Kindergarten, By the Letter
By: Suelain Moy
There are few transitions more memorable or poignant than the first day of kindergarten. In your child’s life, it will be the first of many educational and developmental milestones. Here, we spell out the secrets of an exhilarating first day—letter by letter—and celebrate all the ways you can support your child’s learning at school, on the first day and every day.
Keep Up With the Paperwork
Keep track of essential documents. Position the school calendar in a prominent place where everyone can see it, and decorate it with stars or stickers to commemorate special days. Fill out important medical forms and emergency contact information. Check in with your pediatrician to make sure your child’s check-up and immunization records are up-to-date before school starts. Ask the doctor about ways to help make the vaccination process easier on your child. Be sure to provide any information on health issues such as asthma and food allergies with your child’s teacher and the school nurse. Many schools have policies about keeping medication for your child at school in case of emergencies, so it’s helpful for personnel to know of any important issues.
Introduce Yourself and Your Child to the Teacher
Familiarizing herself with a new environment can help ease your daughter’s anxiety about a new environment. Take a tour of the new school if possible before the first day. Many teachers set up their classrooms in the weeks before the first day of kindergarten and won’t mind a short visit. Some schools arrange for Open Houses or receptions so that new students and families can see the layout of the school and meet the staff. Make the introduction memorable by having your child make a gift for her new teacher and presenting it on the first day or visit.
Nostalgia can be a very powerful tool, when used positively
Show your child pictures that celebrate her triumphs and demonstrate how much she has grown over the years. Use her baby and preschool pictures as a visual resume to point out all the progress she has made, and the new situations she has mastered. Revel in her newly grown status. Praise her as you point out relevant details, “Look, how tiny you were then! You only had one tooth!” “We were so proud when you started walking.” “That’s the first time you saw the ocean.” “You didn’t like the taste of pickles!”
Discover New Talents and Abilities
Getting ready for kindergarten is a process. There is much you can do at home and outside of school to develop and support your child’s readiness. Don’t compare your child to others, but do take the opportunity to encourage your child to explore and take risks, both large and small. From making new friends to playing in a different park, providing your child with new experiences will give her the means to test out talents and build her confidence. Put another way, she won’t be afraid to try out new situations and make new friends at school.
Easy Does It
Often a gentle hand or tone of voice is all that’s needed to nudge your child in the right direction. Placing too many expectations or establishing too many new rules at once can be confusing and upsetting. It’s important to keep some routines and objects familiar, and not replace every aspect of your child’s life. Stay in touch with the pals from preschool, keep a favorite blanket, T-shirt, or stuffed animal at home or in the cubby. It will take time for your child to adjust to new faces and settings, and nobody will care if your child reaches for the same tattered picture book day after day, as long as they keep learning and reading. Remember to be gentle, especially if you’re the one having a hard time with leaving your child and saying good-bye at the door!
Routines—Keep Them Regular and Easy to Do
Routines are not only comforting, but instructional. They provide order and structure to the day and help us prioritize what needs to get done. Getting enough rest is crucial to your child’s success at school, so initiate school bedtimes a week or two before school starts. Sticking to a routine doesn’t have to be strict or demanding, just consistent. It can be as simple as having a regular bath time or reading time, and picking out the clothes you will wear to school the night before, or sitting down together at dinner. Set simple and doable expectations and guidelines for your child’s behavior at home. Review safety procedures when on the bus or crossing the street. It will be good practice for the day your child will have to learn and keep up with new routines and requirements at school.
Get the Right Gear and Personalize It
New shoes or clothes, a new backpack, and picking out colorful school supplies are all ways to highlight the excitement of starting a new chapter. And they don’t have to be expensive or elaborate. You don’t have to buy a brand new wardrobe, but a special update like a T-shirt or cap can be a fun way to commemorate the big day. And once you’ve assembled all the items and supplies on your back-to-school checklist, remember to have fun. Try one of our back-to-school activities and crafts, from making backpack buddies, to decorating notebooks and pencils, and personalizing everyday objects.
Admire and Applaud Your Child’s Strengths and Abilities
Too often parents get caught in the trap of the not-readys and the not-yets. Focusing on your child’s flaws is undermining to his self-confidence and a drain on everyone. School, and every other learning experience, becomes a mad dash to the next goal post, test, or performance. Every child has unique gifts and abilities that will shape his perception and response to the world. Knowing what your child’s strengths are—and reminding him of how powerful and capable he truly is—will lay a secure foundation for a lifetime of learning.
Reinforce and Review Basic Skills and Lessons at Home.
Simple tasks like painting, learning how to write your name, tying shoelaces, and taking care of his belongings will be valuable assets for your child in school. In addition to classroom skills like writing, drawing, reading, adding, and subtracting, you should practice social skills: taking turns, listening, sharing, and saying “please” and “thank you.” It will be easier for your child to be polite and courteous if he sees you modeling good manners and attitudes at home.
Tackle the List. Don’t Let it Tackle You
Continue to set new goals for both yourself and your child. Identify what you would like to accomplish, and prioritize what needs to be done first. Writing down a list of what your child would like to learn at school will help him feel empowered and keep him focused. It can be as simple as “I would like to make new friends,” or “I would like to learn how to roller skate,” or “I would like to invent new colors with my crayons and paints.” As your child signs up for new activities and meets her peers on playgrounds and play dates, keep up your own networking and socializing, too. Take a class, attend a school or event, and introduce yourself to others. Developing a good rapport with the teacher and other parents is more important than checking off items on a list. Some moms even make up mommy cards so they can pass them out to new acquaintances. Mother and child meet-ups at the playground or after school pizza dates are a great way to mark the first day.
Enjoy the Process
Don’t forget to breathe in the midst of all the form-filling, clothes-buying, supply-gathering preparation. Everything will get done eventually, but probably not all at once. It’s important to give yourself enough time and resources for any given task. Don’t try to handle too much or you and your child will quickly become overwhelmed and discouraged. If she senses from you that kindergarten is a positive and valuable growth experience, it will change how she approaches new situations in the future.
Never Give Up
If you or your child are struggling with a particular issue, don’t despair. In time the foreign will become familiar, and your child will learn to adjust to what’s expected of her and communicate what she needs. Do ask for guidance and help as soon as any issues arise. A neighborhood mom, a grandparent, an aunt, teacher or principal can provide experienced insights. Teachers especially can be an invaluable resource when it comes to handling separation issues and anxiety. You also can post a specific question on one of our boards or ask one of our resident experts. Chances are fair to excellent that if you’re experiencing a problem or dilemma, others are or have, too.
- Click here for more tips from Suelain Moy’s media partner, Dr. David Nelson, chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Georgetown University Hospital
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