The Kindergarten Kickoff

Brought to you by National PTA

Assess His Skills
If you're worried about your little one making a smooth transition to kindergarten, take heart. The majority of children are well prepared to begin kindergarten, according to Fred Morrison, a professor of psychology at Loyola University in Chicago. Morrison gets lots of questions from parents who wonder whether their child is ready to start school. Is yours? For the answer, think about your child's development in four areas: literacy skills, social skills, self-esteem, and peer-relations skills.

  1. Literacy skills
    Kindegarten is designed to develop kids' literacy skills in preparation for first grade, says Morrison. Most kids are adequately prepared for the demands that kindergarten will place on them. If your child attended preschool, you will notice very minor changes in kindergarten and the early grades.
  2. Social Skills
    Parents worry about two types of social skills: how well their child gets along with other people, and work-related skills (a child's degree of independence, level of responsibility, and ability to cooperate).

    Essentially, these are the skills your child will need in order to learn in a classroom. He'll also need to follow directions, behave while unsupervised, and clean up after himself. "These skills are as critical to learning as reading and math are," Morrison says. "It's a big concern in the education community that kids are coming to school without these skills. Kids will build on them every single year throughout school."

  3. Self-Esteem
    Morrison says not to worry too much about your child's self-esteem. "Research suggests that poor achievement isn't a result of a bad self-image. And at the beginning of kindergarten, the vast majority of kids think very highly of themselves."
  4. Peer Relations
    Most kids interact well with other kids; only a small percentage have difficulties interacting in the classroom or on the playground.

Remember that as a parent, you are your child's first teacher. Your child will learn and develop many skills while at school, but those that he learns from you -- how to cooperate, follow directions, and clean up after himself -- will help him get off to a great start in kindergarten!

Help at Home
Most likely, your child will experience a variety of emotions before starting kindergarten: happiness, pride, and excitement about growing up; sadness over leaving the teachers and friends at preschool behind; and fear of the unknown. The overall experience could leave her with ambiguous feelings.

"When young children feel complex emotions, they don't know how to deal with them. Their parents need to guide them," says Norma Richard, assistant professor of education at the National College of Education of National-Louis University in Illinois. Be sure to tell your child that she can master these feelings -- tell her, "You can do this!"

Preparing your child to make a successful transition from preschool to kindergarten begins at infancy, through the loving environment that you create for her. Kids have to know that their parents "are crazy about them," Morrison says. They need to feel unconditional love, to feel safe and secure in a warm, nurturing environment. You need to provide your child with standards and limits on her behavior, and a predictable schedule, including bed time and rising time.

Try to eat dinner together as a family. Set a specific time for brushing teeth, taking a bath, and getting into bed. Kids have to know what's going to happen to them and what's expected of them. When they do, the transitions they face --including that first big one from preschool to kindergarten -- will go a lot more smoothly.

Talk It Out
How you view the beginning of kindergarten -- and how you communicate that to your child -- will have a great impact on how she handles her transition to kindergarten.

"First of all, think of this transition as an opportunity for your child to grow," says Norma Richard. "It's important to help your child cope with the difficulties she will face in terms of loss and separation."

Don't hold back -- it's important to talk to your child about starting kindergarten. Try to answer all her questions! "Kids have fears about what's going to happen next because they have no experience to build on," says Richard.

Listen hard, so you can be reasssuring. Don't just say, "You'll be fine, don't worry." Address your child's concerns. Richard suggests that you give your child plenty of opportunities to talk about kindergarten before the school year starts. You can kick off a discussion by mentioning any field trips your child took in preschool. Ask, "I wonder what trips your new teacher will take you on?" If you suspect your child is sad, say, "Some children are sad when they leave preschool. How are you feeling?"

Practice Routines
Ritualizing back-to-school time is another way you can help make your child's transition to kindergarten a bit easier. Who doesn't remember the fun and excitement of going out to buy school shoes for the new school year? Make a big deal out of going to buy a lunch box and a new book bag. Norma Richard also recommends bringing your child to the new school and letting her meet the new teacher, see the classroom, and tour the building. If you can't stage a dress rehearsal of your child's first day, even just driving past the new school can help to familiarize your child with it and help set her at ease.

Excerpted from "From Preschool to Kindergarten," published in National PTA's Our Children magazine.

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