Put these tips on your radar now for helping your preschooler transition to kindergarten later this year.
The move from preschool to kindergarten is a big step for little ones, and it’s sometimes a source of anxiety for them, especially when they’ll be entering a new environment with unfamiliar faces. Experts say it’s best to ease them into the transition during the last month of preschool before summer break starts as there are social factors to consider. Just because it’s January doesn’t mean you can’t start planning ahead for helping your child with the transition.
Leanne Kelisa of Hendersonville remembers helping her daughter, Joanna, make the transition a couple of years ago. “The biggest factor for Joanna was realizing she wasn’t going to go to kindergarten with her core group of friends,” says Kelisa. Joanna spent her preschool years in a private school setting close to where her mom works, but entered kindergarten in the public school environment closer to home.
“That summer before kindergarten, we made a lot of play dates with her preschool friends, and kept that up on weekends after she started kindergarten,” Kelisa says. “I think that helped a great deal with her maintaining some sense of normalcy during the time she was experiencing a new environment around a lot of new people. Even though she was making new friends at school, she always looked forward to those weekend play dates with friends she’d known longer,” she adds.
HELPING YOUR CHILD PROCESS FEELINGS
According to the National Association for the Education for Young Children (NAEYC), the world’s largest organization working on behalf of children ages birth through 8 years by promoting high-quality learning, the time to start helping your preschool child ease into the transition is now, as the end-of-school-year season is here. While wrapping up their final month of preschool before summer break, the NAEYC offers these suggestions to help your child process her feelings:
• Place a sticker or make a mark on each day of the calendar every day during the last few weeks of school.
• Encourage your kids to talk about their feelings about preschool ending — and talk about your feelings, too!
• Draw pictures and/or write good-bye messages for your child’s friends and teachers.
• Stay positive about what your child has learned during the past year by remembering special events along with your child’s work like drawings, paintings, writing or photos.
• Provide fun, stress-reducing activities at home like water play, play dough, puppets, etc.
• Make a plan for helping your child stay in touch with beloved friends or organize a regular play group with other parents from your child’s preschool.
TALK THROUGH IT
One of the best ways to help your little one reduce her anxiety about the big, new world of kindergarten is to talk about it. “Help your child prepare for the actual transition to kindergarten by talking about what will happen,” says Ann Barbour, a professor of early childhood education and author of Learning at Home, PreK-3: Homework Activities That Engage Children and Families (Corwin; 2009). “What will his new routine be like? What friends will also be there? Reading library books about starting kindergarten can start conversations about this step in your child’s life,” Barbour adds.
It’s natural for Mom and Dad to have their own anxieties about the start of kindergarten, but Barbour warns parents to be careful about showing it. “Encourage questions and expressions of feelings, but be careful not to transmit any anxieties you may have. Children easily ‘catch’ adults’ emotional responses,” she says.
To help ease your child’s move to kindergarten, the NAEYC says to visit the new school prior to the first day. You can point out some of the ways his new classroom is similar to his preschool room while also talking about the new, exciting things it has to explore. You can also plan play dates with new classmates in advance to help your child build new friendships more easily.
Most importantly, during the transition process, don’t lose sight on just having fun with your soon-to-be kindergartner. “Even as you anticipate the start of kindergarten together, take time to enjoy your child,” says Barbour. “Play together. Go places together. Read and talk together. In the process, you’ll be encouraging his enthusiasm for learning and helping him get off to a great start!” she adds.
BOOKS FOR PREPARING PRESCHOOLERS FOR KINDERGARTEN
Later this spring or early summer, help your child’s transition by checking out one of these books from your local library or purchasing at a bookstore near you:
Look Out, Kindergarten, Here I Come!
By Nancy Carlson
Countdown to Kindergarten
By Alison McGhee; Illustrated by Harry Bliss
HMH Books for Young Readers
Will I Have a Friend?
By Miriam Cohen; Illustrated by Lillian Hoban
If You Take a Mouse to School
By Laura Numeroff; Illustrated by Felicia Bond
The Night Before Kindergarten
By Natasha Wing; Illustrated by Julie Durrell
Grosset & Dunlap