Congratulations! You are about to embark on one of life’s most precious experiences. I am a kindergarten teacher, but I have taught several different ages. I am here to tell you that there is truly no place like kindergarten. It is full of learning, yes, but kindergarten is so much more. I can’t count the number of times someone has told me they could never do my job. That may be true, but I count myself as one of the lucky ones. I get to experience the magic of kindergarten, and the “firsts” for children, year after year. There can’t be many more rewarding jobs on the planet. Your child is going to make some of their best friends this year. They are going to gain confidence, learn what community is at its best, and acquire all kinds of problem solving skills. While I have not sent my baby off to kindergarten yet (he’s only two), I can certainly recognize how important this new chapter is and empathize with this bittersweet reality. I hope this list of simple thoughts can give you some direction for these final days of preparing for kindergarten.
Preparing for Kindergarten
Based on my experience, it is very likely that your child is going to feed off of the attitude you have. If you are nervous, wait until they go to bed to talk about it with your spouse or your best friend. I have had several moms walk up to me, hand-in-hand with their child, and tell me how nervous THEY are! There is no way your child is going to be more confident about this experience than you are. So, put on a smiling face and answer their questions as enthusiastically as possible. Your attitude towards kindergarten has the potential to heavily influence your child’s attitude towards school for years to come. What kind of mindset do you want your child to have?
Establish a routine.
I know it can be so tempting to allow your child to live their best life those last few days of summer. However, establishing a routine is incredibly healthy for you and your child. If your child is already in preschool, you may have some of these practices in place. Start an early bedtime routine. This will help them know what to expect once school starts. If you want to do bath time at night, start that now. Have your child practice packing their book bag. It is likely that your child’s teacher will have a reading folder or books that come home each night. Talk to your child about those kinds of things and prepare them to pack accordingly. The kindergarten teacher in me wants to say please read them a bedtime story (or five). This is also a good time to talk to them about the next school day. Refrain, at night time, from talking to them about their day. Ask them what they are going to do tomorrow to make someone else’s day better. This will help foster a desire for them to be a positive contribution to their kindergarten class.
I don’t have to do this with my child (he IS my alarm clock), but wake your child up! This is when you have them do whatever is important to you as a parent. If you want them to make their bed, start doing it now. Practice getting dressed instead of hanging out in pajamas. Feed them a healthy breakfast (or whatever they will eat to give them a full tummy). Talk to them about whether or not they are buying a lunch or bringing a lunch (sometimes this is a big deal for the littles).
The most important aspect of encouraging independence is allowing your child to do what they can do. This applies to going to the bathroom by themselves and coming out dressed, zipping zippers and buttoning pants. Give them practice opening snack and lunch containers, water bottles, etc. Let them pack their book bags on their own (but please make sure they got everything they needed)! Tell them that Mom and Dad have jobs and that kindergarten is their job. I always strive for my students to have autonomy when it comes to daily kindergarten tasks. I can assure you that your child’s teacher realizes that they are five and this is a process, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t start practicing today! This will help set up a healthy level of responsibility for your child so that you’re not doing everything by yourself.
Work on familiarity.
This may seem difficult, especially if your child has never stepped foot inside their school. That’s okay! Drive by it. Go play on the playground. If they are going to be a car rider, drive them through the carpool lane. If they are going to be a bus rider, show them their bus stop. If they are going to walk, walk the route with them. You get the idea. Just give them a little taste of where they are going to be spending their days. It will only be unfamiliar for a short time, I promise. By the time you’re invited to lunch or you come to open house, your child will be your own tour guide!
Open dialogue is the best way to ease your child’s anxiety. Refrain from telling them “Kindergarten is so much fun!” Sometimes that can be a let-down, because their idea of fun may be the splash pad or the pool! Tell them that they are going to meet new friends, learn, listen to all kinds of new books, sing songs . . . have a different kind of fun than they may expect. Below are some of my favorite books to read the first few days of school. You may want to add one or two to your nightly bedtime stories as you are preparing for kindergarten!
Kindergarten, Here I Come! by D.J. Steinberg
Pete the Cat: Rocking in My School Shoes by Eric Litwin
The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson
The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn
The Night Before Kindergarten by Natasha Wing
The Pigeon HAS to Go to School! by Mo Willems
Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes
Savor the moment.
Take the pictures. Get the hugs. Realize that you are raising a world changer and the best is yet to come.