September means backpacks, books, and back to school for kids. Four and five-year-old children may have attended preschool but this is their initial venture to “big kid” school. This may include a larger building, a first ride on a school bus, a longer school day, a new teacher, and meeting new children. Kindergarten is a big year in many areas—academic, social, physical, and emotional. Here are some tips to prepare your child for a great start.
Early to bed, easy to rise
Kindergarten-aged children need on average, 10-12 hours of sleep. Regular schedules and consistent bedtime routines promote healthy sleep habits. Sleep is essential for cognitive abilities such as learning, attention, memory, decision-making, reaction time, and creativity. Sleep also influences mood and behavior. A well-fed child who has had a healthy breakfast will be better prepared for a day of learning.
Manageable morning routines
Getting children ready for school on time can be a challenge. Positive morning routines reduce parental nagging, create pleasant interactions, help children to feel successful, and improve their self-image. To achieve smoother mornings, make a list of things that your child must do each day. Decide how long it will take to finish these activities from the time your child wakes up until the time he/she leaves the house. Involve your child in thinking through and creating a plan. Drawings and pictures often help young children. Post your list in two to three places where your child will see it everyday. Your list might look like this:
- Get dressed
- Brush hair
- Eat breakfast
- Brush teeth
- Take coat and backpack (packed and placed by the door the night before)
Provide specific praise (e.g., “Good job putting on your clothes all by yourself.”) and reward task completion (e.g., “Wow! You finished so quickly that you have time to play a game before we leave.”). Reduce stress and enhance success!
Help your child develop an age-appropriate sense of independence. This may include learning how to select their clothes the night before and dress themselves (even if it’s not quite right). Parents can ease this transition by stepping back a bit and letting their child take on a little more responsibility.
Playtime you ask? Isn’t school all about reading, writing, and arithmetic? It is true that early elementary grades include learning academic competencies. However, opportunities for play are essential for growth. Increasing bodies of research link play with the development of cognitive and social skills. Play is associated with growth in memory, self-regulation, oral language, recognizing symbols, literacy skills, academic learning, as well as better school adjustment and social development. Young children learn by doing, interacting with peers through play, taking turns and being considerate of others, using their imagination to solve problems and developing interesting dramatic play scenarios, all contribute to their understanding of the world around them. Children need to use their whole selves, move their bodies, run at recess, develop strength and balance, and activate their sensory systems to support higher-level attention and learning in the classroom. Avoid over scheduling children and allow for “down time” and free play. The bottom line is that learning includes exercising both the mind and body.
Getting a jump on jitters
Let your child know that it is natural to feel nervous when starting something new. Some children will be very excited and the transition to school will be smooth sailing. Others may be nervous or express specific worries about getting lost, not having anyone to sit with on the bus, or even not know where the bathroom is located. Find out what your child thinks kindergarten will be like. Be prepared to answer his/her questions. Next, try role-playing with your child. Pretend play allows children to express their feelings with a safe person (parent) and problem solve even before situations arise. For example, practice and pretend meeting a new teacher. Most of all, listen, be supportive, and reassuring. Most back-to-school anxiety is anticipatory. However, if the level of anxiety seems unusually high or persists past the beginning of the school year, consider seeking outside help. Talk to your child’s teacher, a school counselor or school psychologist.
Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten, by Joseph Slate
A sweet book filled with rhyming and cute characters that let children see the preparation that Miss Bindergarten does to prepare for the children’s arrival. It’s whimsical, cheerful, and filled with great pictures.
The Night Before Kindergarten, by Natasha Wing
Wing captures the excitement about the night before the first day of school like packing up school supplies, laying out clothes, getting ready for the big day, and exploring the classroom. The story helps children get excited about school!
Wemberly Worried, by Kevin Henkes
Henkes writes about fears that young children sometimes have about starting kindergarten. Will I have friends? What if the teacher is mean? This book lets children know that it’s OK to worry and that most worries will go away after school starts.
First Day Jitters, by Julie Danneberg
This book addresses the nervous feeling of starting a new school year at a new school. Children will be surprised to learn that the main character is really a teacher not a student and that they might not be the only person who feels jittery.
School Bus, by Donald Crews
Follow the school bus as it takes children to school and home again.
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