The to-do lists look similar – fill out forms, get school supplies, try on clothes, wonder how they got so big so fast, buy new shoes, get ready for Welcome Day – but the emotions change daily.
No matter how excited your child appears to be for Kindergarten – or how ready you think you are – it’s a big milestone for kids and parents. Beneath all the stuff to do for school, feelings lurk. And they range from “I can’t wait!” to “I’m scared of those big kids on the bus.”
Five-year-olds don’t recognize their emotions – they act them out. Even adults harbour feelings they aren’t aware of, whether it’s your first child heading off to Kindergarten, or your last. As your child branches up and out to their big first day of school, I offer five tips to help keep those emotions in check. The acronym V-TREE makes them easier to remember.
1. VISIT the new school more than once. It’s important for your child to see their school, the playground and the cafeteria before they start. The more times you visit, the smaller and less scary “school” will feel. Kids love to visit the gym, the office, the bathrooms. Do a practice walk to school or drive the bus route. Some schools host a “Ride the Bus” day, or a “Countdown to Kindergarten” – transition programs for kids and parents to get to know each other. If your child’s school doesn’t do this, grab a friend and do an informal visit. Most schools accommodate visiting days. Children also love to show relatives around their “new school” once they are comfortable with it.
2. Talk about TRANSITIONS. In most Kindergarten programs, your child will transition far more than they ever did in preschool or daycare. From the bus to the classroom, from reading to math, recess to lunch, and back to reading again, off to a “special,” (art, gym or library) back to class to pack up and head back to the bus, every day. That’s a lot of transitions for a five-year-old. Remind your child there will always be an adult nearby to help them. Talk about recess, going to the bathroom, and eating in the cafeteria. For my kids, that tray in the cafeteria line was frightening. When we talked about it, I realized they’d never used one before so we headed to a cafeteria-style restaurant that night. Amazing what we learn when we take the time to listen to our children and ask questions.
3. READ for at least twenty minutes a day. Shower your child with a waterfall of words – books, conversations and stories – as much as you can. Reading to, with, and in front of your child, every day is the most important activity you can do to get your child ready for Kindergarten. Keep it fun. Ask questions about what you’re reading, the characters, and touch on ways the story might connect to your child’s life. Read picture books; praise your child’s “pretend” reading. Let them catch you reading on your own. Most importantly, keep reading with your children after they can read themselves. Click here to see the five secrets to a better reader.
4. EMPATHIZE with their emotions. Starting Kindergarten is an exciting time but let your child know it’s also okay to feel a little scared. Ask them to draw a picture of their feelings. Typical five-year-olds fear mean teachers, walking to the bathroom alone, not knowing an answer or finding friends at recess. Remind them that other kids are afraid of the same things and there will always be adults around to help. If your child worries about negative comments about their teacher, assure him that each family has a different experience with each teacher.
If you’re nervous about your child’s year, be careful that your feelings don’t taint your child’s natural enthusiasm for school and learning. Find another adult who will listen to and empathize with your concerns. This is important because if when children pick up on a parent’s stress, they become more anxious themselves.
5. ESTABLISH a different routine in your family for school nights. Starting easy-to-follow habits in Kindergarten will save you time, conflicts, and missed buses down the road. Take it from a mom whose kids missed a few buses. Backpacks ready, clothes laid out, and visual reminders make for better mornings. Going to bed earlier the week before school starts is a great way to gradually move into the 10-11 hours of sleep elementary age kids need for their brain to function best.
Starting Kindergarten is an exciting, emotional time for everyone. Enjoy it!