“Look out, Kindergarten! Here I come!”Posted: August 14, 2012
It’s back to school time for children all over the United States, and that includes my handsome little guy. Just look at how ready he is for Kindergarten:
But how can we be sure that our children are really ready for school? Starting elementary school is an important life change for our children, and we want them to be as prepared as possible for it. But how do we do that? (I realize this post is a bit late for those of you who already have students, so this is more useful for those with the little ones. Trust me, it goes by fast, and it’s never too early to start thinking about this and preparing for it!)
This question can be answered a number of ways. First are the essentials. Upon enrollment, every district requires certain information to be provided by the parents in order to get your child in the system and prepared for school on paper. This basically involves you filling out and turning in various forms about your child. Easy peasy.
Another way we can talk about preparing our children for Kindergarten is by helping them get ready for the change physically, emotionally, and mentally. The first few days of school (like any life change) can be super stressful for all involved, it can be smooth-sailing all the way, or it can be somewhere in between. I’m guessing that in most situations, the beginning of the school year will be somewhat in between. How can we help ease this transition?
- To help our son physically prepare, we started sending him to bed at 8pm and waking him up at 7am every morning for a few days prior to the first day of school, in order to get his body adjusted to the sleeping schedule he would need during the school year. Summer can get a bit relaxed if your child stays at home with mom or dad, and starting them on a healthy, consistent sleeping schedule will prepare their bodies ahead of time. Our school does not do naps for Kindergarten students, and it is a full-day program. Therefore, we also cut out naps this summer from our daytime schedule. School can be exhausting for little ones at first, so they may need to take a short rest or nap when they come home from school. Your best bet is to watch your child’s mood, and adjust his or her schedule accordingly!
- The start of school can feel like an emotional roller coaster for children (and parents too!). We feel excited, anxious, nervous, scared, intimidated, happy, sad, and many other mixed emotions as the first day of school approaches. The best way to reach out to our children emotionally is to talk it out. Ask questions about how they’re feeling: “What do you think about school starting soon? How are you feeling about going to school?” Share with them your own memories of starting school. Or if you don’t remember how you felt then, relate it to the feelings you have when starting a new job. Be honest with them. My son has been feeling about “10% excited” about starting school. What the other 90% covers is a mixture of all the other emotions on the list. He is sad about not being able to spend all day at home with mommy and brother, scared of the unknown, and worried that it will be “too hard.” We can’t make any of our children’s worries go away for them, but what we can do is be there to listen, and let them know we’re there to support them, however they may feel about the situation.
- There are several things that teachers need from children mentally before they start school. This is where all of you parents of the little ones that are thinking “Kindergarten still seems like light-years away” come in. It’s never too early to start on these fundamentals that teachers want all children to have in their learning toolbox. These are things that take time, practice, patience, and effort on both the part of the child and the parents and caregivers. Some key ingredients for children who are prepared to learn are listed in this article as:
- They show an enthusiasm towards learning. Children have curious minds. From the time that they are born, we should be aiding in the development of their curiosity. Those toddlers and preschoolers who ask about 5,000 questions per day? Those infants who point at everything in sight? They have are expressing an enthusiasm for learning. We want to keep that going! It can be frustrating to answer the same questions over and over again, but repetition and exploring their environment are probably the two greatest keys to successful learning. And if they aren’t natural explorers (and certainly, if they are), show your own enthusiasm for exploring the world! In your backyard, “Wow! Look at how tall that tree is! How on earth did it get to be so big? Where did it come from?” In the car, “Look at that big sign over there! What shape is that? What color is it? I wonder why it’s there.” While grocery shopping, “Do you see all these letters? They are everywhere! Let’s see how many of the items we need start with the letter “C”… carrots, cantaloupe, cauliflower… How many “C” items are in our cart?” Learning opportunities are everywhere, and the more excited we are about it from the beginning, the more likely our children will be too!
- They have a good foundation of oral language skills. Children develop vocabulary at such a fast rate. They go from babbling, to repeating “mama” and “dada” all day, to speaking in sentences in just two short years or less. Experience is key. Wherever you go with your children, talk about what is around you. Go to the zoo and talk about the different animals. At the store, talk about the different types of food groups and the specific foods within them. Exposing your children to a variety of nonfiction books can help with this as well. Teachers want your child to recognize the difference between a crayon and a pencil. A cat and a kitten. A tomato and an apple. Language development has everything to do with exposure to language, the words that we use to describe what is around us. The more we talk to our kids using a varied vocabulary, the more words they are able to learn.
- They are able to sit still and listen. Young children have short attention spans; that is no secret. The key to getting them to remain interested in an activity or story for a longer period of time is to practice, practice, practice. Read to your children every day, for at least twenty minutes. If they interrupt or lose focus, simply say, “When you are quiet and ready to listen, I can continue to read.” If they remain uninterested, stop reading to them, and try again later. But don’t give up! You can’t force a child to listen. You can’t force a child to sit still. Patience and practice are the way to win this one for even the squirmiest of young learners.
- They want to be independent. Preschoolers love to do things for themselves. “Let me do it!” “I want to try it!” So let them! Whether it’s pouring their own milk in a cup, or zipping and unzipping their coats over and over again, child have to learn to do things for themselves. In most cases, it’s easier and faster to do these things for our children. However, if we constantly help our children, they will remain reliant on that help. Twenty-something children can’t ask the teacher to put their coat on for them, or else recess would be over before they could get outside! So if your child insists, “I want to do it all by myself,” let them! And for those who are constantly asking, “Mommy, can I have a drink?” or “Daddy, can you help me put on my socks?” give them a firm and encouraging, “Let’s see if you can do it! Give it a try!” Independent children are generally responsible children, and responsible children tend to care more about their own education. At school, “I want to try holding that pencil” turns into “Look at how nicely I wrote those letters!”
- They have strong fine-motor skills. Again, practice is key here, and it starts when an infant uses their pincher grasp to pick up their first finger foods. Things like threading a shoelace through holes on cardboard to make a pattern, or squirting each other with a water gun on a summer afternoon are ways to help develop those small muscles in the hands and fingers that children need for things such as writing, gluing, cutting, and coloring. Make it fun, and they won’t even know it’s going to help them in Kindergarten. 😉
- They know the letters of the alphabet and can count to ten. I also want to add that they may want to know how to spell and be able to write the letters of their name. Taking the opportunity to point out letters and numbers all around us is a great way to get this information into their little brains. Reading and books that are geared toward counting help with this tremendously. Our Kindergarten student is probably reading on a first-grade level at this point, partly because he attended a great preschool program, partly because of his own ability to catch onto things quickly, and partly because of our encouragement.
No matter how early we start preparing our children (and ourselves!) for this life change, things can still go wrong. My son is geared much more toward an enthusiasm to be active and learn to play sports than he is to sit at a table or desk and learn about letters and numbers. Do I think he will do poorly at school because he isn’t showing an enthusiasm to learning on his first day of school? Absolutely not. I think he will do just fine. The reality is that our child’s learning experience is up to them. Once they start Kindergarten, we can’t make them sit still, or listen to the teacher, or control their feelings towards school. What we can do for them, however, is show our own love of learning, to show them that learning never stops, and to expose them to as much as we can in a safe, relaxed learning environment. Once we’ve done what we are capable of to prepare them for this day, we can only sit back and watch our child say, “Look out, Kindergarten! Here I come!”