My younger son is getting ready to go to kindergarten this fall. I only taught kindergarten for one year, but I still remember some of the minor struggles the little ones had in those first days. Problems that looked tiny from my adult perspective had the potential to feel big and stressful to kindergarteners.
Teachers are there to help your children. And they will. Before long, most kindergarteners will be going through their days like little school-aged champions. Below are some small things I’ve done to help ease the transition from home to school for my kids. These certainly aren’t things to stress about–your child will either pick them up naturally over time, or their teachers will help them where they’re struggling. But I’m a big believer that a little preparation goes a long way toward making kids feel more comfortable and confident in a new setting.
Visit the School or Playground – If possible, make a trip to your school’s playground before school starts. Recess is (understandably) kids’ favorite part of the school day and having your child preview and be excited about their new stomping ground can be a great way to get them excited about a specific aspect of their new routine.
Fewer Snacks – If your child is a grazer, nibbling throughout the day, talk to them about changing their snacking habits to one that aligns more closely to what their eating schedule at school will look like. At our kids’ school, the kids eat lunch and one snack, and most teachers allow water bottles throughout the day. In the weeks leading up to school, we try to have lunch around the time that they’ll be eating during the school day and wait until the time they’ll be getting home from school for their afternoon snack.
Eating Pace – If you notice your child is eating particularly slowly, kindly and gently give them an idea of how much time they’ll have to eat at school (usually about 15-20 minutes). You don’t want them to be worried about not having enough time to eat (and they should have plenty!) but all the exciting new stimuli of a school cafeteria can be distracting.
Opening Packages – Most schools have lunchroom aids or volunteers to help young children open difficult packaging, but if a lot of kids are eating at once, it may take them a while to make it to your child. Be sure your child knows to keep eating the rest of their lunch while waiting for help. It doesn’t hurt to practice opening packages at home. You can also transfer tough to open foods into plastic baggies or reusable pouches for the first few weeks.
Visual Routine – Morning routines will be awesomely old-hat for kids who are used to getting up and getting going to daycare, a sitter’s house, or preschool. My son went to preschool that started just before noon, and sometimes getting out of the door even then was a struggle for us. In the weeks leading up to kindergarten, we’ve been putting more of an emphasis on getting “morning jobs” done as quickly as possible. I ordered these task cards on Etsy and glued magnets to the back so they could be moved as they were completed. Of course, you could easily make similar cards yourself. Kids will often be ready to crash when they get home in the afternoon or evening, but to stay organized, I’ve found it helpful to have a routine for after school as well.
Bathroom – This might sound funny, but a few practice sessions of how to use the bathroom at school aren’t going to hurt anyone. Show boys how to use the urinal/toilet without pulling their pants all the way down. Make sure you child feels comfortable managing all their clothing layers for bathroom breaks – underwear, tights, and a skirt are a lot to deal with.
Task Mastery – This is definitely something that your child’s teacher will be working on with all children, but support from home is always a good thing. Give your child tasks to complete independently, and follow up after a while to see if they’ve finished their job or wandered away. It’s not a bad idea to make it a boring job. The real world isn’t always exciting and sometimes we just have to get the job done even if it’s monotonous.
Practice Zipping, Tying, and Buttoning – Many kindergartners will have mastered these skills, but if your kids are like mine, they’ve been living in sportswear and sandals all summer and could use a refresher in the art of fastening. Laced vs. Velcro shoes are somewhat (hilariously!) controversial. Some people are all for sending kids to school with laces so there’s more incentive to learn to tie their shoes. For our older son, we opted for Velcro straps through first grade because he was pretty pumped about light-up Star Wars tennies and we were more concerned about his shoes being securely on his feet than about his ability to tie laces quickly.
Folders – A lot of schools have the teacher or a classroom assistant put papers in the childrens’ folders, especially in the beginning of the year. They want to ensure that the correct papers make it to the correct homes, and five year olds, folders, and a time crunch can end up looking like a scene from (90’s classic) Twister. At home, though, I strive to have my kids take out their papers each afternoon and give them to a parent to go over. If anything needs to be put back in the folder, show your child how to neatly stack papers and put them in pockets so they can do it on their own each day. It sounds so simple, but it’s important for kids to be able to manage their space and materials and this is one of the very first steps.
Stacking Objects – Another super simple strategy that most kids don’t think of on their own is to carry objects with the largest object on the bottom and the smallest on the top. We practice this at the public library, by stacking library books and carrying them to the car. It comes in handy when kids have to carry multiple things, for example a supply box, folder, and a box of markers to a another classroom. Again, it seems so obvious to us, but kids might not think of taking a few seconds to get their belongings in order and it can result in them arriving to their destination fumbling and distracted instead of focused and ready to learn.
Extra Clothes – This is a complete judgement call, but I usually like to dress my kids in layers so they’re not distracted by temperature during the school day. If your child would be tempted to make many unnecessary costume changes throughout the day, it’s probably best to skip extra clothing for now, but many schools don’t have the best climate control systems and temperatures can be somewhat extreme. It’s also nice to have an extra layer that can be removed in case clothing falls victim to a lunchtime spill.
Communication – Make sure they know kindergarten will be great. Explicitly tell them that their teachers are there to help them and that they never need to be embarrassed or shy about asking for help, guidance, or reassurance. If your child is nervous, jot down a quick note to their teacher to let them know. They will give them extra attention and care. Make sure your child knows that their teachers wants them to LOVE school and they will do everything that can to make that happen.
It’s going to be a great year! Your little ones will amaze you with how fast they learn and grow. They’re gonna be golden.
(Here’s a printer-friendly PDF version if you’d like to share! Practical Tips to Prepare for Kindergarten)
Do you have a little one making their way to kindergarten this year? Please comment below with your tips, comments, and concerns!