Anyone with kids knows how quickly time can fly. One day, you are cuddling your newborn bundle of joy, and the next, you are sending him off to kindergarten. As exciting as this can be,starting school is a really big deal to small children and can be very scary and overwhelming. Kindergarten isn’t what it was when I was a tiny student with a too-big backpack and an eager smile. Several decades later, we are expecting so much of our smallest students.
With help from some amazing teachers in our area, here are seven simple tips to smooth the transition to kindergarten.
Pro Tip #1: Start Early
Start early, really early! Veteran teacher Sallye Abadie shares her biggest advice, “Start reading to children early and make it a daily happening. Every minute on a lap helps!” According to the program 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten, this may be easier than you think. If you read a book each day to your child (and yes, repeats are definitely allowed!), you can easily read over 1,000 books in just three years. Didn’t start reading with your child at birth? Start now! It’s never too late to pick up a good book for some snuggle time with your tot.
“One misconception that many parents seem to worry about is whether or not their child can read before kindergarten,” shares Ann Giles, experienced pre-kindergarten teacher. “Children entering kindergarten do not need to know how to read. Learning to read will happen in kindergarten or in first grade. It just really depends on where they are developmentally. What parents can do right now is read to their children. While reading, point out how each sentence begins with a capital letter. Point out sight words such as ‘and’ and ‘the’. Explain that letters make up words and words make up sentences. What is the punctuation mark at the end of the sentence? Also, demonstrate that we read from left to right. See if your child can retell the story in his own words, through drawings, or by acting it out. Can he predict what is coming next? These are early pre-reading skills that will help their child when they enter kindergarten.”
Pro Tip #2: Practice Social & Emotional Skills
Early childhood teacher Monique Melancon shares that many parents overlook the importance of social and emotional skills before kindergarten. She also explains that skills such as sitting when asked, having a conversation, sharing, turn taking, and following directions can be overlooked in favor of academic readiness. Simple activities that parents can do to increase social and emotional readiness are: play board games to practice turn taking, participate in playdates for exposure to playing with peers, and have your child spend time with trusted adults without mom or dad there.
Pro Tip #3: Encourage Independence
Most parents are probably glad when the, “I do it myself!” phase of toddlerhood is over, but now is the time to capitalize on these moments. Giles prompts, “Does your child have independent skills? Not only daily living independent skills (like using the potty), but can they work independently as well as in a group setting?” To encourage independence in our young children, give them responsibilities. Kindergarten teacher Bonnie Catalano shares that small children can handle easy chores. “Give children little jobs to teach responsibility: pick up toys, help set the table, pick up dirty clothes and put in a hamper, help sort socks, or feed the dog. Build self-esteem by praising your child when they are successful.”
Pro Tip #4: Build Language
Help build your child’s language skills by speaking with him each day. Ask him questions about his surroundings or favorite toys. One fun activity is to draw or color with your child and ask him to explain what is happening in the artwork. Practice completing directions by playing follow-the-leader. Play games like I Spy and Simon Says to encourage language development. Encourage your child to point out the first letter of his name whenever they see it. Once the first letter is mastered, add the next letter to the game. Rhyming games are also a fun way to build language.
Pro Tip #5: Cognitive Skills
Help your child to become a thinker through play. Time in the car can be very valuable for building cognitive skills. Easy car activities include: practicing counting to 20; counting objects you see, such as school buses or houses on your street; talking about the letters on stop signs; and pointing out the different shapes and colors of signs. At home, channel your inner child and pull out the arts and crafts supplies. Practice writing letters and numbers in sand, use paint brushes and water to paint letters on the sidewalk, make huge letters with sidewalk chalk and use stickers to make patterns.
Pro Tip #6: Develop Physical Skills
Get your inner Pinterest on to find limitless ideas for developing fine motor skills. Art activities such as stringing beads to make a necklace or using child-safe scissors to cut scrap paper help to develop the tiny muscles of the hands and strengthens them to be ready to learn to write. Encourage your child to write, scribble, draw, color, paint, and/or play with clay as often as you can. For gross motor skill development, hit your backyard or the park. Play tag, hopscotch, catch, or leapfrog to improve coordination and stamina.
Pro Tip #7: Decrease Anxiety
Decrease anxiety by making a couple of school visits before the big day. Just as adults like to be familiar with their surroundings and expectations, so do little ones. Call the school to set up a pre-visit. Point out fun things like the playground, water fountain, and library. If possible, visit the classroom that will soon be your child’s. Snap a few pictures to look at periodically before the first day. Ask your child questions such as, “What do you think you will do in the library?” and “What part of the playground are you excited about?”
Finally, include your child in the preparation process. August can be a crazy time of year and the temptation to order all of the school supplies online can be strong. Leave a few items out of your cart and allow your child to choose the pencil case or backpack that she wants. On the first day, she can strut her stuff with her new gear.
And, camps can help with socialization, skill building, and emotional development, too! Use your child’s interests as a guide. Have a budding artist? There are several summer art camps. Anxiety plaguing your little one? Find a counseling service that offers camps for identifying and working through emotions and decreasing anxiety. Does your child love the spotlight? Theatre and drama camps will give your child the skills he needs to take the stage. A few music studios also offer camps that can help your child develop his inner rockstar. If you are looking for academic based camps, several schools in our area have educational camps. ■