Children who are five years old by September 30 can start kindergarten in the fall, and families throughout Central Virginia can register their little ones for kindergarten on April 11. Then, the countdown begins! This first step into the world of formal learning and increased independence can bring mixed emotions for both parents and children. What can you do to make sure the whole family is ready?
Preparing for kindergarten involves more than learning the ABCs, although that’s important, too. In my role as a pediatrician, former elementary school teacher, and mom of a 5-year-old and a 7-year-old, I have learned a lot about preparing children and their families for the kindergarten launch.
1. Set a positive tone.
Children don’t know what to expect of kindergarten, so they’ll be looking to you to set the tone. Make it one of excitement and fun. Build their anticipation of new things they’ll learn and friends they’ll meet.
2. Encourage independence.
When they get to school, kids need to be able to take care of basic functions on their own. This includes using the bathroom, putting on and taking off their coats, etc. Fine motor skills, such as holding a pencil or crayon, will allow them to hit the ground running inside the classroom. They’ll need self-regulation and social skills as well. Prior to the start of school, provide opportunities for them to interact with other children at the park, in play groups and story times, at the library, book stores, museums, etc. Give them time and space to work on these skills, and encourage kids to ask for help when they need it.
For safety purposes, it’s also important that children know basic information such as their address, phone number, and parents’ first
and last names.
3. Create routines.
Consistent routines have many benefits. When children know what to expect, they feel more confident and in control of their situation. Routines also help keep parents on track, especially when you’re pulled in many directions.
We often underestimate the importance of sleep. A consistent bedtime will help keep the family on a good schedule and encourage ample sleep. It will also make waking up and getting ready for school in the morning an easier and more pleasant experience for everyone! Family meals and shared reading are also great components of a regular routine.
Routines extend into the school setting as well. Regular attendance, including arriving to school on time, is important in promoting a positive learning experience and helping children feel invested in their education.
4. Keep them healthy.
This one is sometimes easier said than done, but there are many things parents can do to promote good health. Take children for their regular checkups with their pediatrician, dentist and other healthcare providers. Make sure they’re up to date on vaccines and encourage healthy habits, such as sneezing and coughing into their elbows, washing hands thoroughly, and brushing teeth regularly. An aching tooth or constantly runny nose can make it hard to concentrate in school.
A balanced diet and adequate sleep are also essential to keeping the body healthy. Good health will result in more consistent attendance and improved opportunities for learning.
5. Set up children for a lifetime of learning.
As parents, we often get caught up with academic skills such as reading and writing. While these are important, we need to focus on building a foundation for learning. This can be done through singing songs, reading books, learning nursery rhymes, counting objects, having conversations, and playing with our children. If kids enter school with a love of learning and exploration, they will be well-prepared to pick up the academic skills.
6. Develop a comfort level.
Help your little one develop an understanding of what school will be like. Take them to your local elementary school on April 11 for kindergarten registration, and give them a chance to look around. An orientation event closer to the first day of school is another excellent opportunity for both kids and parents to develop a comfort level with the school, classroom, and specific teacher. They’ll get to see their name on their cubby or coat rack and start to feel like their new classroom is a place where they belong.
Reading books about going to school can help in preparing for the transition as well. Talk about what will be consistent in their lives and what will be new and exciting with the start of the school year.
Sending a child to kindergarten will be a change no doubt, but preparing throughout the summer will make the transition smoother for the entire family. As the big day gets closer, discussing a good-bye routine for the first morning (and a hello routine for the afternoon!) just may help everyone feel ready for this new adventure.