By Christa Melnyk Hines
For many parents, kindergarten signals an important transition from the all-consuming baby and toddler years. Suddenly, your “baby” is expected to make more choices on her own, stay focused over a longer period of time, learn new skills and navigate a social circle with less oversight from you. Plan ahead to pave the road to a happier kindergarten transition for all.
Visit the school. Before school begins, attend school orientations and meet the teacher to help your child grow familiar with his new learning environment.
Calm kindergarten jitters. Build excitement and optimism for school. Shop together for a new backpack or lunchbox, school supplies and new clothes. “Even if parents are feeling nervous, they should do their best not to portray that to their child,” says Kathy Weller, a kindergarten teacher. “Be very upbeat about the upcoming new experience.”
Recognize friendly faces. Before school starts, arrange play dates with future classmates. A few familiar faces on the first day may help calm any nervous butterflies.
Read together. Reading to your child teaches valuable listening skills and creates an opportunity to help your child prepare for the kindergarten experience. Check out books like The Night Before Kindergarten by Natasha Wing and Kindergarten Rocks by Katie Davis.
Tackle a few skills. While knowing his colors, the ABCs and how to count to ten will give your child a head start, work on other skills like teaching him to tie his shoes and his full name, phone number and birthday.
Plan transportation. Avoid transportation snafus by sticking to a plan and keeping your child (and the teacher) informed. If your child will ride the bus and is nervous, listen and reassure her. Drive the route ahead of time. Also, seek out a “bus buddy” for your child, whether a responsible older neighbor child or another bus-riding classmate. On the first day of school, arrive early at the bus stop. Introduce yourself and your child to the driver. Assure your child that you (or whoever you’ve designated), will be waiting for her when the bus returns after school.
Get good eats and sweet dreams. Make sure your new kindergartener gets plenty of rest and eats healthy meals, which will help him better manage the stress of the transition and stay focused during school. Wake up a little earlier to avoid a rushed first day.
Team up with the teacher. Share insights about your child’s strengths with the teacher to help her understand what motivates and interests your child. “Parents should approach school with the idea that the teacher has their child’s best interest at heart,” says Dr. Holly Schiffrin, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Mary Washington, who specializes in child development and parenting practices. “The parent should convey that they are on the same team as the teacher (even if they have different ideas about how to assist their child).”
Reflect on the day. Having a hard time getting your child to discuss his day? “Keeping a daily journal of their day (with a parent’s help) is a fun way to get your kids to talk about school,” says kindergarten teacher Wendy Hughes. “Ask your child to tell you some funny or interesting things that may have happened that day.”
Manage adversity. Every child is bound to have a rough day. Encourage her to resolve her own problems and take responsibility for her actions. “Ask your child for her input and perspective, genuinely listen, acknowledge and empathize, and then shift the focus towards reaching solutions as a family and in unison with your teachers and school,” says parent coach Tom Limbert, author of Dad’s Playbook: Wisdom for Fathers from the Greatest Coaches of All Time. “Focus on giving your child the tools, morals and lessons she will need when not in your presence, which will now be more and more often.”
Mark the occasion. Celebrate your child’s first day of school with a special outing after school like a frozen yogurt, dinner out or a playdate at her favorite park. Who knows? You may find that initial celebration turns into an annual first-day-of-school tradition for your family.
Freelance journalist Christa Melnyk Hines and her two sons plan to celebrate the first day of school by going out to dinner. Christa is the author of Happy, Healthy & Hyperconnected: Raise a Thoughtful Communicator in a Digital World.