As the beautiful summer nights are slowly getting noticeably longer, we start to turn our minds to “back to school”. Time is going so fast you protest! It feels like yesterday you held your beautiful baby in your arms and wondered who they were going to be. How are you even old enough to have a child starting school? The time is here my friends and now is when you want to start preparing your “baby” for a successful transition to school.
How do you anticipate that first day of school going? By now you probably have a good idea if your child is going to burst through those doors or hold back for a second, third or fourth kiss. Maybe you are anticipating a full-on melt-down because that is how the last two years of pre-school have gone every-single-drop-off. Believe me, I get it, this is exactly where I was with my eldest!
Anticipating an absolute nuclear war with my new Kindy I employed every trick in the “Child Life book” to prepare him for this new experience. I thought I would share my strategy in hopes that it helps some of you. Even if you are expecting smooth sailing it is always better to prepare your child for this new time than to spring it on them. If you are expecting the worst like I was, you may want to take notes.
Top 10 Tips to prepare for child for Kindergarten
1. Go to the Library and ask for books about starting school. The librarian should be able to help you out with this task. I don’t have a specific one, cause there are too many to note! You may even be able to find a favourite character (i.e. Franklin) and read about their experience with school. The more relatable to the child the better! At first, keep it just about the story, as September gets closer start reminding them that they are going to do what Franklin is doing too. Ask them questions along the way. How do you think Franklin feels when he says goodbye to his mommy? When will Franklin see his Daddy again?
2. Make your own book! If you have pictures of your Kindy’s new school make a photo book for them. It really doesn’t have to be super creative. I took construction paper and marker and stapled the corners shut. My Kindy loved it because it was about him. I took lots of pictures of him at the school so he could get used to the idea that he would go there. I took pictures of the playground and the doors he was going into and out of at the end of the day. We took pictures of him on his scooter at the school and lots of silly things. This will really help your Kindy “see” themselves in their new environment.
3. Practice the “good-bye”. Make it a set routine so they know when it is time to separate. Make it a special routine that you only do for school. For example, my son and I linked baby fingers at the end of our good-bye which meant “I Love you”. He liked that it was our special code and nobody else knew what it meant. If you haven’t read "the kissing hand”, grab that book while you are at the library too. Hopefully it gives you some ideas on a creative good-bye gesture you can do with your Kindy.
4. Regardless of what school you go to, there is usually a good outdoor space where the Kindy’s play. Try to get there a couple times a week before school starts so that your child can become familiar with the space. Knowing how the space works, or gaining some skills on the play structure can do amazing things for their sense of mastery (aka confidence) in that area. They will look forward to showing their new friends how they use that space.
5. Talk about school in a positive light. If you didn’t particularly enjoy school try to keep those stories to yourself. Your child is listening to everything you say and do and will try to read your take on school. When you drive by the school or walk by it, talk about it being their “big kid school” Children love feeling “big” and establishing that feeling of pride will go along way on the first day.
6. Pick a security object for your child to bring on those first few days. Be aware though that toys aren’t usually allowed at school, so prepare your child to have to keep it in their bag. If they already have a strong attachment to a stuffy, packing it in their backpack can give them confidence just knowing that it is with them. You can also try a new security object that your child can use to remember that you love them and are proud of them for going to big kid school. For example, maybe you give them a new bracelet that they can rub their thumb over if they feel like they are missing you. You can do something even more simple like drawing a heart on their hand or some other symbol that will remind them of you.
7. PLAY, PLAY, PLAY! Children learn best through play. They need time to practice difficult things through play and explore their feelings. When you are playing this August, causally bring up the situation and talk about different ways the little girl or boy could deal with separating from their mommy for school. If you are playing with a “feelings doll” (ask me if you don’t know what this is) you can ask your Kindy how the doll will feel saying good-bye to Mommy or how he will feel at the end of the day?
8. Get in the habit now of recapping your day with your Kindy and setting them up for success the next day. I like to do this at night time. When things are winding down we sometimes do a “roses and thorns” activity. Everyone participates and says what was their favourite (rose) and least favourite (thorn) part of the day. You will learn lots by just asking your children this simple question. I also like to do what my kids call a “talk about”. I tell them the steps of the next day in lots of detail. I don’t know why they like it so much, but they do. I think it helps them know what to expect and anticipate some control over their day. It sounds like this “ First we will wake up and go downstairs for breakfast……pack our bags….put our shoes on…..walk to school…say good-bye when your teacher rings the bell…”. It seems silly, but give it a try!
9. Keep after school time SIMPLE! Especially for the first few months of school. Moving from home to Full Day Kindergarten can be a lot for your kid! Even if your child was in daycare previously, FKD can be overwhelming. School has a different set of expectations and the stimulation can be overwhelming for some. The swimming lessons and Karate can wait. Keep after school time unstructured, simple, and easy. I even suggest letting your kids watch some TV. Seriously! Especially in the beginning they may just need to zone out and have zero expectations on them. This will all change as they get used to their new schedule, but taking it easy in the beginning will benefit everyone.
10. The last tip is not really a tip but rather a reminder to be your child’s best advocate. You know your child best! Let your child’s teacher know ahead of time if you expect trouble separating. Ask them how they handle these difficulties. Find out how long your child cries or protests once you have gone. Most kids put on the fireworks for about 5 minutes or so. Then they are able to assimilate into the classroom activities. If you think a full day of school is too much for your child, talk to the teacher and decide together what may be best for your child. Read your child, check in with them and give them the preparation they need to have a smooth transition to school!