Remember when you started school?
Do you remember your kindergarten classroom? Mine had a u-shaped yellow table with a caddy of crayons on top, a cubby-lined wall, a couple of painting easels, and a colorful reading rug. We heard stories about personified letters, all of which had arms and legs as they smiled at us from a large picture board. And there was repetition: calendar and weather charts, cutting along the dotted line, and practicing on the shoelace grid. These were the challenges of kindergarten, learning the basics of how to stand in line or hop on one foot, or maybe even both at the same time.
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Starting kindergarten may be the biggest transition your child has faced
For children who have had limited preschool or childcare experience, going to kindergarten is a huge adjustment. Everyday life suddenly changes. New expectations and people surround them. Transition issues may include separation anxiety, the pressure of social interaction with a large group of same-aged children, adjustment to all day learning, the loss of routine, the loss of nap, or over-stimulization of new information.
For those children who have been in childcare or preschool, the kindergarten transition might not be as dramatic. However, there are still issues to consider, such as increased academic material, a new school setting, a more structured environment, the loss of old friends and the gain of new friends.
Transitions are never easy. Even exciting, new opportunities can make stomach acid churn and palms sweat. As adults can process transitions in ways children are not able. We can see the reasons for change. We understand how some transitions, like the start of school, are common life experiences and for our good. Therefore, it is important that we, as parents, do our own healthy processing and convey to our children that this transition is a normal, healthy experience.
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Try some of these tips to help your youngster conquer the kindergarten transition
If your child sees you handling the transition with excitement and a positive attitude, she will be encouraged to do the same. Watch how you talk about her starting school, especially in front of her. Do you say things like, "I just know I'm going to cry! I'm really not looking forward to this"? Keep those comments private.
Talk Talk Talk
It seems simple, but open and continuous communication provides a safe place for your child to express his feelings. What is he most excited for? What does he fear? Throughout the school year make a habit of checking in. What did you do today that was fun? Did anything happen that bothered you? Also, communicate frequently with your child's teacher. Is he excelling academically but afraid to interact with other children? Look for both the positive and negatives and talk about both with your child.
Create a Routine
Children thrive on routine. Familiarity brings comfort. Before school starts, talk about what a typical day will look like. Cover all the basics, like what time she will wake up, how she will get to and from school, and what time is bedtime, or if any extracurricular activities will occur. Think of things that will help your routine run smoothly, like choosing her clothes or packing her backpack the night before. If there will be a change in routine, make sure your child knows.
Visit the Classroom
Before school starts, visit the classroom and meet the teacher. Sending your child the first day to a place he's never been or to a teacher he's never met will create a high anxiety level. Spend adequate time in the classroom so that your child may explore. Are there toys he particuarly likes and can look forward to playing with? Have your child make eye contact with the teacher and state his name and something about himself. This will give your child a high level of comfort and confidence for his first day of school.
This should be obvious, but a rested child will transition easier than a tired child. Children need more hours of sleep than adults. Keep bedtime consistent. Even if a child says she is not tired, still put her to bed at her normal time. She can look at books for a few minutes or listen to music, but she should begin her rest time close to the same time every night. It can be hard at the end of summer, when it is still light out, to go back to an earlier bedtime, but start a week ahead of the first day of school.
Cover Safety Rules
This may or may not be helpful. For some children, having a plan in place to deal with unpleasant situations makes them feel secure. For other children, talking about "mean" kids or strangers may cause fear. Only you know best if your child is prepared for stranger situations or bullying. Just make sure your child knows enough to turn to a trusted adult if he is threatened. Also, this is a good time to reinforce road rules. If your child will be walking to school. Do a practice walk and make sure your child knows how to cross the street.
Have a Party
Make the transition important and memorable by celebrating. Look at old pictures from birth to present of your child. Bake a cake or your child's favorite food. Have a picnic or go to out to eat. Mark this moment in your child's life in a special way. Have older siblings share what they liked about kindergarten, or share your own memories if this is for your oldest child.
Keep these thoughts in mind as you work through this transition
Is Your child staying healthy?
Is she getting enough sleep or is she showing signs of lack of rest (inability to focus, grumpiness, hyper activity, foggy brain)? Does your child have a persistent cough or runny nose (perhaps a visit to the allergist is necessary)? Comments like, "I'm so tired" may mean more than just lack of rest. Perhaps your child is involved in too many extracurricular activities.
Does your child feel secure?
Does your child show signs of being uncomfortable at school? Does he talk of being afraid? Does he hold back from normal activities? A child needs positives reinforcement to have confidence academically and socially. Is your child getting the encouragement he needs at school?
Is your child happy?
Children are, by nature, prone to be content. They do not carry the burdens that adults do. They cannot think abstractly about the future. If your child doesn't display signs of happiness or contentedness (consistent with his personality) ask yourself what is causing him to be sad or anxious. Is he under too much pressure academically? Are things going on at home that are stressful, such as a remarriage or divorce? Many school districts have counselors trained to speak with children about these issues.