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Transitioning Into Kindergarten

  • What are some of the expectations in kindergarten?
  • How will it be different from child care?
  • What can I do to support my child before they start?
  • How can I continue to support my child after the kirst day?

Kindergarten is bound to be a whole new experience for kids regardless of how much time they previously had in school or childcare. There are new expectations, new routines and new ways of learning.  Getting off on the right foot can help to set the foundation for a child’s school experiences in years to come, so it is important for parents to be aware of what their kindergartner needs in order to be successful.

Expectations, rules and routines will vary from school to school.  However, here are some of the common things kindergarteners will be expected to do and learn (NOTE:  this is not a complete list).

  • Get along with others
  • Follow directions
  • Listen while others are talking
  • Separate from parents without being upset
  • Develop a sense of responsibility
  • Demonstrate good manners
  • Show self-control/management
  • Show an understanding of right and wrong
  • Use words to express feelings and needs
  • Recognize letters and numbers
  • Identify rhyming words
  • Recognize common sight words
  • Look at pictures and tell stories
  • Cut with scissors
  • Sort similar objects
  • Trace shapes
  • Exchange ideas and ask questions
  • Retell stories and directions
  • Remember and sequence information
  • Fine motor skills (Ex. pen/pencil grip)
  • Writing

Both you and your child may have some nervousness or anxiety about starting school.  Your child may feel uncertain about what school will be like and you may worry about how they will be treated and if they will make friends.  It is important to remember that these feelings on both ends are normal and part of the transition.  Noticing them and then finding ways to alleviate some of the anxiety is a good first step towards kindergarten readiness.

Why it Matters

If you and your child follow some of the ideas listed below and have opportunities to talk and seek support when needed, you will both feel more prepared and ready for this milestone.  The more your child sees you as their “rock” the more confident they will feel walking into this new situation.  This can also have lasting effects on how they view and accept change in the future. 

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, kindergarten preparedness can have an impact on a child’s success through high school, can lead to better grades and less dropouts, may ultimately prevent substance abuse, criminal activity and unemployment.  Part of this is attributed to established routines, clear expectations, and more classroom engagement.  While there are many other factors that determine long term success rates, it is clear that a positive learning environment and readiness for kindergarten have a lasting impact on a child’s education.

Check In:

There are many ways that parents and caregivers can support their children and prepare them for school.  Below are some specific things they can do to address their child’s physical, mental and emotional needs so they have the best chance for school success. Read through this checklist and note the things you are already doing to help your child succeed in kindergarten.  Then make a note of any others you would like to add to your daily life or routine. 

  • Make sure they get enough sleep each night
  • Keep regular and predictable morning and bedtime routines
  • Provide them with nutritious meals and snacks
  • Get them outside in the fresh air and exercising each day
  • Encourage them to read (This includes flipping through books, making up stories with pictures, recognizing letters, etc.)
  • Make math a part of their daily lives (For example, counting food around meal time)
  • Encourage responsibility in the home (i.e. age-appropriate chores, taking care of belongings, etc)
  • Teach them how to make friends and develop social skills
  • Avoid overscheduling with extracurricular activities
  • Become aware of school policies and procedures
  • Find out what resources the school has and important contact information

Connect & Communicate:

Prior to kindergarten, find out as much as you can about the school and what to expect.  This will help you feel informed and you can relay this information to your child.  Be open and honest and ready to answer questions that come up.  Honor and validate the feelings they are having and take time to process what they are experiencing.  It is also important to assure them that their classmates are going through the same thing and that all of these emotions are normal.

Once they begin kindergarten, you can “keep a pulse” on how things are going by talking to them everyday about school.  While it might be easier to ask “How was your day?,” you may not get much information with such open-ended questions.  Consider some of the following questions to get your child talking about their day:

  • What were some things you learned today?
  • Did anyone make you smile today?
  • Who did you play with at recess?
  • Did your teacher do anything funny in class?
  • What was something that made you happy?
  • Did you feel sad or upset today?  What happened?

Be patient and try to avoid asking these questions as soon as they get off the bus or in the car.  You will begin to learn when your child seems the most talkative, so be prepared to talk whenever they want.  For some, this may be at bedtime when they are relaxed and have let go of the day.  Others may open up during bath time, or while you are doing something creative. The more flexible you can be about when and where these talks occur, the more likely you are to connect with your child on a regular basis. 

Your child may be experiencing the normal jitters of being in a new place with new faces.  Here are some ideas for helping them ease into this transition:

Magic Objects:  Use a magic pebble or some other special object that they can use when they miss you. Tell them to keep it in their pocket or backpack and hold it when they need it.

Addressing their concerns:  Allow them to share what they are worried about.  Validate their feelings and then provide a solution (or help them come up with one!) for how to resolve it.

Read “The Kissing Hand.”  This book by Audrey Penn helps children understand separation from their parents and gives them some reassurance about leaving them.

Practice Good-byes:  You can go to the drop off area at school or do this at home.  Role-play taking them to school and saying good-bye.  Talk about what they can do once they get into their classroom to help them feel comfortable.

Contact & Collaborate:

One of the most important factors in school success is the parent-school relationship.  Being involved in your child’s school life and staying up-to-date on what is going on will help you know when and if your child needs support.  Here are some ways you can stay connected to the school and your child’s teacher:

  • Make an appointment to meet the teacher
  • Spend time volunteering in your child’s class
  • Get involved in the PTO if you have time
  • Get a copy of the school’s policies and procedures and read up on them
  • Find out who your child’s school counselor and school nurse are and what resources they may have
  • Connect with other parents in your child’s class and try to communicate regularly

Continue Learning:

What your Kindergartener Needs to Know (book):  This book is for parents who want to help their kindergartner build the skills they need for school at home.  You can purchase it or borrow it from a library.

Notes from the Backpack (podcast in English and Spanish):  A podcast with a wide range of topics related to school

Edutopia (website):  The Home-School Team

The Healthy (website):  Ways Moms Can Ease Their Own Anxiety about Kindergarten

Very Well Family (website) Calming First Day Kindergarten Anxiety

Activities for Kindergartners:  Activities that you can do at home to support their learning.

Kindergarten Parents:  Ways parents can get involved in their child’s school.

Hopkins Medicine (website): How to Get Your Child Ready for KIndergarten

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