She turned around to walk into her new school setting and as soon as her back was turned, her mother burst into tears. I was the mother. The child was my first. The setting was her college, freshman year drop-off. As a school counselor with four grown children, I often shared this anecdote with parents.
My children’s leaving home for college, especially the first child, reminded me of these same children’s first steps out of our home into their kindergarten classrooms. Kindergarten represents a major milestone in the lives of children and their parents. Although most children have attended preschool or day care before entering kindergarten, it is not lost on either parents or children that moving on into kindergarten is a major step into the world of growing up. For children the school is bigger, the kids are bigger and there are more of them. Parents see kindergarten as the first step into the next thirteen years of school. They may feel the pressure of the need for academic performance. They frequently experience a fear of loss of control over the forces influencing their children. On the other hand, parents recognize their children’s readiness to learn new skills — social, academic and physical — to branch out and develop new friendships and to appreciate a broader world. For children and parents this passage can be both exciting and anxiety provoking.
To help make this transition into kindergarten easier for your child and yourself, there are many activities that you can do both prior to kindergarten and as the school year begins, which are outlined below.
During the Summer:
• Begin to go to the playground at the new school.
• If you receive a class list, call someone who will be in your child’s class to get together. If this is not your first child entering kindergarten at the school, and/or you already know other families with entering kindergartners, reach out to a family new to the community or to the school. It means so much to them.
• Walk the route to school several times or ride by the school and tell your child that this is her new school.
• Encourage the practice of self-help skills: dressing, undressing, hand washing, toileting, zipping, putting away toys. Parents often say: “He can do these things, but we are always in a rush.” Employing these self-help skills enhances children’s feelings of competence.
• Provide your child with the opportunity to have a developmentally appropriate ‘job’ at home, one that benefits the family, one that you can be consistent with: e.g. clearing the dishes off the table nightly or at breakfast; helping set the table; feeding the pet. Let her know that you need her help. A child’s contributing to the family enhances her feeling of responsibility and of being part of the family ‘community.’ I have seen these practices translate into a child’s becoming a responsible member of the kindergarten classroom community.
• Encourage your child to know and say his full name, address and telephone number. Read books about beginning a new school and/or about making new friends. Obtain a library card and make it an exciting event, if your child does not already have one.
• Learn some details about your child’s school. If the school or system has a web site, refer to it. Also, you can ask a friend or neighbor, the PTC president or a member.
A Couple to a Few Weeks Before:
• Develop a calendar to ‘count down’ to kindergarten.
• Do not over-schedule your child when planning after-school activities. You can always add activities later.
A Week or Days Before:
• Establish a consistent school-time schedule, as best you can at this time, and try, try not to travel right before school starts.
• Make school transportation plans and before and after school plans clear to your child. Information presented in a calm and clear way can prevent or reduce anxiety.
• Label all of your child’s belongings. It is amazing how many items of students’ clothing and school supplies end up in the Lost and Found pile in school!
The Night Before School:
• Plan your child’s outfit and lay it out.
• Remember a cold pack for perishables if you include them for snack or lunch. Keep it simple and healthful.
• Plan a good night’s rest for your child--and for you!
• Take out your camera, charged and ready to go.
First Days of School (or before):
• Read through all information you receive. The teacher typically provides detailed information about the first days of school in her classroom. You will be welcomed and provided with a list of what your child needs to take to school, e.g. materials, snack food. You may be given information about when and how to contact the teacher as well as who the additional resources are within the school.
• It is best to follow the guidelines and rules as set out. This is one way for you to develop a collaborative relationship with your child’s teacher and school. My mother used to say: “You get more with honey than with vinegar.” Convey to your child a positive attitude about school. By your demonstrating enthusiasm about the school experience, your child will enter school with positive feelings.
• On the first day of school and subsequent days, be on time! One big change for many parents is from a casual school start time to a specific school time. This does matter both to the teacher and to your child. Walking in late is like marching out of step in a parade. Remember, your goal is your child’s best development.
The above suggestions and guidelines are just that. You know your child’s needs best: when to implement ideas and introduce activities to your child and which would be more likely to work.
It is important to know yourself as well. Try to separate your feelings from those of your child. Whether sad, scared or excited, or all three, these are normal feelings for parents to experience. Good luck!
Brenda Stern Pollack, M.Ed was an elementary school guidance counselor in the Brookline school system for 25 years. She is the mother of four and grandmother of nine, one of whom is in the Needham schools.