So you’ve seen the commercial promising to have your child reading by the time they’re a year old. Great. Your child can count, knows their colors, can sing the alphabet and gets along with peers. Fabulous. But what are the things your child really needs to know before they start school? As it turns out, those book smarts are helpful, but probably not the most important factor in determining your child’s success in kindergarten.
They have their brand new lunch box and you’ve got all of their favorite foods ready to go. But can they open that package of applesauce themselves? Do they know how to get the lid off of that glass, BPA-free container that they’re not to break or lose under any circumstances? Will they be able to get their straw into the drink box you packed? And do they know how and who to ask for help if they find they can’t do one of these things? When I was in school I remember the lunch para asking my mom not to pack Capri-Sun drinks for us anymore because we couldn’t get the straw poked in by ourselves (as a side note, my mom continued to pack them, we just worked on how to get the straw in – Mom: 1 – School: 0). Some kids will choose not to eat their lunch because they are too embarrassed to ask for help. Remember, they probably only have about 20 minutes max to eat lunch anyway, and they are most likely distracted and anxious to get to recess! Make this part of the day as easy as you can by giving them things you know they will be able to manage on their own and not be stressed about.
I love seeing little girls in their frilly, princess-ey outfits and boys in their cute suspenders and belts. But sometimes I look at them and think if I had to get to the bathroom quickly in that I’d be screwed! Even though toilet training may be a distant memory, this is not the time to challenge their re-dressing skills. Kindergarten is new, exciting and overwhelming for most kids. They will wait until the last possible second to stop what they’re doing to go to the bathroom. Their preschool teacher may have been happy to help them get dressed again, but the teacher with 30 other students in class may not be as thrilled about doing that several times a day. This is a great time to reevaluate their closet and choose which clothes are best for school and which may be better for weekends and other family outings. Most kids learn to tie shoes around this time as well, but if they still struggle with it (which is common at this age), maybe send them to school in the Velcro sneakers and work on the other ones at home. You can even start practicing now with how you want to pick out clothes every morning. Do you want to choose clothes for the entire week and have them sorted and ready to go? Pick out clothes the night before? Can you present two outfit choices to your child in the morning and let them choose one without a huge argument? Again, preschools are somewhat looser on what time you get there – at school there’s a bell (or something) and they are expected to be there, ready to go at a certain time. If getting ready in the morning is a challenge, best to address that now. (I have ideas on that too – maybe another blog post!).
Even if they have gone to full day preschool, kindergarten is a whole different ball game. Many parents notice their children are absolutely exhausted by the end of their day. Even though many full-day kindergarten programs include a naptime of sorts, if they are used to taking a full on nap still they will struggle to adjust. Its ok, they have to do it at some point, but most kids (nap or no) may need to go to bed a little earlier for a while to catch up. Especially if mornings are challenging. This is also a great time to scale back on extracurricular activities for the time being. Maybe wait a few months to pick back up on those karate classes. Give your child a chance to adjust without a bunch of other activities tacked on after school. They can also process so much in one day.
How You Can Help:
I say this all the time: There is a huge benefit in helping by not helping. It’s ok to let your child struggle a little to learn problem solving skills. You won’t always be there to do things for them. You can teach them from a very young age to help with basic things around the house. My toddler helps to clear his dishes and puts the silverware away. Does he do it correctly? Goodness no. (see above) Most (okay, all) of the time I do it again later, but that’s not the point. He’s learning the skill sets to do these things on his own, as well as that he is expected to help in keeping our home clean. He’s also earning praise by doing things independently and developing a sense of empowerment that there are things he can do all by himself. Here is a great list of chores that kids can help with. You can encourage kids by asking them to try first, or, “Let’s see how much you can do on your own before help is needed.” When they succeed, you can tell them, “Look at that! You didn’t think you could do it, but you can!” You can also gently praise their efforts to do things independently as you see them. “I really like how you put your clothes in the basket.” “The dog looks so happy with his bowl full of water.” “Those boots are a good choice for today with all of this snow!” You will get much further with positive encouragement than discipline.
Most importantly, whether it’s basic living/social skills or academics that you want to work with your child on, make it fun! If your child feels like they’re being drilled, asked to perform frequently or is becoming overly frustrated and not succeeding in many of the tasks you’ve set out for them (some minimal struggling aside), they will start to become anxious and worried about school. This is definitely not what we’re after. This is why I’m writing this blog in February, knowing that school will not start until this fall. Take the time now to identify and playfully incorporate things into your day that will help your child to feel prepared. Your sanity will thank you later.