Going off to Kindergarten is an important milestone in all children's lives. For both children and parents emotions often range from excitement to nervousness to uncertainty. But, there are a lot of tips for parents to ensure the experience is a pleasant one and children are set up for success!
Attending a high-quality early childhood preschool program is paramount. Research clearly shows that children who have had a preschool program that focuses on cognitive and social/ emotional readiness skills are better prepared for academic tasks, relate better with others, and have longer attention spans. Additionally, children who have had preschool experiences are more likely to be successful in school and life, more likely to graduate high school and have options for higher education. Preschool is so important that most states have programs that help parents afford quality programs for example, Connecticut has the School Readiness program https://www.ctoec.org/school-readiness-preschool-grant-program and Florida offers free preschool to all 4-year-olds, Voluntary PreK (VPK),
However, there are also plenty of things parents can do to support their children to be ready for the transition to Kindergarten! Here's how you can help.
(Remember, all children develop differently and at this age it is appropriate for development to be uneven. If you do have any concerns about your child's development, it is a good idea to check in with your child's teachers and/ or their physician).
1. Practice kindergarten skills.
Over the summer, practice activities your child will be doing in class, like forming letters and holding a pencil. It's fine if your child hasn't mastered these skills when school starts. But it can ease stress for your child - and help the teacher - if the kindergarten classroom isn't the first place your child tries these tasks. Play alphabet and number games and practicing the letters of your child's name can be fun and your child will be proud they have learned some of these skills.
2. Set clear bedtime and morning routines.
There's a good chance your child will have a new morning routine at the start of kindergarten. Maybe it's an earlier wake-up time. Or having to be outside and ready for the school bus.
Depending on your morning schedule, it may help to establish a set bed time. Before school starts, run through the morning routine with your child, too. Practice having your child wake up on time, get dressed, and eat breakfast.
3. Start phasing out nap time.
Many kindergarten classes have rest time. But if your child still takes naps, this break will probably be shorter than the naps your child is used to. Start cutting the length of nap time by a couple of minutes a day before school starts. (A shorter nap might help with the change to an earlier bedtime.)
4. Make following directions fun.
Kids in kindergarten are expected to follow directions throughout the school day. Practice this at home in fun ways. Have your child do activities with one- and two-step directions before school starts. You can do crafts or play new games together. Or you could have your child help when you're cooking or cleaning.
5. Ask how your child is feeling.
Kindergarten is different from other grades because there are a lot of firsts. It's a big unknown that can make kids feel anxious. Help your child get through the first day jitters- and bigger worries - by talking. Ask things like, "What do you want to know about kindergarten?" Or "You seem a little nervous. What are you thinking about?"
It might be hard for your child to understand or express these feelings. But asking questions and showing empathy lets your child know you're there.
There are also lots of great books on Amazon that are fun to read with your child. Here are a few suggestions, The Night Before Kindergarten by Natasha Wing, Kindergarten Here I Come by David Steinberg, and On the First Day of Kindergarten by Tish Rabe.
6. Practice asking for help.
Your child may be nervous about needing help at school. That might be with personal things like going to the bathroom independently or getting ready to leave at the end of the day.
Explain that the teacher is always there to help if there's a problem - and that it's OK to ask. Have your child practice asking for help before the school year starts. This helps kids build confidence to speak up for what they need when they need it.
7. Read together.
Kindergarten is a place for lots of play. But your child will also be learning the basics in subjects like reading, writing, and math. Reading to your child as often as possible helps lay the foundation for kindergarten learning. It also helps prepare kids for listening time in the classroom.
Here are some more good suggestions for reading with your child. books that are good for kids starting kindergarten.
8. Introduce new friends.
Arrange for your child to play with kids in the same grade, or even the same class, if you can get the class list ahead of time. Try to branch out beyond kids your child already knows from preschool or the neighborhood.
Set it up to take place in a space where both kids will be comfortable. This might be one of your homes or a playground.
9. Remind your child of strengths.
Some kids worry about not being "good enough" at doing things. Explain that kindergarten is all about trying new things and working to get better at old things.
Talk about activities your child has done and learned in the past. Point out past successes, whether it was learning to tie their shoes or catching a ball. Together, you can even make an "accomplishment box".
The transition to kindergarten can take a little while, and there may be ups and downs. But a little preparation can make a big difference in how your child feels about starting school. Remember to make it a fun experience when possible!