learn to decode (figure out how letters sound when combined in words) at age six, it is also normal for children to learn to do this as early as age four or as old as seven. This age range is also true of drawing, writing letters and numbers, counting, speaking articulately and following multiple directions.
Reading to your child about other children’s fears and excitement about going to kindergarten can help your youngster understand that her kindergarten jitters are normal.
Look Out Kindergarten, Here I Come by Nancy Carlson. It’s Henry’s first day of kindergarten, and he’s so excited. On the way to school he imagines all the fun he will have. But when he arrives, the school is bigger than he pictured and a little overwhelming. He wants to go home. After a while, though, he decides that kindergarten really will be fun.
First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg. Sarah Hartwell is hiding under her covers so she doesn’t have to go to school. Mr. Hartwell finally gets her to her new school, where she is introduced as Mrs. Sarah Jane Hartwell—the new teacher! Children will get a kick out of this plot-twisted book and may find it reassuring that even new teachers can have first day jitters.
Kindergarten Rocks! by Katie Davis. According to Dexter Dugan, he is totally calm about starting kindergarten, but his stuffed dog Rufus is fearful about riding the bus, eating lunch in school, and getting a mean teacher. This story follows the “brave” Dexter and “fearful” Rufus through the first day of school. This is a humorous book that may help calm the anxiety of young students.
Tiptoe Into Kindergarten by Jacqueline Rogers. This book offers a disarming way to help preschoolers get excited about starting school by describing a little girl’s discoveries as she spies on her older brother’s kindergarten class. The thrill she feels in sneaking around builds upon her excitement as she observes how kindergartners spend their day.
Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten by Joseph Slate. Miss Bindergarten vigorously prepares for the first day of school as her 26 prospective students (one for each letter of the alphabet) do the same. Children who are anxious about the first day of kindergarten may find great comfort in this book’s two parallel stories.
You can help your child make a smooth transition from home or preschool to kindergarten,” says Andrea Atkinson, a member of the National Association for the Education of Young Children whose members include teachers, administrators, parents, policymakers, and others committed to bringing high-quality early education and care to all young children.
To help ease your child’s concerns about going to kindergarten, talk with him about some of the fun things that will happen at school, such as meeting new friends, listening to stories, and playing outside. “Kindergarten is a big name, a big place, and there are a lot of big kids,” adds Atkinson. “Be positive about the experience, but if your child has questions, answer them as honestly as you can. Try not to make a big to-do about it.”
Some of the most common questions children ask about kindergarten are, “Why can’t I stay at my old school?” or “Why can’t I stay at home?” Other questions might include, “What kind of toys will my kindergarten room have?” “Will there be time to play?” “Who is going to be in my class?”
It’s important for parents to take their child’s fears and anxieties seriously. Children need to know that they have support, that they can share their feelings and ask questions, and that someone is there to comfort them.
“My daughter was so nervous about starting kindergarten this year that I decided she needed to hear from someone close to her age about what really happens at school,” says the parent of a kindergartner. “The little girl who lives up the street is in first grade this year, so my daughter asked her about kindergarten and was able to get ‘real’ answers to her questions—and she felt much more confident and excited about going to school this year.”
Here are some tips designed to help ease the transition from home or preschool to kindergarten. Use your child’s questions and individual temperament as a gauge when deciding which and how many of the following suggestions to try before the big day. For particularly anxious children, too many pre-kindergarten activities may only increase their concerns.
- Visit your child’s new school. Because many schools are open during the summer, you should be able to call your child’s school now to arrange a visit or attend the school’s planned kindergarten orientations. When there, check out the kindergarten classrooms, the library, the cafeteria, and the playground.
- Point out the nurse’s office, the nearest bathrooms (if not located in the classrooms), the drinking fountain, the main office, and classrooms of older siblings or friends. “The summer is a great time to help acclimate your child to the new environment without the school being full of strangers,” says a parent of a soon-to-be kindergartner.
- Prepare your child for getting to and from school. If your child will ride the bus, show her where she will be picked up and dropped off every day. Assure her that you or a caregiver will be there to meet her when she arrives home each day. If you will be picking your child up from school, find out where the school requires her to wait for you.
- Make things simpler for your child. When preparing your children’s lunch or snack, store it in easy-to-open containers or sandwich bags so they don’t have to struggle at meal times. When choosing clothes for school, make sure they are kid-friendly. Jackets should be easy to put on and take off. Zippers should move easily. Pants and shorts should be easy to get out of and back into when using the restroom. Have your child wear shoes with buckles or Velcro closures if she is still learning to tie her shoes.
- Establish a routine before school starts. It’s easier for children to ease into a new school-year bedtime, wake-up time, and breakfast time if they start to adjust their schedule before summer ends.