This fall 3.7 million students will enter Kindergarten. I have no concerns about 3,699,999 of them. But then there is my sweet, quirky girl. Will she adjust? Will she be able to keep up? Will she be challenged? Will she make friends?
My daughter’s only fear related to starting Kindergarten is that I will cry all day while she is gone. I’ve reassured her that if she can do it, I can do it.
Knowing that our fears are likely shared by other families, I spoke with Catherine Kelly, lead Kindergarten teacher at Imagine International Academy of North Texas. She’s been a Kindergarten teacher for 14 years and she kindly shared her experience with me. It’s not exactly what I expected.
THE BIG, SCARY BUILDING
The number one fear Kelly mentioned was fear of the auto-flush toilet and turbo hand dryer. These loud appliances can be overwhelming for the small folk using them alone for the first time. This is disconcerting to me, as I’ve spent the entirety of my 15-year parenting career actively avoiding taking my children to public restrooms. But, in the spirit of academic readiness, my daughter and I will make several outings to the mall before school starts so she can become more comfortable with the sudden loud noises produced in modern restrooms.
It’s also a good idea to visit the school ahead of time for any events they schedule so that your little one can be exposed to the sheer size of the school and the relationship of classroom, restroom, playground and cafeteria. The scale of an elementary school can be surprising to a young child and familiarity with it will make those first days less stressful.
CLIQUES AND SEPARATION ANXIETY
Kelly mentioned that many parents fear that their child will not make friends. Fortunately, five-year-olds tend not to share our adult hang-ups, so this is seldom a problem. Kelly does emphasize that parents should not share this fear with their children, as children will often internalize this fear which can then become self-fulfilling.
There are always one or two students who struggle with separation anxiety in each class. Parents should give their child experience away from them — whether in a preschool setting or at play dates where Mom and Dad are not present. The parent’s attitude about school, whether fearful or upbeat, will often be picked up by the child.
FEAR OF BEING “BEHIND”
What about the fear of a child not being academically “ready”? Thanks to the National Association for the Education of Young Children, we know that testing results at this young age don’t necessarily correlate with results after third grade. And we also know that exploratory learning is best during early childhood. It seems that helping with dinner, visiting museums, having conversations with friends of all ages, and being read quality literature contribute more to academic success than a “drill and kill” approach. In fact, according to Kelly, “Students who have had a wide variety of experiences in their early lives are hard to distinguish from gifted students.”
So put away the flash cards and head out to the museum, pick up art supplies, or head downtown to talk to some local merchants about their business. Not only is this better preparation for school, it’s more fun for everyone.
THE DAILY GRIND
First, the day is long. It is not uncommon for students to fall asleep in the car on the way home from school or even in class during the first week. While this makes for some cute Facebook photos, parents can help by establishing consistent routines before school starts and sticking with them, knowing bedtime will likely fall while it is still light outside during the first weeks of school. Even with a consistent routine, parents should expect a tired child as they adjust to the new routine of school.
Second, illness is common during the first two months of school. Let’s face it – five-year-olds aren’t always the most fastidious when it comes to mouths and noses, and now they are in an environment with 20 others trading germs likes Pokemon cards. Parents can teach their children how to wash their hands thoroughly after a bathroom visit and before meals, make sure they are getting a healthy diet and plenty of sleep, and keep sick children home from school. Following these steps will help minimize illness spreading through the classroom.
Third, children in Kindergarten are expected to be independent with personal care needs. Parents can help their children by teaching them to fully manage their bathroom needs, from fastening clothes to properly cleaning up.
Students need to be able to carry their own cafeteria tray, so practice at a buffet style restaurant. Even setting and clearing the table at home will help foster their independence. Backpacks are heavy, so parents should be sure their child’s backpack is a manageable size and students are comfortable packing, fastening and carrying them. Imagine being the only teacher in a room with 20 or more five-year-olds, and then you can appreciate the importance of these steps!
Finally, Kindergarten is every day. As one of Kelly’s students protested to his mother when she woke him up for his second day of Kindergarten, “I already did that yesterday.” Giving children a sense of the time scale with a calendar that they can watch and mark will help them understand the school cycle.
With a little understanding and preparation, the first day of Kindergarten can be an exciting and happy day for everyone involved. See you in the carpool line!
About the author: Amy Rogers is a freelance writer and mother of three in McKinney. Her youngest daughter will start Kindergarten this fall while Amy cries all day.