Baby Steps

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<p>Angela Thomas</p>

Schools start in early August and for young children, especially kindergartners, it may be both a stressful and exciting time. This week’s article tries to address this transition from a child’s point of view.

Think about what it would be like to have all these new school experiences and changes at one time and you’re only 5 years old.

Learning to ride a school bus

Meeting new classmates

Meeting new teachers

Being part of a class or a larger class if your child has been to preschool

Sharing your school with older children in higher grades

Navigating the layout of a large school campus

Encounters with other adults: school nurse, principal, secretaries, cafeteria workers, librarians and custodians

Learning to be more independent

Dealing with greater academic expectations

Transitioning to an after school program

Easing the transition to kindergarten

Research tells us that successful transitions from home to school, or from preschool or family childcare to kindergarten, can contribute to long-term school success. For most children and their families, kindergarten marks the beginning of formal schooling. A successful adjustment to kindergarten can help set the stage for the child’s perceptions, attitudes, and performance in the long-term school experience.

How can parents help their child to start kindergarten? Young children always feel more comfortable if they know what to expect. Begin by talking to your child about it – find out what they already know and what questions or anxieties they may have. Accept your child’s concerns and encourage him to talk about them. Remind him that you are proud of him and that you know he is ready to take this big step.

Visit the school ahead of time. When you find out your child’s room assignment, take the child to see where his classroom will be and get familiar with where things are – the playground, the bathrooms, the cafeteria. School staff may be busy and not able to interact with you, but giving your child a feel for his new environment will make him more comfortable when he will be there without you.

Talk to your child about how kindergarten will be different from their preschool experience. There are more children in a group and fewer adults per child. Let your child know that he may have to wait patiently to get a teacher’s attention. Mention that there will be other adults that your child will need to know like the library staff, the lunchroom supervisors and other resource teachers. Good communication between you and your child’s teacher both at school and at after-school care is essential for developing an effective partnership for success.

Discuss the daily schedule and be sure to include what will happen at the beginning of the day and at the end of the day. Let your child know who will take them to school, pick them up or what line they need to get into to catch the school bus. Children feel more secure when they understand the daily routines. Arrive at school in enough time for your child to settle in and be there promptly at pick-up time – children need to know that you’ll be back when you say you will.

Be sure your child gets enough rest on nights before school and wakes up sufficiently early to have a good breakfast and to gather the necessary items for the day. Precisely describe what the morning routines will be. Some children may enjoy creating a pictorial chart to include each step of the morning schedule. Many parents suggest organizing backpacks and choosing the clothes they will wear the night before to ease morning battles and last minute chaos. Kindergarten is a good time to introduce new routines and provides an opportunity to change earlier habits.

Parents may also feel sad or fearful about their child beginning kindergarten and being part of a larger learning environment with much older children. If your emotions are too obvious, you may spoil your child’s enthusiasm about his first day. Show your child how confident you are about his abilities when saying good-bye.

Parents should take beginning school very seriously. Be involved in your child’s first school experience and stay involved. Check your child’s backpack every day and talk about what gets sent home – newsletters, activities to be completed at home, and announcements about parent meetings. Being an active participant in your child’s school experience not only sends a message to your child that you love her, but also that education is a priority.

Is my child ready for kindergarten?

A national survey of kindergarten teachers indicates that very few teachers consider specific skills such as knowing the alphabet or being able to count to 20 critical for kindergarten entry. Instead, the majority of these teachers consider children ready for school if they are:

• well-nourished and rested

• can separate from their parents/caregivers

• can communicate their needs verbally

• will show enthusiasm and curiosity about approaching new activities

• can take turns with others

Thomas is program leader of Baby Steps to Stronger Big Island Families in Waimea, with Play and Learn groups in Waimea at Waimea Elementary School, and in Honokaa at the North Hawaii Education and Research Center. For more information on the organization, or for a schedule of their activities and events, call 887-1228, or visit athomas@babystepshawaii.org.