By Celeste C. Delaney, author of ABC Ready for School: An Alphabet of Social Skills
As your children head off to kindergarten, you are no doubt thinking about clothes and supplies and lunches and getting them there on time and how much you’ll miss them! It’s a big transition. It’s also important to remember how NEW everything is going to be for them. A few children love new situations, but most are shy at first. And some get really anxious about anything new they encounter. It’s a good idea to prepare them for kindergarten ahead of time. Remember that new kindergartners may have to deal with:
- A new schedule, including getting up and out the door each day and not being home for hours
- New adults who they have to listen to and take directions from
- New children to get to know and interact with
- New bathrooms—which may produce questions and uncertainty about where they are or how they work or “What if there are other kids in there!?” Many kids also feel anxiety about asking before they go and what to do if they need help.
- A new classroom, which brings with it questions about where to sit and sometimes stress about the noise and busy walls
- So many new sounds and sights and smells
- New foods and drinks—what if they don’t like it? Do they have to carry a tray?
- New toys and books and games and crayons and scissors and supplies—and lots of sharing and taking turns
- New rules, like raising a hand before speaking, not talking at certain times, standing in line, crossing the street . . . it’s a lot to remember!
- New worries, like will they be able to do what everyone else can do? What if no one likes them? What if they need help with something like going to the bathroom or getting their shoes on?
How can you help your child deal with all these new changes BEFORE school begins?
- Read books about going to kindergarten with your child and talk about what to expect. Reassure children that although everything will be new at first, they will get used to their new school and do well there.
- Visit the teacher and classroom with your child before school begins, if possible. This will make at least the location and teacher more familiar on that first day of school. Talk to the teacher about your concerns if your child has difficulty separating from you, needs help in the bathroom, has never worked with other children in a group setting, doesn’t speak the classroom language, or is very sensitive to loud noises, busy locations, bright lights, or unusual textures.
- Practice some of the skills your child will need to learn, like raising your hand, asking for help, or packing a lunch. Play “school” at home and let your child be the “teacher” to toys or younger siblings.
- Try some new things at home, like a new food or game, so your child can gain confidence in their ability to deal with new situations. You can also use this later when your child has started kindergarten as a reminder of how things start out new but soon are familiar.
- Start the “early to bed” routine a week before school starts so everyone is getting enough sleep when the big day comes. Go to bed 10–15 minutes earlier each night and get up 10–15 minutes earlier each morning to gradually move into the timetable you will need for school days.
- Use this Kindergarten Readiness Checklist, which was compiled with the help of kindergarten teachers. Read the list and check off the skills your child already has. Work on the others before school begins so they can have the best start possible.
What can you do to help once school has started?
- Make sure your child is well rested by keeping a consistent sleep routine each night and morning. Some anxiety is normal during the first week of school, and this may make sleeping more difficult too.
- Make sure your child eats breakfast before going to school or sign up for the school breakfast program. It’s hard to function at school if you are hungry.
- Talk to your child when they get home from kindergarten about what they did and how they feel. Encourage them if they seem overwhelmed or sad and help them with any projects they may have to work on. Ask about friends, activities, recess, meals, bathroom breaks, and anything that is worrying them.
- If your child seems to be really struggling with school after the first week, set up a time to talk to the teacher about what is happening and what you can do to help your child adjust.
- Teachers can use resources like weighted lap pads, oral motor chewies, Velcro strips under desks, stretchy bands around chair legs, wiggle cushions, or fidgets to help children with anxiety or focus issues. They can move a child nearer to the teacher if the student needs extra help or is easily distracted. A quiet area can be assigned where children who are overwhelmed can take a break. Some children may need a “buddy” to help them follow the classroom rules or move safely from one location to another.
- Practice skills at home that your child is having difficulty with at school, like going to the bathroom independently; getting shoes on and off; knowing the alphabet, numbers, and colors; sitting still and listening to the teacher; taking turns in games; or walking quietly instead of running while inside.
Kindergarten is probably the most important year of school that children will attend, because it is when they learn who they are as learners and people in a social setting. If children struggle, they may feel they’re not as smart as others; this can lead to giving up or misbehaving. If they have difficulty interacting with others happily, they may feel that people don’t like them or that there is something wrong with them. There’s a lot you can do to help make this a successful, happy year for children, so they go on in their education with confidence and an excitement to learn. This will help carry them through the challenging teen years and into meaningful and productive adulthood.
Enjoy this time with your young learners!
Celeste C. Delaney grew up in New Zealand, where much of life is lived outdoors. As a child, she loved playing at the beach, reading, playing piano, writing stories, and drawing. She left New Zealand after earning a degree in occupational therapy and has since lived and worked in many countries including the United States, India, Malaysia, China, and Mexico. Celeste enjoys traveling, teaching, art projects, and writing. She works as an occupational therapist with children, which challenges her to be patient and flexible and rewards her with smiles, hugs, and the joy of seeing children grow and learn. Celeste lives near Portland, Oregon, with her husband, Chris.
Celeste is the author of ABC Ready for School: An Alphabet of Social Skills.
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