On my summer adventures I'm always running into five year olds and I can't help but ask them if they are excited for kindergarten. Some tell me all about their new schools, some look like I'm asking if they are ready for a prison sentence, and some just dance around me pretending like I didn't say a thing. I can't blame them- the concept of time is still vague for five year olds and the idea of going to a new school in a month or so is a bit overwhelming.
I love new kinders. I love their first day of school, their wide-eyes, their happy discoveries, their worried expressions that soon turn into confidence. It's a huge life transition, even if they are accustomed to going to a daycare setting.
As kindergarten teachers we're prepared for anything. We know this is the children's first year in school and that we're teaching these children the social skills they'll need to be successful for the rest of their academic career. We're trained in teaching children their letters, numbers, how to read, count, color between the lines, share, sit quietly, and to listen to stories. We're not worried about the academic knowledge your child comes in with- it's our job to help get ready for first grade.
What will help your child have a smooth transition to kindergarten and school as a whole will be to help your child have some independent skills that will allow him/her to take care of his/her own needs, advocate for him/herself, and feel successful in their new environment. Many of these tips are things that will come easily to your child, but as adults we tend to forget to hand over the responsibility. Without even knowing it we tend to still check-in with our kids or talk them through tasks they can do independently.
Here are some non-academic skills that may help pave the way for a smooth and successful transition:
- Practice Independent eating?
- Can your child get through a meal fairly independently without the constant coaching of "two more bites, great, now one bite of broccoli, now one bite of cheese..."? Have one of your child's friends over for lunch, serve lunch and then stand back. Can your child navigate his/her way through the food without your gentle reminders? Give a five minute reminder that lunch is almost over. When the five minutes is up clean up from lunch and see what your child ate. Was it enough to get him/her through a busy afternoon? In kindergarten it is difficult for us to coach all our children through their lunches. If we notice a child hasn't eaten much we'll give reminders and warnings of how much time is left, but we can't individually remind each child to eat. Start preparing your child to become an independent eater so that he/she will not end up hungry at the end of the first few days.
- Practice independent food choices
- If your child is going to eat in the cafeteria he/she will be presented with all sorts of food choices. The teachers will be there to help remind the children to make a choice, but they will not have any idea what your child likes/doesn't like. If you go to a buffet type restaurant will your child be able to independent make choices that he/she will end up eating?
- Practice public restroom independence
- Many kindergarten classrooms have bathrooms in the classroom, but some use a group bathroom in the hallway. Take your child to a public restroom and just stand back. See if they can follow the process- go in, shut the door, wipe, flush the toilet, wash and dry hands in the sink, independently. Unless your child is in a single-sex classroom it is unlikely that the teacher will be a part of the group bathroom experience.
- Allowing for self-help independence-
- Many kinders come to school being able to take care of 95% of the bathroom process, but many are still accustomed to being wiped when they have a bowel movement. Start coaching your child to do this independently including having them pull up their pants without you checking to see if they did a good job. You don't want your child opening the classroom bathroom door and screaming, "Come check me, please!" with all the other children around.
- Encourage advocating for own needs-
- For the most part are you your child's spokes person? Do you know when your child is hungry or needs to go to the bathroom without your child even saying a word? Your child's teacher will not have that skill in the first month of school as she gets to know your child. Prompt your child to use simple sentences to let adults know what's needed.
- Most importantly- Can your child tell you or other adults when he/she needs to go to the bathroom? It's a hard skill for some children to learn, especially when they are in the middle of an exciting activity. Do you always have to remind your child to go to the bathroom? Have you learned your child's 'I need the bathroom signs' so that you're always the one reminding your child to go? This summer start coaching your child through noticing the bathroom need and going independently. If this is still hard talk to the teacher. Let them know that you are working on it but that they might need to give reminders.
- Investigate naps
- Find out if your kindergarten program has afternoon naps. Many don't anymore. If not, start weening your child from the afternoon nap in August, or alter the schedule so that the nap is in the late afternoon when your child will be home from school.
- Set up an early bedtime routine
- Your child is going to be working like crazy in kindergarten. From constantly sharing toys, following directions, staying in line, sitting in a seat, and exercising all that impulse control your child will need every ounce of energy possible. In mid August start preparing the clear night time routine with a good 7:30 or 8:00 bedtime to guarantee that your child will be well rested for school.
- Set up a calm morning routine
- This summer start setting up calm morning routines to get everyone out of the house smoothly. When your child has a rough morning at home it can stay with him/her all day. Practicing those morning routines now will make it easier when school actually starts.
- Practice a good-bye routine.
- Saying goodbye to your child on the first day, or even every morning can be difficult. Read "The Kissing Hand" by Audrey Pen and start practicing having your own kissing-hand routine. Having that in place will make the morning goodbyes easier and less traumatic.
It's going to be an AMAZING year! Your child is going to grow in ways you didn't think possible. You're going to hear crazy stories about the inner workings of kindergarten. 50% will be true, 30% will be what your child WANTS to be true, and 20% will be grounded in reality with some extra details added in. You're going to watch your child want to wash his/her hands the way "Miss Miller taught me" even if it is the same exact way you've been trying to get your child to wash his/her hands for five years. You're going to hear new songs, hear about new books, hear the same classmates' names over and over again, and hear the phrase, "Miss Miller says...." until you think you're head will explode. You will get art project after art project long after your fridge is full. If all goes well you'll have a happy, independent, excited five year old whose ready for their next 12+ years of schooling.