Ensuring that children are ready to enter school to learn and succeed is not only the parents' job. In fact, a national study released in April 1998, "Kindergarten Teachers and Classrooms: A Transition Context" emphasizes that the responsibility for successful transitions to kindergarten go beyond the kindergarten teachers as well.
In addition to the individual child's readiness and the kindergarten teacher's role, the family, the educational system, preschool programs, and the community are all responsible for successful transitions.
You may be anxious for school to start after a hectic summer. You may hear rumors about teachers, feel unclear about programs and procedures and have many questions. Your child may wonder " Who will be my classmates?", "Where is the bathroom?", "How will I know which bus to get on at the end of the day?" You will want to know who the teacher is, what the curriculum will be and how to best prepare your child for the changes ahead.
Accept your child's concerns and encourage him to talk. Be ready to listen. Focus on his physical growth and, if needed, make a special trip together to purchase a new backpack, lunchbox or school supplies. Find out who else will be at the neighborhood bus stop. Speak with his preschool teacher or caregiver about saying good-bye and seek her advice on making the transition to kindergarten and the new school setting.
Getting Ready For Kindergarten
How can you help prepare your child for kindergarten? Children in kindergarten learn by exploration and discovery, through making choices, and expressing their ideas and feelings. Children prepare for reading and writing through imaginary play, telling their own stories and listening to others, acting out plays, hearing teachers and parents read.
Similarly, math concepts are learned through cooking, building with blocks, or comparing simple experiments. Research presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association in April 1998 states:
... a national survey of public school 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 kindergarten teachers consider children ready for school if they are well-nourished and rested, can communicate their needs verbally, will show enthusiasm and curiosity about approaching new activities, and can take turns with others....
The more your child can recognize and interpret his daily routines and experiences, the better prepared he will be for school.
School Visits And Orientation
The first formal step towards kindergarten is the registration procedure. You will need to provide basic information on your child such as address, phone number, date of birth and immunization record.
Many parents and children visit their new school prior to the beginning of the school year. Preschool programs can work with elementary schools to encourage classroom visits and a smooth transfer of records.
Expectations in kindergarten are significantly different from those of preschool or home and you may need help understanding these new expectations. Kindergarten teachers use various activities to help children make a smooth transition. There may be orientation meetings and/or open houses for children and parents. Sometimes families receive letters or flyers before the start of school.
If there is not an established kindergarten orientation in your school, call the school to schedule a visit. You can visit the classroom and playground and get answers to your questions.
Parents And Teachers Working As Partners
In many ways the adjustment to kindergarten is similar to your child's first transition to preschool or child care. Children need to feel secure in their new school and understand the daily routines.
For many children the entrance into kindergarten means different transportation, new classmates and teachers, larger classes, experiences with older children in higher grades, navigating the layout of a large school building, encounters with the school nurse, principal, secretaries, custodians and others.
Kindergarten offers challenge to all children in literacy, mathematics and social skills and research shows that success during this first year may predict later school success. Adults view kindergartens as being more focused than preschools with greater academic expectations and increased independence from children.
Questions To Ask Kindergarten Teachers
- How can I prepare my child for kindergarten?
- How will my child spend his day?
- Are there opportunities for children to choose their own activities?
- Will my child learn to read?
- What are the academic goals of kindergarten?
Strategies For Parents
There is a wide difference in the development of children entering kindergarten. Some children will be bigger than others, some will be sociable, some shy. Some will be reading, others will not be able to write their name. Whatever your child's stage of development, there are some guidelines on readiness for kindergarten.
Children are usually ready for kindergarten if they can:
- leave their parents without too much difficulty
- go to the bathroom alone
- play well with and respect other children
- follow simple directions and rules
- resolve some conflicts with classmates without needing the teacher
- work independently for at least five minutes
- sit and listen to a story for ten minutes
- talk in complete sentences
Think about activities you can share with your child to help get him ready for kindergarten. Some examples are:
- Find the picture of the red beans on the can at the supermarket.
- Think of ten words that rhyme with can.
- Give the cashier the money and count the change.
- Start and organize a collection - rocks, baseball cards, stickers, bottle caps.
- Cook together and learn to measure ingredients.
- Sort the nuts and bolts from the tool bench.
- Let your child tell a story while you're folding the laundry.
- Put a sticker on the calendar as each day goes by.
Parents, teachers and schools should work together to support children's successful transition to kindergarten.
Making More Than One Transition
In many communities kindergarten is a 2 1/2 hour school day. Even full day kindergarten may not meet the needs of working parents. Some children will require child care before and after kindergarten thereby experiencing multiple child care situations every day. It can be difficult for children to understand and relate to so many changes. Look for a routine that will offer consistency and the fewest number of transitions during the day.
Whether the programs in your community are called wrap-around care or after-school care, this transition for your child is as important as the start of kindergarten. Try to be available and flexible the first few days of school. Mark down the important dates and notices coming home. Invest time in your child's kindergarten year.
Many children visit their parents at work. Give them a chance to take you to the school where they work as well. Children are remarkably adaptable. Your child will be able to meet the new expectations and adapt to new routines. That success builds new confidence and a positive self- image.
It is important for parents and teachers to know how and when to assist. Good communication between you and your child's teacher both at school and at after-school care is essential to developing an effective partnership for success.