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Getting Ready for Kindergarten

How To Prepare Your Preschooler For Kindergarten

Parents often describe blinking back tears on their child's first day of school. Make sure you're fighting tears of nostalgia, instead of worry, by preparing your child in advance for kindergarten.

Marie Geiger of Pittsburgh has enrolled 5-year-old Chris in a pre-kindergarten program and is using this whole year to ready him for school. "We talk about school often," says Marie. "My son is the type that does not generally adjust well to change, so we begin preparing him for things way in advance so he can get used to the idea."

In Alabama, Beth Skarupa also used preschool to prepare her daughter, who is now 6, for kindergarten. "We read books a lot together and did reading lessons in a book I bought," says Beth. "I got a handout showing what skills she needed and I made sure she was able to do them."

Jump-start Learning

Expectations for pre-kindergarten skills vary across the country. In Geiger's case, her school provided a list of more than 70 skills that pre-kindergarteners should know before entering school. "Most skills [Chris] is able to do, but some he doesn't do well or at all," says Geiger. She's helping him master difficult tasks, like tying his shoes and memorizing his phone number, without making a big deal of it.

Dr. Laurie Ford, a child psychologist from the University of South Carolina who specializes in preschool development, agrees with Geiger's teaching philosophy. "Don't make everything a golden teaching moment," says Ford. "Rather, try to incorporate these behaviors into your daily routine. Formal attempts at preparing preschoolers for kindergarten can backfire, making children feel pushed and stressed."

What can you do if your child resists even your subtle efforts? Sharon Wilkins, prize-winning teacher and author of Ready For Kindergarten, says that children usually resist learning for three reasons:

  1. The activity is not developmentally appropriate.
  2. The activity is too long and they become bored.
  3. The activity lacks the child's involvement.

She urges parents to take advantage of "teachable moments." This means taking time to teach a child when they're eager to learn despite hectic schedules. She suggests making learning fun by providing hands-on activities and maximizing learning by keeping lessons geared to the appropriate attention span.

Wilkins drew on 30 years of teaching experience to write Ready For Kindergarten, which incorporates 150 activities to prepare kids for school. "Growing gardens with my kindergarteners, converting plastic bottles into imaginary objects, reading books, singing songs and wiping an occasional tear helped me to understand young children and how they learn best," says Wilkins.

Wilkins stresses that parents need to prepare the total child, not just the academic child. She feels that teaching social skills like respect, sharing, courage to try and peaceful problem solving are just as important as teaching kids to write their name and cut with scissors. She suggests that parents role-model desirable character traits. For example, kids learn how to show respect if they've been respected and children develop the courage to try if parents believe in them. Elisabeth Abbott of Virginia worries about her spirited 5-year-old daughter getting along with others. Using role modeling, she helps her daughter practice social skills at home. They also discuss why it's important to play nicely.

Fight First Day Fears

To help build excitement for kindergarten, Brette Reiman of Philadelphia often discusses school with her 5-year-old twins. They talk about the daily routine, making new friends, and that they'll do similar activities to those enjoyed in preschool. "They've expressed a little bit of concern by asking more questions than usual lately, but they can't wait to start school and are especially excited about 'the bus!'" says Brette. Her preparations mesh well with Dr. Ford's recommendations of driving by the school, playing in the schoolyard, and talking to kids about school experiences such as teachers, cafeterias and recess. Ford also advises discussing why you liked school and having an older sibling list five things they like about school.

Reaping Rewards

Does preparing a child for school really pay off? Geiger thinks so. Her son has learned to do things independently in his pre-K program, such as printing his name on papers and opening and cleaning up his lunch himself. He also now listens to and follows directions well. "He's come a long way from the bouncy boy he was at the beginning of the year," says Geiger. "He is really well behaved in class." Beth agrees. "Alexis adjusted well to kindergarten. I really think her preschool experience made her able to handle the transition well." She adds that talking to her daughter about her own fear of starting school also helped.

To address your own fears about your child starting school, Dr. Ford suggests remembering that all kids go through this transition. "Some kids are anxious and some are not. Kids that are less eager get over it quickly. Visit the school and get involved, not necessarily just with the child's classroom but with the whole school."

Take some time and prepare your child and yourself for kindergarten. Then like Geiger, Skarupa and others, you can walk away on your Kindergartener's first day confident that you both are ready for school.

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