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Transitioning to Kindergarten

By Janis Strasser

National Association for the Education of Young Children 

Starting school can be scary and exciting for both you and your child. Effective kindergarten teachers know that children are individuals who each start kindergarten with a wide range of skills. You do not need to drill your child with letters, numbers, and facts, before school starts.  But there are some things you can do to prepare both you and your child for kindergarten. 

Before school starts
•    Send a note to the nurse and to the teacher if your child has allergies or special needs. Do this even if you have indicated this on other forms already. It may be critical for teachers to know that your child reacts to bee stings, has food allergies, or has hearing or vision modifications. As a parent, you have the responsibility to advocate for your child’s health and safety.
•    Visit the school and meet the teacher. If you missed visiting day or the school does not offer one before school starts, call to see if you can arrange a quick visit to see the school and to meet the teacher with your child.
•    Start your school routine early. To reduce stress and get used to new routines adjust new bedtimes or wake up times a few weeks before school begins. Routines are comforting for us and for children. Read a soothing bedtime story every night to help your child fall asleep with comforting thoughts. Do not watch the news or violent programs in the evening.
•    Read books together about starting school. You can ask your local librarian for suggestions.

On the first day of school
•    Be positive. Give your child a smile and a hug, say “I love you,” and wave goodbye.
•    Help your child say goodbye. Saying goodbye in a new setting can be frightening for some children. When you say goodbye reassure your child that you will see her/him later. 
•    Avoid behaviors that might upset your child. For example, try not to battle with your child about an outfit to be worn or force your child to eat a big breakfast. Your child might be nervous the first couple of days, and it is better to eat lightly than to have a stomachache.
•    Wait to ask the teacher your specific questions. The first day of school is not the time to bombard the teacher with personal requests and information. Remember, your child is one of many children. Trust that the teacher is a professional who will make your child feel welcome.

During the first week of school
•    Be supportive. Adjusting to school may take time. Ask, “What was the most fun thing you did in school today?” Then ask, “What was the hardest thing for you?”--only ask this after you have discussed what was fun.  Don’t expect your child to tell you every detail.
•    Instill a sense of confidence in your child. Celebrate your child’s successes. Don’t dwell on how many friends your child made during the first few days. This is too abstract for most 5-year-olds and their friends change by the minute. Instead, ask, “Tell me about some of the children in your class.” It takes time to adjust to new people, new activities, and a new environment.  
•    Set aside a time, each evening, to share your child’s day. See if your child has brought home any drawings, paintings, or scribbling. These papers may be very important to your young student. If there are no papers, don’t assume that your child didn’t do anything worthwhile. After a few weeks have passed and your child has gotten used to school, ask about  the classroom and what stories the teacher read. Listen for clues about your child’s strengths and challenges. If you have concerns, contact the teacher and set up a time to talk.
•    Read everything the school sends home. During the first weeks of school children bring home a wealth of information about school routines, important dates, and meetings that you will need to know about. Make sure to check your child’s backpack every day. Also, you may want to go over with your child, in a positive, calm way, the information you have supplied to the school on the emergency card (who may pick your child up other than you, where she can go if you’re ever not home, etc.).
•    Enjoy being the parent of a kindergartner! This is your child’s first step into primary school and a unique time in childhood. Enjoy!

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