By Tanni Haas, Ph.D.
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, a professor of early childhood development and education, says that kids should be able to dress themselves, including 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 and wash their hands afterwards without reminders, unpack their lunch, and wipe their faces after they’ve eaten. These skills, Professor 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 kids’ ability to make good choices. Merete Kropp, an experienced kindergarten teacher and expert on child development, says that kids should be able to make many choices. This includes choosing among different activities in the classroom and who to play with in the playground. “Children who’ve been given autonomy at home in developing preferences and making meaningful choices,” Ms. Kropp says, “are able to transfer this skill to the school setting, thereby exerting confidence in making wise choices within the classroom setting.”
A way to make your kids more independent and autonomous is to assign them household chores. Charity Ferreira of GreatSchools, an education think tank, says that parents should give their kids chores like setting the table before dinner, folding the laundry, and tidying up around the house. “These types of activities,” Ms. 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; it’s quite another to have the confidence to show those skills in front of classmates. Dr. Amie Bettencourt, a child psychologist, 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 spend time before kindergarten starts talking to their kids about what the school day will be like.
You can make your kids more self-confident by organizing playdates over the summer. 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. That way, when your kids walk into class on the first day of school, they’ll see some familiar faces. “A lot of what makes kindergarten a tough transition,” Ms. Ferreira says, “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 clearly explain. As Ms. Ferreira says, “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 that parents create a fixed schedule for when to wake the kids up in the morning and put them to bed at night. Dr. 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 by making reading an important part of their lives. “Get your child a library card, take her to the library to check out books, and be sure to read to your child every day,” Professor Galuski says. Melissa Taylor, an education expert and author of Imagination Soup, a well-known blog, agrees: “reading to your child teaches her many things that we adults take for granted. 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, read lots of different things, and ask them frequent questions to mimic what the teacher does at school.
While you prepare your kids for all the exciting new things they’ll learn in kindergarten, also acknowledge any unease they may experience. Melanie Dale, the author of several books on parenting, says that parents should let their kids 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. 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.