Kindergarten can be an exciting time for you and your child because it sets the stage for his entire school career. You will look on in wonder as he grows into a more capable, confident, and enthusiastic learner.
But sending your child off to kindergarten can be rough. As the day approaches, you will probably experience a mix of feelings ranging from relief to fear. And your anxiety will be rooted in some specific questions that nag you.
Here are some answers to the most commonly asked questions.
Five-year-olds come in all shapes and sizes. Some students are "off the chart" for size and physical dexterity. Others face severe challenges. There are, however, certain traits you may see in a typical five-year-old:
Most children love to try different sports and activities at this age. The secret is to help your child view them as fun. Any five-year-old who jumps, plays outdoors, and does other things that help develop large muscles is getting the exercise he needs.
All learning starts with play. You can best prepare your child for kindergarten by providing play experiences that challenge him and that he enjoys. Also, set a good example — remember to play yourself!
Entry into kindergarten usually requires a checkup. Be sure to tell your child's doctor:
At a well-child checkup, the doctor most likely will:
A yearly dental checkup is also in order, both to teach good home care and to detect early dental problems. You may want to find a children's dentist, who has had extra training in child behavior and dental health.
Remember: If your child has ever had a medical problem, or has one now, it is important that you contact the school. A child who is on medication may exhibit unusual behavior in the classroom that the teacher needs to understand.
After a busy day in kindergarten, your five-year-old may find it easier to fall asleep at night than he has in the past. However, getting up in the morning may be more difficult. Night waking is rare among five-year-olds, perhaps because children this age do not typically take naps. If you establish a routine and stick to it — bath followed by a story, for example — bedtime usually goes well. In fact, it may be his favorite time of day.
Begin to adjust your child's bedtime and nap schedule several weeks before school starts. That way, he will not have too many changes in routine to contend with at the same time.
Your child will likely have an easier transition to kindergarten if he is comfortable away from you for several hours at a time. Some children can handle the separation easily, while others may be overly clingy or tearful as the first day of school approaches. Here are several ways you can help your child deal with his anxieties:
Learning self-discipline requires a childhood filled with patience, love and limits provided by adults consistently and repeatedly. Your child is more likely to be successful in kindergarten if he knows how to follow certain rules, obeys authority figures, treats objects and people with care, and understands that it is never okay to hurt anyone on the inside or the outside.
His self-management skills will continue to grow throughout the year; for example, he will improve his ability to express his emotions in an appropriate way, listen to a story without interrupting, and stay calm even when he is frustrated or disappointed.
Good behavior provides more opportunities for learning. You can help your child understand that he must obey certain rules and respect authority figures by modeling the behavior you wish to see from him. Do not allow him to boss you or talk disrespectfully to you. This is important if he is to understand, accept, and respect authority figures at school.
Becoming Independent and Self-Confident
Children generally learn best when they are allowed to do things themselves, so the gift of confidence is one of the most valuable things we can give them. Notice the efforts your child is making. Remarks such as "I like the way you picked up your toys without being told" or "You did a good job dressing yourself" go a long way toward helping him feel capable.
Dressing himself — buttoning his coat, zipping his pants, etc. — is one area where your child should feel extra confident. He may also be learning to tie his shoes, but until he masters this skill, look for shoes with hook-and-loop closures.
Many children this age do need guidance in choosing clothing that is appropriate for certain situations. You may want to divide his closet into different sections for school clothes, play clothes, and special occasion clothes. Or, color code his drawers for easy recognition and let him pick anything he wants from the designated drawer.
Practicing Good Manners
A well-mannered child tends to get the most from school. He is also likely to have more friends. Here's how you can promote good manners:
Accepting Others Regardless of Their Differences
Help your child understand that people in the world represent a variety of shapes, sizes, abilities, races, and beliefs. Acceptance means understanding the variety — how we are alike and how we are different—and treating all people in a kind and fair manner. It is a learned behavior that becomes a common practice when he observes the important people in his life treating others with respect.
Other Signs of Emotional Readiness
Children learn social skills best by modeling, repetition, and practice. "Catch" your child being good by complimenting him when he responds appropriately in a given situation. And remember that his teacher will help him develop many traits, such as:
Most kindergarten teachers plan special activities involving parents and children for the first week of school. Try to attend these events. They offer the perfect opportunity for your child to feel comfortable in his new setting, meet his classmates, and get to know his teacher.
Some children are excited and make the transition to kindergarten with amazing ease. Others are uneasy: "Will I make friends? Will I get lost?" If your child expresses fears, listen to him, and then state back to him what you believe he is feeling. This will let him know that you understand, and that he can trust you with his feelings. Try to boost his confidence by remaining positive yourself. Continue to talk about his apprehensions as they arise.
