You knew this day would come: the first day of kindergarten. Your child is taking another step – an early one – toward the independence we’re raising all our kids for.
You’ve been reading to and with your child. You regularly show how your family values learning. The two of you have been counting together. He or she knows colors. He or she recognizes letters, especially the ones that spell his or her name. Your child plays nicely with other kids. He or she listens (mostly).
Now it’s time for “big kid” school. You know your child is ready but want to make sure he or she feels ready, too. Here are some tips I’ve learned from wise parents, many of whom have put more than one kindergartener on the bus for the first time, from experienced teachers who have welcomed many a five-year-old to the first day of kindergarten, and from my own many years as an educator in schools.
1. Relax. Kids are perceptive. If you sound anxious when you talk about school, they’ll learn to be anxious, too. You might as well be bright and cheerful. Bring up the subject of school matter-of-factly, when you’re not doing a zillion other things. A nice conversation in the car or while back-to-school shopping. When a school scene comes on TV or in the book you’re reading together (your friendly children’s librarian can help here.) The opportunities will come up often. Recognize them.
2. Talk. Talk about the new and exciting things school offers such as making new friends or learning new games. Explain that there are lots of opportunities for coloring, drawing, singing, playing and learning about new things. Tell your child about the things you liked about school, your good memories, the nice teachers and so on.
3. Listen. Don’t hog the conversation. Let him or her talk about what he or she is looking forward to. If your child is nervous about something, he or she will let you know. Maybe not in words, though. So watch his or her expressions, notice the topics he or she brings up repeatedly, and listen for his or her tone of voice. Excitement is loud. Fear is whispered. Be encouraging, and if necessary, reassuring.
4. Show enthusiasm. Don’t overdo it – kids know fake enthusiasm when they hear it – but let them see that school will be cool. If there are older brothers or sisters, include them in a what-I-like-most-about-school conversation. Hearing “Oh, Ms. Collins is so much fun! I loved her!” can help more than you might think.
5. Stick to routines. This is very important: kids need routines. Routines make them feel safe. Routines enable them to know what’s expected of them and what comes next. Before school starts, begin setting bedtime, mealtime, playtime and family time routines. Stick to them.
This is a great age for learning. Kindergarteners love learning new things, showing off their knowledge to you and becoming “big kids.” This is an exciting time for them. Do everything you can to support this excitement, nurture it, love it, show how it makes you proud, and extend it as long as possible.