Transitioning to kindergarten can be both an exciting and scary time, for children and parents alike! It’s a big step for everyone, and most likely it will go much smoother if you spend some time preparing for it. Getting your child ready in the social and emotional sense is just as important as getting them ready educationally; most likely they’ve spent the past year (or several years) learning new skills in preschool that will help them to succeed when they get to kindergarten, but that doesn’t mean they’re ready to dive into school full time every day. They may know their letters and numbers (or not, and that’s ok, too!) but do they know how to eat lunch independently? Use the bathroom without help? Navigate a new school building without getting lost? These are all things you can practice with your child at home so that they’re confident about starting a new school year. You may even want to try incorporating a lovey or stuffed animal as a bonus way to help your child feel safe and secure during this transitional time. Read on for more tips and tricks!
1. Visit the School and Meet the Teacher.
Most children who are starting kindergarten will be going to a new school building that they are unfamiliar with. This can be very scary for kids their age, especially if they’re used to their preschool building. They will naturally have questions about who their new teacher will be, where the bathrooms are located, where they’ll eat lunch, etc. You can help to ease their mind by touring the school and meeting their teacher ahead of time. Many schools will organize an event like an open house, so inquire with your district office about when that might be. If by chance they don’t do a formal meet and greet, ask if you can set up a time to come in with your child before the first day. Once you’re there, let them explore the school and their classroom and answer any questions they might have. Point out important places like the bathrooms, gym, cafeteria, and front office, and let them know that there will be plenty of teachers and other school staff available to help them if they get lost or have questions. You might even want to practice walking from the front door of the school to their classroom a few times.
2. Practice the School Routine.
Children thrive on routines, and the more consistent they are the more confident kids will be. Several weeks prior to starting kindergarten, practice their new school routine. Have them wake up at the same time they’ll get up during the school year, eat breakfast, get dressed, brush their teeth, etc. This is also a good opportunity to help you determine how much time you’ll need to get everyone ready and out the door in the morning so that you’re not late. If your child will be taking the bus, practice walking down to the bus stop. It’s never a bad idea to help your new kindergartener practice eating lunch, as well. Can they open their lunch box without assistance? Do they know how to open all the foods you’ve packed for them? Can they eat lunch in a timely manner without getting distracted? Set a timer for the amount of time they’ll have to eat at school so they can get used to eating somewhat quickly. Practicing this ahead of time will give them a chance to prepare and get adjusted to this new routine.
3. Read Books About Starting School.
Reading books about starting school is a great way to help your little one get excited for a new school year. Spend some time each night before bed reading some new school books; not only will this help familiarize your child with the idea of going to a new school, but it’s also a great way to bond and spend some quality time with them. Give them your undivided attention while reading (no phones or other siblings!) and then devote some time after the story to answer any questions they might have, or let them express any worries/fears/concerns they’re feeling. Some of our favorite “starting kindergarten” books are:
- The Night Before Kindergarten by Natasha Wing
- Adventure Annie Goes to Kindergarten by Toni Buzzeo
- Kindergarten, Here I Come! by D.J. Steinberg
- Clifford Goes to Kindergarten by Norman Bridwell
- Planet Kindergarten by Sue Ganz-Schmitt and Shane Prigmore
- Counting Hares by Bunnies by The Bay
4. Use Your Imagination.
Children learn best through play, so use your imagination to prepare them for kindergarten! Have them draw pictures about starting school and then talk about the pictures together, make up stories about starting school, practice writing stories about school, put on plays or shows together (this is a great way to involve siblings, too!), and play “school”; have someone act as the teacher and someone else as the student, and practice some real-life school scenarios with your child. It’s ok to make them silly- you want your little one to have fun at school!
5. Rely On A Transitional Item Like a Stuffed Animal to Help
Transitional items like lovies, stuffed animals, and even blankets can be a huge help to a child going through a difficult transition. It’s something they can hug, squeeze, and sleep with that will bring them comfort. If your child has had one for a while you can incorporate it into the kindergarten transition by having it present while you read books at night, giving it a role to play when acting out school scenarios, etc. If they don’t already have one, consider gifting them one several months before school starts and then using it in the ways listed above. You may think that a lovey is geared towards babies (and they’re great for them, too!) but transitional items like stuffed animals actually encourage your little one to be independent because they foster a sense of safety and security when a caregiver is not around. Your child might feel better about attending kindergarten if they’re allowed to bring their lovey for the first few days; it’s something you can discuss with your child’s teacher if the need should arise.
6. Stay Positive and Encourage Curiosity
Above all, model positivity and confidence when discussing kindergarten with your child. It might be an emotional time for you as well, but try to avoid crying and/or making a big deal about your child growing up (in a negative way). Try not to have a huge goodbye scene at the bus stop or the front door of the school, and emphasize all the fun your little one is going to have learning, exploring, and making new friends. Encourage them to explore their new classroom, talk to new students, and get to know their teacher. Expect stress and be sympathetic, but confident. “I know this is a big change for you, but you’re going to be fine and have lots of fun! Your teacher and I are here to help you.”
Remember, thousands of children experience successful transitions from preschool and home to kindergarten every year, and there’s no reason to believe your child will be any different. But you’ll both feel more confident if you devote a few minutes each day prior to the fall to kindergarten preparation, as it is a very important transition and you want your child to succeed. Follow the steps above and your little one will be running off to school before you know it!
Author: Ali Johnson