Entering kindergarten is a huge milestone for kids and one for which they should be well-prepared. For some, it's the first time they ever have been in a classroom setting, and it can be an overwhelming experience for them if they're not ready for it. Here are some ways parents can help their kids get a jump-start on their education and make their transition to school a success.
"Take them to different places (zoos, parks, libraries, beaches, play groups)," says kindergarten teacher Lani Salter. "Read books and ask them questions about it so they are able to understand what the story is about. Count with them and teach them how to represent the numbers, meaning the value of the numbers. For example, one is one, whether it's one little watch or one big house."
Salter says teaching them how to write their names is also important, as is knowing the alphabet, not only what the letters are but also what sounds they make.
"If students know their letter sounds before they enter kindergarten, they are way ahead of the game," she says.
Other helpful skills for a kid to have, according to Scholastic.com, include knowing his/her full name, address, phone number and birthday and being able to identify rhyming words, manage bathroom needs, dress him or herself, follow directions, clean up after him or herself and listen to a story without interrupting.
Salter adds that school can be a daunting place for a child, and some may have a bit of separation anxiety.
"For a lot of kids, you're it; you're their first teacher," she says. "Everything is new and scary. School is big. Some of (the kids) are actually runners. They end up escaping and want to run after their parents."
Many also shed a few tears, Salter says.
"One student cries and then another one cries, and pretty soon you've got 10 criers in the classroom," she says. "It's pretty tough for the first month, but after that, the fear goes away. It gets easier. You become their teacher; you become their mom; you become everything to these kids."
Some ways parents can help their children with separation anxiety, according to an article written by Dr. Lisa Medoff for Education.com, include making kindergarten something to look forward to. Prepare for the big day a few weeks ahead of time, Medoff writes. Post a calendar, and mark off the days as if you were excited about an upcoming holiday or birthday. Pick out a new lunch or backpack together, and save it for the big day. Plan a special, celebratory breakfast for the first morning.
Medoff also writes that parents can find out who will be in their children's classes and arrange for the kids to play together a few times before school starts. After school begins, plan get-togethers with children from your child's class after school and on the weekends. Another suggestion is to take your child to visit the school a few times before the first day. Arrange to meet the teacher. Look around the classroom and the school so that your child knows where the bathroom is, where his/her belongings will go, what the playground looks like, etc.
Medoff writes that children pick up cues about how to act from their parents, and if you are positive, calm and optimistic about your child's going to kindergarten, then your child will be just fine.
Salter suggests that if it's possible, enroll your kids in preschool the year before or even the summer before kindergarten to help them with their socialization skills and get them used to a more structured environment in which they have to follow rules.
"Kindergarten is an important grade; it's the building block," Salter says. "If students are not successful in kindergarten, they're going to have a hard time in first grade, because it only gets harder. It's the foundation. Like when you're building a house, if your foundation is not strong, then your house is going to collapse."
Salter says she enjoys the process of watching her students grow and become independent, not only academically but also socially.
"There's something endearing about the children," she says. "At that age, they're just like sponges. The amount of growth they show from day one until the end is just tremendous. I've had students who didn't know how to use a pencil or scissors, and just to see them blossom at the end of the school year is really rewarding. It's a lot of hard work but so worth it.
"I don't want to let them go. I actually want them to stay with me," Salter adds with a laugh.