Going to “big kid school”: Tips to get your kindergartener ready

Stage a “practice run” before your child goes off to school, a UAB professor says.

Your preschooler has mastered the art of coloring inside the lines, can sit criss-cross applesauce for up to three minutes without being threatened and eat spaghetti without the aftermath looking like a crime scene.

nycu_big_kids_sThey’re ready. It’s time for big kid school.

For many 5-year-olds across the country, kindergarten is right around the corner, and that’s exciting. But, the thought of getting a new teacher, travelling down foreign hallways and riding a school bus also can stir up anxiety in some tykes – and mommy and daddy, too.

With a proper plan in place, going to big kid school can be painless, says Linda Kay Emfinger, Ph.D., associate professor of early childhood education in the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Education.  

Here are some tips she offers for readying your little fish diving into the big pond:

Get a head start: Ask your child’s school for a list of kindergarten readiness skills, Emfinger says. “Assess your child’s school readiness, and work to help your child achieve any necessary skills that he or she may lack,” she says. “Start early establishing a supportive relationship with the teacher and ask for suggestions to support the school curriculum.”

Reading is fundamental (in more ways than you think): Prepare your child for their new experiences by reading them books, Emfinger says. She recommends Kissing Hand and Ms. Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten. Also, Swimmy and Rainbow Fish are good reads about making new friends, she says.

Stage a practice run: If the new social setup makes your child nervous, role play scenarios with them of how to enter situations such as joining in a game or playground group, Emfinger says.

Also, visit the school and informally tour all of the spaces your child will encounter (lunchroom, restroom, gym, school nurse, playground, music, art, etc.), she recommends. “Discuss appropriate rules and procedures and behaviors that will be expected in each.”

Get them “big school ready”: Help your child become independent in toileting, eating (i.e. opening milk cartons, ketchup packets) and putting away toys and personal materials, she says. That way, they can manage those scenarios with confidence.

Watch your mouth: Be careful not to let your anxiety get out of hand; that nervousness will transfer to your child, Emfinger says. Talk positively about the transition as a “growth” opportunity, she says. Tell them, “Now you are old enough to ride the bus. . . go to ‘big school’ etc.”

Start a ritual: Discuss ways that you will say goodbye each day and develop a goodbye ritual such as a hug, high five, parting words, Emfinger says. “Discuss the new and exciting activities in which your child will engage each day.”

Ask the teacher for a tentative schedule so that you and your child can have a “practice run” at home, she says. Two weeks before school starts begin going to bed early, getting up, getting ready for school and traveling to the bus stop or school so that your child can begin to manage his or her time.

Educate yourself: Ask questions to get clarification about the things causing you to be anxious, she says. “For example, if you are anxious about your child riding the bus, call the transportation office and ask questions about how drivers handle bus discipline, communicate concerns, etc.,” she says.

“Knowledge is power,” Emfinger says. “Many times anxiety is caused by the unknown.”

Add a touch of home: Treat your child to little affirmations to help them remember that you love them and are rooting for them to succeed, she says. Emfinger suggests the following:

  • Post a family photo in your child’s cubby so that he or she can take a peek during lonely times.
  • Put a note in your child's lunch box celebrating new school adventures. Write something like, “I can't wait to hear about your exciting day.” Note: Do not convey that you miss your child, Emfinger says.
  • If the classroom has student mailboxes, give the teacher several letters for your child to receive the first days of school.

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