Kicking off Kindergarten

Help your kindergartner score a smooth transition at school.

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For many parents, kindergarten signals an important transition from the all-consuming toddler and preschool years. Suddenly, your baby is expected to make more choices on her own, stay focused over a longer period of time, learn new skills, and navigate a social circle with less oversight from you. Plan ahead to pave the road to a happier kindergarten transition for all.

Visit the school. Before school begins, attend orientations, and bring your child to meet his teacher. All will help your child grow familiar with his new learning environment.

Calm kindergarten jitters. Build excitement and optimism for school. Shop together for a new backpack, school supplies, and new clothes. “Even if parents are feeling nervous, they should do their best not to portray that to their child,” says Kathy Weller, a kindergarten teacher. “Be very upbeat about the upcoming new experience.”

Read together. Reading to your child throughout the year teaches valuable listening skills and creates an opportunity to help your child succeed in  kindergarten. To start, check out books like The Night Before Kindergarten by Natasha Wing and Kindergarten Rocks by Katie Davis.

Tackle a few new skills. While knowing his colors, the alphabet, and how to count will give your child a head start, work on self-care skills like tying shoes, dressing, and knowing his full name, address, and phone number.

Plan transportation. Avoid transportation snafus by sticking to a plan and keeping your child (and the teacher) informed. If your child is nervous about riding the bus, listen and reassure her. Drive the route ahead of time. On the first day of school, arrive early at the bus stop. Introduce yourself and your child to the driver. Assure your child that you (or whoever you’ve designated) will be waiting for her when the bus returns after school.

Get good eats and sweet dreams. Make sure your new kindergartner gets back on a good sleep schedule and starts each morning with a nourishing breakfast. This will help your child stay focused during school. Wake up a little earlier to avoid feeling rushed each day.

Team up with the teacher. Share insights about your child’s strengths with the teacher to help her understand what motivates and interests your child. “Parents should approach school with the idea that the teacher has their child’s best interest at heart,” says Dr. Holly Schiffrin, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Mary Washington, who specializes in child development and parenting practices. “The parent should convey that they are on the same team as the teacher (even if they have different ideas about how to assist their child).”

Be upbeat about saying good-bye on the first day. You may feel sadder than your child when facing this milestone, so try to stay upbeat and positive. Focus conversation on the new friends and experiences that await. Walk your child into the classroom but don’t linger. The first few days might be teary, but children generally make the adjustment by week’s end.

Manage adversity. Every child is bound to have a rough day. Encourage her to resolve her own problems and take responsibility for her actions. “Ask your child for her input and perspective, genuinely listen, acknowledge and empathize, and then shift the focus towards reaching solutions as a family and in unison with your teachers and school,” says parent coach Tom Limbert, author of Dad’s Playbook: Wisdom for Fathers from the Greatest Coaches of All Time. “Focus on giving your child the tools, morals, and lessons she will need when not in your presence, which will now be more and more often.”

Mark the occasion. Celebrate your child’s first day of school with a special outing after school like a frozen yogurt or a play date at her favorite park. Who knows? You may find that initial celebration turns into an annual first-day-of-school tradition for your family.

— Freelance journalist Christa Melnyk Hines is a family communication expert, wife, and mom. She and her two sons plan to celebrate the first day of school with a trip to the ice cream counter.

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