By Allison Wedell Schumacher
You know by now that the little strangers we’ve been entrusted with don’t come with operating manuals. This is why I found myself holding my sobbing, brand-new kindergartner as I explained to her that yes, she did have to go back to kindergarten the next day and for five days a week for the next nine months, and no, she couldn’t go back to preschool. It simply hadn’t occurred to me to tell her that she was leaving preschool for good, never to return.
Hopefully you can learn from my mistake. If you have a preschooler who is poised to enter kindergarten in the fall, there are some things you can do—including practicing social-emotional skills—to make the transition to kindergarten as smooth as possible.
Talk It Up
This is perhaps the most obvious thing to do given the above scenario. You know how much information your child can handle, but if, like me, you have one that doesn’t like surprises, try to mention kindergarten at least once a day between now and the first day of school, focusing on what she can expect and how it differs from preschool. You don’t have to hold a formal news conference, just throw the topic into everyday conversations. (“Do you see that boy’s backpack? You’ll be carrying one like that when you start kindergarten next month.” “Are you excited to ride a yellow school bus like the one in this picture? How do you think that will be different from going to school in our car the way we did before?”)
Your child may be anxious about whether he will have any friends in class, so now is a good time to practice friendship-making skills like asking to play. Tell your child that if there’s a game or an activity he wants to join, he can watch quietly for a bit (to make sure he understands how to play), wait for a break in the action, then politely ask if he can join in. Practice this at home: Get a puzzle or other activity that more than one person can do and start putting it together. Have your child stand beside you and watch for a bit. When you pause, have him politely ask if he can help you build the puzzle. Practicing this skill will help his confidence.
Get a Preview
If possible, arrange for your child to meet her new teacher before the first day of school. Many schools have some sort of orientation for this purpose, and some kindergarten teachers even do home visits. Either way, a familiar face will make the first day of school a lot less scary.
Manage Strong Feelings
This skill will serve your child well beyond the transition to kindergarten. He may be feeling excited, nervous, scared, or all three—and he needs to learn to manage these strong feelings. Start by helping him name his feelings and recognize clues in his body: “You said your stomach feels jumpy when you think about kindergarten. That could be because you feel nervous about it.” Reassure him that it’s okay to feel that way, then help him calm down with slow, deep breaths; counting; or saying a calming phrase over and over again.
These skills won’t make the transition to kindergarten perfect, but they can certainly make it smoother. And as for my daughter, she ended up loving kindergarten . . . once I convinced her to go back, that is.
Allison Wedell Schumacher is a freelance writer, editor, and mom whose diverse work focuses on child abuse prevention, bullying prevention, social-emotional learning, fitness, and theater/acting. She is the author of Shaking Hands with Shakespeare: A Teenager’s Guide to Reading and Performing the Bard (Simon and Schuster, 2004), and her work has been featured here and at babycenter.com, MomsRising.org, and Committee for Children. You can find her on LinkedIn.
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