Put down the flashcards. Pack up the workbooks. I know, your child is starting Kindergarten and you want him to be READY, right? It is easy to get caught up worrying about sight words and counting skills. Academic skills are important and you should keep reading and talking with your child. But with Kindergarten on the horizon, there are some important practical skills that also deserve attention.
1. Make school more familiar.
Anything you can do to take some of the scary away from the first day of school is a good idea. Drive by the school, walk around the building and play on the playground. Set up playdates with other incoming Kindergarteners. Read books about starting school. Use the school website to show your child pictures of teachers and classrooms. If you have a "meet the teacher" event or orientation, take your own pictures. Pictures of the environment and people can help ease anxiety in children.
2. Keep things simple.
Transitioning to Kindergarten is a huge change for children. Now is not the time to get fancy with clothes or food.
Planning a stylish back to school outfit for your little one? Just remember that children should be comfortable in their clothes: in P.E., painting or on the playground. Think twice about those super cute button-fly jeans. If elastic waistbands are more your kid's speed, stick with what works. The Kindergarten teacher is not in the pants-buttoning business. By all means, buy velcro shoes unless your child is gifted in the shoelace-tying department.
Food is another area to keep things simple. Healthy is always a good goal when planning school snacks and lunches, but it's also important to be realistic. If your daughter spent her summer noshing on hot dogs and chicken nuggets, please don't pack her a vegan lunch for her first day of Kindergarten. Now is not the time to implement the paleo-for-minis diet - give it a few weeks. Pack healthy food that your child is used to, and that you know she will probably eat.
3. Work on wiping.
Yes, I am talking about poop. Before I had children I thought potty training was an all or nothing situation. I had no idea that pooping and wiping take some children years to fully master. After a particularly smelly Kindergarten small group, a colleague had to fill me in on the "incomplete wipe," as she called it.
Kindergarteners are truth tellers, and if someone smells like poop they are going to talk about it.
Some children survive years of preschool without ever pooping in their half day programs. At home or in daycare there are adults who can lend a hand with wiping and special supplies like wet wipes. Want to know what they have in most schools? Industrial toilet paper. Spring for some single ply and start practicing.
4. Make sure your child is well-rested.
Kindergarten can be exhausting. Even if your child attended full time daycare, the expectations and pace of Kindergarten are a lot for young ones. Your child will need a lot of sleep, about 10-12 hours a night.
Teachers can support struggling students and find food for hungry kiddos, but they can't help a sleepy or sleeping child. While many adults can handle some degree of sleep deprivation with caffeine and our grown-up coping skills, it is much harder for tired children to behave and learn. Start rolling back bedtime at least a few weeks before school begins.
In addition to getting your kids to bed early, they will need some down time, too. If your child's schedule is so packed it requires a minute by minute calendar, it's time to put a few activities on hold. Limiting inflexible commitments will allow you to respond to your child's needs as they adjust to a full day of learning.
5. Encourage your child to ask for help.
If you forget to put a spoon in your child's lunchbox, will he raise his hand to ask for help or leave the soup uneaten? Will your daughter tell the teacher if someone is hurt on the playground? Talk with your children about how they can ask for help when they can't do it all.
Peers can also be a great resource. The student to teacher ratio in Kindergarten is larger than in preschool or daycare. It's a good idea for your child to ask a friend for help finding a pencil or zipping up a coat. Of course, for some things (like bathroom breaks) it will still be "ask the teacher."
These are my practical tips for preparing children for Kindergarten. What would you add to the list?