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Back to School Readiness—For Kindergarteners (and Educators!)

I recently posted on the NFtSP Facey Face page that I thought it was bit premature to see Back to School advertisements in July. To my horror, many people responded that their report back to work days were in early August. Yikes!

Perhaps because our district tortured the children into Bikram-hot learning through late June, we don’t report back for another few weeks. Mind you, August is often spent having my own internal “I’m-ready-I’m-so-not-ready-to-go-back” ping-pong battle in my mind. August is typically educator purgatory in that you are finally relaxed but there’s this nagging feeling it’s all coming to an end soon (insert collective tiny violin playing from people with jobs that only allow two weeks a year of vacay). I don’t need to tell educators that when you are instrumental in shaping the young minds of the future, you need the summer to recharge for that kind of societal pressure. I see your tiny violin, traditional workers, and I raise you a symphony of miniature violins that you aren’t responsible for whether or not future generations can get along with each other and be educated, well-rounded lifetime learners.

Anyhoo…I digress. The real point of today’s post is back-to-school readiness. Today, I was taking one of my daily walks with my lazy dogs and I ran into a neighbor who is sending her little one to Kindergarten this year. She was asking for advice about the transition, wondering if he was “ready.” So, I thought I’d whip up a little list for parents of activities and routines they can build into their schedules in August to prepare. If anyone else has suggestions for Kindergarten parents sending their little ones for the first time, feel free to add them in the comments section.

Tips for Transition to Kindergarten

1) Get into a “Kindergarten Routine” in the month leading up to Kindergarten entry. This means establishing a morning routine, an evening routine, and a bedtime routine.

2) Assess your morning routine: How similar is your current routine from the Kindergarten program your child will be entering? Are you already in a Pre-K program that is 5 days a week, from 8:00-2:30? Is your child entering a morning Kindergarten program and you have been going to afternoon Preschool? The more similar your routine is now, the easier the transition. If your child is unaccustomed to getting up and being ready by 8am, and their new Kindergarten starts at 8, start practicing being ready by that time now.

3) Evening routine: Even in Kindergarten, your child will begin to have homework if they are in a traditional program.* It is important to begin establishing a “Homework Time” in your evening routine, separate from the “bath-book-bed” routine. Since they will have homework the rest of their school careers, explore when works for your family (e.g. After dinner, before bath? After school before dinner?). During that time, you can play a game that involves sharing or turn-taking, or if you really want to, buy a Preschool workbook and do one page together. The game may be better than the worksheets though, because it reinforces social skills of losing gracefully, not cheating, taking turns, etc. They will get plenty of worksheets in their school careers.

4) Bedtime routine: Have a consistent bedtime, and think about how your child will probably not be having naps in a traditional Kindergarten. If you haven’t already, wean them off naps in the summer time (I know, it’s not fun, but it will help in the long run).

5) Self-Help Skills: There is no potty training in Kindergarten. Wiping is important. No one will wipe your child’s tush in Kindergarten. Also, teach your child how to zip, button, and tie/Velcro (added bonus, improving fine motor skills). Teach “practical life skills” like pouring, opening food containers and drink boxes, etc.

6) Anticipatory Guidance for you and your child: About a month before entry, read getting ready for Kindergarten books (e.g. Mrs. Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten, Kindergarten Rocks!, The Night before Kindergarten). Also, know that your child may “fall apart” at home for the first 2-3 months of Kindergarten, and this is typical, especially for kids unaccustomed to long days of instruction. They hold it together all day and then when they come home, they lose it. Acknowledge that you see how hard they are working to be a student all day.

7) Reinforce Reading Readiness: If your child went to a play-based preschool and didn’t get much exposure to pre-reading skills, don’t worry. Reading is supposed to be taught in early elementary. It’s harder to teach social skills and behavioral control skills to a kid who is reading than it is to teach reading to a kid with lagging social skills and behavioral control. Remember, kids have to be able to listen to the teacher and control impulses in order to profit from instruction!

You can reinforce reading skills at home by developing print awareness, playing simple phonetic awareness games, and practicing reading comprehension skills during story time:

• Point out environmental print (e.g. stop signs, names of businesses, menus)

• Point out that print occurs on different surfaces (paper, computer screens, billboards, books, iPads) and make a distinction between pictures and print.

• When you read, put your finger on each word you are reading, so they can make a connection that print corresponds to speech.

• Read nursery rhymes, sing songs, and clap along with the rhythm.

• Play games with words that sound alike as you experience them in everyday life (e.g. We’re passing Mike’s Bikes, that’s a funny name because they sound alike!)

• Demonstrate how sounds blend together in familiar words (e.g. Let’s sign your name on Grandma’s card, T-o-m — Tom)

• Play a game where the goal is to find objects with names that begin with a certain initial sound. This is a great game for walks or car rides.

• Play clapping games and clap with each distinct sounds (e.g. “C-a-t is a three clap word; so is fam-i-ly”)

• Practice attention to stories by reading short stories, high interest books, and reading the same favorites over and over

• Connect stories and titles by predicting the story from the title. Ask your child to make predictions about stories and follow simple plots by asking questions while reading (“What’s going to happen now?”)

• Allow children to retell stories

One final note about readiness: As a school psychologist, I often console “criers” on the first day of Kindergarten. It’s about equal whether I am consoling a parent or a Kindergartner! Your child will take your cues too. If you are emotional and crying as they enter the class, they will tend to be emotional and turn into little barnacles you have to pry off your leg. Model calmness and a positive attitude! Also, don’t be surprised if they are fine the first day and then after a few days or weeks, they start to have difficulties. If I could interpret their tears on days 3 or 4, they would probably be, “OMG, I have to keep coming back every day???” They will get used to it. If the transition difficulties are ongoing, consult with your child’s teacher or the school psychologist.

Oh, and its worth noting for all you educators and school psychologists going back to work this month (or very soon!) that you may want to start weaning yourself off of naps and getting back in a regular schedule too! Here are some tips for educators making that transition back to work from the archives. Of these tips, I find B2S shopping to be the most therapeutic. 😉

*Kindergarten seems to be the new 1st grade, so it may be more academics than you anticipate. I think this is why there are kids rolling around on the rug during whole group lessons and kids start resisting pencil-paper work—they’re not always developmentally ready for it. The main skills I would hope they learn in Kinder are all social-emotional (e.g. following rules, playing well with others, working independently with supervision). But that’s a soap box speech for another time.

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Comments on Back to School Readiness—For Kindergarteners (and Educators!)

  1. Can you do your soap box speech as your next post? I remember a snippet of what Linda Darling-Hammond mentioned at NASP this year about play-based kinder kids having greater academic gains in 4th/5th grade than "all academic" kinders. Does anyone know what research that comes from? I really wish we'd move away from the downward thrust of curriculum and would love to hear your thoughts!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for posting this. I'm an SLP and also help parents transition their kids into kindergarten, and this is very helpful.

  3. Another thing… no shoes with laces, belts, etc. that a child can't fix on their own. If they aren't tying laces yet, that is what velcro is for, many are embarrassed to have to stop and ask a yard duty, or they run around with undone laces because they don't know what to do about it and may not want to ask.

    And I've seen kinders (1sts too) ask to go to the bathroom in time and yet still miss and have an accident because they can't get their clothes off in time. No belts or pant fastening methods that are hard or unfamiliar to a kid should be part of school attire.

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