Something else you can do to alleviate his fears is to read books about kindergarten together. Here are some suggestions (not available from Focus on the Family):
These books are geared toward parents (also not available from Focus on the Family):
Assessing your child's readiness for kindergarten can be tricky. Let's face it: It is difficult to be objective about your own child. You may want to ask the opinion of other adults who have spent time with him. Ultimately, however, the decision rests with you.
One of the best ways to decide whether your child is ready is to think about his strengths and weaknesses. The following list contains behaviors that are potential barriers to learning. If you "see" your child on this list, however, don't despair! Each child is an individual, so the profile of one child will be very different from another — even within the same family. Your child's teacher has the background to diagnose such behaviors and the training to help each child learn and grow.
Whether to send your child to kindergarten now or wait until next year is not an easy decision, especially if he exhibits many of the behaviors listed above. To help you make the best possible decision, talk to his preschool teacher, caregiver or pediatrician. Consult beforehand with his new teacher and discuss his social and emotional maturity, unique personality, needs, strengths, and areas of concern as well as the school's programs, expectations, and services. Consider how you, your child, and the school will all work together.
Even though it is not your child's decision to make, get a sense of how he feels about starting school. A child who throws a tantrum at the thought of school may well need an additional year rich in interaction with others before starting kindergarten.
Think of the big picture: If you have nagging doubts about your child's ability to handle kindergarten, it may well be best to give him the gift of an additional year. During that time, make sure he has lots of play dates, story hours at the public library, an additional year in (or first exposure to) preschool, and plenty of opportunities to interact with a variety of children in a variety of situations.
There are so many enjoyable ways you can support your kindergartner as he acquires these new skills! You are, after all, his most important teacher.
Here are some suggestions:
First and foremost, however, read to and with your child and have him read to you. Reading is the essential foundation upon which all other skills are built.
By the time children complete kindergarten, they should know the parts of a book and their functions. They should begin to distinguish various forms and purposes of print, from personal letters and signs to storybooks.
Children come to kindergarten with a variety of experiences, and the teacher accepts each child at his unique stage of development and helps him develop the essential building blocks of literacy so he will be successful in first grade.
There are so many enjoyable activities you can do together to help "grow" his literacy skills:
Celebrate his progress!
Exposure to many different kinds of books will increase your child's language skills. For example:
The best time for reading to and with your child, or for having him read to you, is when he is rested and content. A quiet environment will keep distractions to a minimum. Have him sit close to you so he can see the book. If he is wiggly, try reading to him while he is in the bathtub. Remember that he may want to hear a favorite book over and over again. He will begin to memorize the story, and that's a stepping stone in the process of learning to read.
Remember, too, that he may well want to "read" to you, even before he can technically do so. Encourage this behavior, because telling the story while pointing to the pictures is an important pre-reading skill.
Avid readers acquire their love of reading at home, from their parents. No teacher can pass along a passion for books the way a loving parent can. Children remember cozy bedtime stories, sharing books with friends and siblings, and the freedom and encouragement to read lots of different kinds of books.
It certainly is! Even before they enter kindergarten, most children take the first steps toward experimenting with print. Here's how you can support your child's earliest attempts at writing:
When your child seems ready for more complex tasks, encourage him to print his name beginning with a capital letter and using lowercase letters for the rest. Help him to learn his address and phone number, his birthday, the days of the week, and months of the year. These skills represent major steps in learning language. Remember that praise for even small improvements in any of these areas reinforces his willingness to try harder.
Checklist of Kindergarten Milestones
In kindergarten, your child will learn many of the basic skills needed to read, write, and do math. He'll also learn to get along with others and to follow rules.
The German word kindergarten means "a child's garden,”"and this first year of formal school will be filled with opportunities to plant seeds of learning for your child.
What kindergarten teachers hope to see on the first day of school are children who are healthy, mature, capable, and eager to learn. In reality, however, they welcome all children into their classrooms regardless of what they can or cannot do. Their mission is to help all students grow in physical, social, behavioral, and language skills so they are prepared for the challenges of first grade.
There's no perfect formula that determines when children are truly ready for kindergarten. But you can use this checklist to see how well your child progresses in acquiring these skills throughout the year.
Don't worry if your child seems to have only a handful of these skills the first time you read the lists. Check the skills he has mastered, then review the lists every month to see what additional skills he can accomplish easily. Young children learn so fast! He may struggle with a skill this month but have it mastered the next. You will be amazed to see how many items you can check by the end of the year!
Physical Development and Motor Skills
By the end of the kindergarten year, does your child:
Social and Behavioral Skills