Helping Your Child Get Ready for School

First Day of Kindergarten is OK!

Even if you are ready for your child to go to school, you know that the person who counts the most during this life-changing experience is your child herself.


Research and Resources for Parents

There is abundant research on the transition to school, and many practical guides are available. Most school systems share resources for teachers and for parents. Many schools offer guides in addition to open houses.

But, most of that information is for you, the adult.


Stories of Starting School

Sometimes a young child comes to understand a situation well through storytelling because he can focus on the feelings of characters without worrying too much about his own feelings. If the character is anxious or excited, he can hold off on his personal reaction until he finds out how things turn out for the character.

I am no expert on starting kindergarten. My children have not gone through this, since they are homeschooled. It was a long time ago that I was handed over to a neighbor boy to walk to my first day of school at a school that was new to everyone because it had just been built. I loved school. I don’t remember feeling anxious, and I don’t remember whether my mother, a teacher, helped me through the transition other than sending me to preschool across the hall from her office. It was a familiar situation for me.

If the transition needs a little more smoothing for your child, story books about starting kindergarten might help.

The person I would most trust to recommend books for your child is the local librarian. S/he will likely ask questions and tailor suggestions to your child’s needs. If you don’t have a local librarian to ask, try a librarian-compiled list of Books about Starting School.

If you create a familiar situation and answer any questions as they come up without adding to your child’s worries, starting school should be one of those transitions when your child is willing to tell you what is needed. Follow your child’s lead, and good luck!

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Transition to School: First Day of Kindergarten

Excited for the first day of kindergarten.

Excited for the first day of kindergarten.

When your child goes to school for the first time, it is an important transition for you both. Your child is about to go through a significant change of identity.

It’s normal to be excited to start school, and it’s also normal to be afraid. Familiarity will help tip the balance toward excitement. If you have an older child who has gone through the transition to school already, it can be very reassuring for your younger child to hear about her experiences. Talk about your own experiences with school as well.

The goal is simple: you want your child to like school and steadily build new skills. A few steps now will help your child reach that goal.


The Attached Child

If you have practiced attachment parenting with your child, you may already see the young confidence and independence that will be so helpful during this transition. If your child is confident in your support, you won’t be one of the potential worries your child has to work through.

Your attachment parenting will need to transition as well, so consider basic attachment principles and improvise.


Support the Transition

Make the change gradual. Abrupt change can be difficult for a child to process, so it will help to develop a familiarity with the new situation.

Connect with your child’s teacher to be sure that you have open communication about your child’s needs both at home and at school. Communication with your child’s teacher can build trust between you as you each support the same results. Make this connection now before the school year begins if you can. Your child’s kindergarten teacher will know how to help with the transition, so ask for suggestions.

Embrace the new. It’s exciting! The newness of buying pencils and a school outfit can help your child to anticipate the newness of the experience to come.


School Readiness and Skills

School readiness comes at different times for different children. You as a parent have choices in deciding when your child starts school, but you can anticipate and help readiness if you see the school year approaching.

In addition to academic skills, which might be as simple as recognizing colors and shapes, having a few simple skills will help your child’s transition. A child who is ready for school:

  • Expresses curiosity
  • Can follow directions
  • Works in groups
  • Works alone
  • Communicates wants and needs
  • Uses the toilet and washes hands alone


Play School

I encourage my children to visualize upcoming situations, whether a dance performance or a difficult conversation. They begin to anticipate actions and outcomes and are better prepared for the actual improvisation they face in the situation. For a younger child, role playing can help in a similar way. If you can, involve an older, school-experienced child whom your young child trusts.

If you have visited the school during an open house, ask your child to help set up a staged space that looks like the school classroom. If you know the routine, you could start your play in reality, but it can be fun to let the children get creative in imagining what happens at school. Playing through doubts and questions can help your child let go of fear and embrace the new experience.

Especially if you child is less verbal and enjoys acting out experiences after the fact, this could also be a way to find out more about your child’s day once school begins so you don’t have that conversation most parents have heard.

“How was school today?”
“Fine.”
“What did you do?”
“Nothing.”

I am the parent who says, “Tell me all about your day. I want to hear every little detail.” I don’t get every detail, but I get a lot of personality, reaction, and basic facts. Setting up communication about your child’s activities into the future starts here, so encourage discussion as you prepare now and even more so once school starts.

You know your child better than anyone else.
Open up communication about the upcoming changes, in whatever way your child prefers, to make transition smooth as possible and ensure that your child will have a great beginning to her school experience.


Resources

  • “On Public School,” The Attached Family, Joan DeMeyer (an Attachment Parenting International co-leader), 2008.
  • “Countdown to Kindergarten,” Scholastic.com. This is a collection of articles. As a homeschooling parent, I have found Scholastic articles and checklists very helpful.

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