8 Ways to Prepare Your Child for the First Day of Kindergarten
While the start of every new school year is a special occasion, the first day of kindergarten may be the biggest learning milestone there is. But in the wake of widespread school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the start of this school year could be even more memorable for kids (and parents) who've just said goodbye to preschool.
Unfortunately, many kindergarten readiness programs will either be canceled this year or modified to be available virtually depending on your local resources. But the good news is there are lots of ways parents can their kids ready for their first day of kindergarten—whether it's in a real classroom or online—without in-person resources.
We talked with education experts and teachers to find out the best ways to prepare your kid for the first day of kindergarten, here are their top tips.
Meet the Teacher
It's important for your child to visit their new school if they can so check with your school to see if it's a possibility this year. An in-person visit will help them feel prepared for this big change in their little lives, and it will also help to alleviate fears about knowing where the bathroom is and where to put their belongings.
If class will be offered virtually, kids can still meet their new teacher on video conferencing or with a quick phone call so that they can make contact and become acquainted. This is also a great time for parents to ask questions and to clarify any information before the start of the school year.
Anna Taylor, an early years and elementary teacher who works with parents through her company, 'Naturally Learning with Anna', also suggests that parents teach their child a very simple question once they know their teacher's name and the name of their teaching assistant. "I explicitly teach my little ones the phrase, 'Please, can you help me?'" she explains so that know who they can go to if they need help.
Read About The First Day Of School
Make your book choices all about school preparedness in the run up to September and your little scholar will feel ready to join in all the kindergarten fun. Some great choices according to the teachers we asked include:
Practice Getting Ready
September can be a tricky month for parents as kids have to adapt to early morning starts after a lazy summer. If your child is new to formal education they might find the busy mornings even more of an adjustment. "A key thing to consider when starting school is to focus on making the unknown known as far as possible," says Julie Keyes, a teacher of more than 15 years and founder of The Educational Consultant. "When children are starting school, the shift in their daily routine is dramatic."
Keyes suggests that parents practice the journey to school with their children before the term starts. "This year is unlike any other and there is a likelihood that school may be virtual. So take steps to make that environment familiar. Have a few practice runs. Maybe ask another child's family to join you for a video call so that the norms around communication can become more familiar," she says.
Master Basic Skills
Children who have a few basic skills under their belt tend to feel more comfortable in class, says Mary Reede, a kindergarten teacher of 18 years. Kindergarten is where children learn basic skills and develop learning habits that will last their entire lives. However, if your child can already count to ten, recognize their name, use child-friendly scissors, hold a pencil, and dress themselves they'll be ahead of the curve.
You can help your child to practice these skills over the summer in a fun and low-stress way, like coloring and chatting together or having a getting dressed race.
Role Play Self-Care Skills
Little kids need to know how to take care of their own needs when they enter big school. That includes going to the bathroom, dressing, and washing their hands. The best way to get them ready for these expectations are to practice, practice, practice!
Reede notes that especially now, parents need to make sure that their children are washing their hands well and following proper hygiene practices. "Teach your child to sneeze or blow their nose into a tissue and then throw it away. Get them used to washing their hands properly and resist the urge to take over for the sake of efficiency. Small children can care for themselves this way they just need to be shown how."
Kindergarten is a time for making new friendships and learning how to get along with others. Model turn-taking, sharing and good manners, and try to arrange play dates, both in person and virtually where your child can practice their social skills. The Girl Scouts of the USA is offering a free "Make New Friends" virtual event series hosted by local councils across the country. Girls will have the opportunity to gain social and emotional learning through fun activities and events.
You can also practice conversation skills with your child by modeling asking questions, showing interest and maintaining eye contact.
Whether school is traditional or virtual it just feels special to start out with new resources. Let your child pick out their new backpack, pencil case, lunch box, and a water bottle, then get crafty and customize them together.
Relax and Let Go
The most important thing you can do to prepare your child for the first day of kindergarten is simply to relax. Sure, there are the practical things you can do to be ready for school, like, labeling their clothes with their name and having them practice putting their shoes on the right feet, says Taylor. However, once children are off at school parents need to let go and allow their child to explore their new learning environment.
"A child's life before school is a period in its own right, with its own things to learn and experience," Taylor explains. "We shouldn't be 'preparing' them for school by giving them a (false) head start on the things they will be learning at school. We should be laying foundations to help them be happy, confident little souls who are as independent as they can be. It's about learning life skills, not just school skills," she says.