There are few moments more exciting to kids than the first day of kindergarten. It represents the day when children officially become “big kids.” How do you prepare them for that day and all the things they’re supposed to learn in kindergarten? Here’s what the experts say:
Kids are expected to be able to do many things on their own by the time they start kindergarten. Tracy Galuski, professor of early childhood development and education, says that kids should be able to dress themselves, including knowing how to put on their shoes, take their coats on and off and hang them up on a hanger, use the bathroom on their own, wash their hands afterward without reminders, unpack their lunch and wipe their faces after they’ve eaten.
These skills, Galuski says, will take your kids “from the coatroom to the lunchroom and beyond.” It’s a good idea to spend the summer before kindergarten practicing those skills with them.
Work on your child’s ability to make good choices. Merete Kropp, a kindergarten teacher and expert on child development, says that kids should be able to make many choices by this time. This includes choosing from different activities in the classroom and who to play with on the playground.
“Children who’ve been given autonomy at home in developing preferences and making meaningful choices are able to transfer this skill to the school setting, thereby exerting confidence in making wise choices within the classroom setting,” says Kropp.
A way to make your kids more independent and autonomous is to assign them household chores. Charity Ferreira of education think tank GreatSchools says that parents should give their kids chores such as setting the table before dinner, folding the laundry and tidying up around the house. “These types of activities,” Ferreira says, “will automatically transfer over into the classroom and help your child feel successful and comfortable.”
It’s one thing to have certain skills, but it’s quite another to have the confidence to use those skills in front of classmates.
Child psychologist Amie Bettencourt says that parents can make their kids more self-confident by demystifying kindergarten and explaining what they can expect will take place there. She suggests that parents should take some time to talk to their kids about what the school day will be like before kindergarten starts.
You can make your kids more self-confident by organizing lots of playdates over the summer.
In fact, many schools distribute class contact lists for students before the school year starts. If you receive such a list, set up playdates with some of your kids’ future classmates. So when your kids walk into class on the first day of school, they’ll see some familiar faces.
Ferreira notes that “a lot of what makes kindergarten a tough transition is that kids suddenly find themselves in a big group all day long. The more social skills kids have, the easier it’ll be for them to concentrate on learning.”
In kindergarten, kids are expected to be able to follow the school routine. Prepare them for that by creating a home routine which you can clearly explain. Ferreira says that “following a consistent routine—and pointing out parts of the routine to your child—helps your child know what to expect and when. This will help your child transition to the school routine.”
She suggests parents create a fixed schedule for when to wake the kids up in the morning and put them to bed at night. Bettencourt adds that the nightly routine should include a predictable order of activities: take a bath, put on pajamas, brush teeth, read favorite story or sing favorite song and get a goodnight hug or kiss.
Much of what kids learn in kindergarten happens by listening to the teacher reading aloud. Prepare your kids for this by making reading an important part of their lives.
“Get your child a library card, take [him or her] to the library to check out books, and be sure to read to your child every day,” says Galuski. Melissa Taylor—education expert and author of blog Imagination Soup—agrees. “Reading to your child teaches [them] many things that we adults take for granted,” says Taylor. “Kids learn basics such as how to hold a book, left to right reading, wondering what will happen next, and discovering new words.” So, read to your kids every day and ask them frequent questions to mimic what the teacher does at school.
While you prepare your kids for all the exciting and new things they’ll learn in kindergarten, also acknowledge any unease they may experience. Melanie Dale, author of various parenting books, says that parents should allow their kids to express their feelings. “If they say they’re nervous, rather than say, ‘Don’t be nervous,’ ask them why they’re nervous and validate that feeling,” says Dale. “Share a time when you were nervous and how it worked out.”
Tanni Haas, Ph.D. is a Professor in the Department of Communication Arts, Sciences & Disorders at the City University of New York – Brooklyn College.
Image courtesy of iStock.