The first day of kindergarten can be an exciting but stressful day for both you and your child. Many parents try to prepare their child academically for kindergarten but sometimes forget to teach the really simple things that can make the difference between the first day of school being a success or a disaster.
To help my own daughter prepare for kindergarten, I encouraged the children in her preschool class to talk to me about the worries and questions they each had about the upcoming transition to “big school”. Believe me – counting and reading are on the bottom of their list of concerns. Children don’t worry about not being able to read – they want to know how to find the bathroom! Here’s a list of their biggest concerns, along with solutions to ease their fears.
How will I get to school?
If you plan to carpool or drive your child to school, do a practice ride from your house to the school. Pull up to the designated drop-off spot and pretend saying a quick goodbye. To encourage your child to step out of the car quickly in the mornings (a good idea just in case you’re caught with a line of cars behind you) make up a special way to say goodbye such as the familiar line – see you later alligator, after a while crocodile.
How do I find my class?
Getting around a new school seems to be children’s single biggest fear.
To calm anxiety: Visit the school beforehand as many times as possible. Even if the school is closed for the summer, allow your child to walk around the school; and if possible, play on the playground. Just being familiar with the building can calm many jitters.
If the school offers an open house before the first day of school, be sure to attend. Usually at this time you can find out your child’s classroom assignment and meet the teacher. Show her how to walk from the front door of the school to her classroom. Feeling lost in a crowded hallway is not what you want for your child on her first week of school.
If your child is still apprehensive, assure her someone will be at the front door of the school the first few days to help the students to their classroom. Many schools use older students from the student council for this purpose.
What if I have to use the bathroom?
Show your child how to raise her hand if she needs help from the teacher. Also reassure her it is OK to ask to go to the restroom if she really needs to go. If you have an opportunity to walk through the school, locate the restroom and point out which one she needs to use. Teach her how to recognize the words “girls” and “boys” to avoid an embarrassing mistake.
Do your child a favor and dress her in comfortable clothes. A teacher will probably not be in the restroom to help her undo tricky buttons or zippers, and an “accident” can be mortifying at this age.
Will lunch be the same as at preschool?
Probably not. Many preschoolers eat lunch in their own classroom, whereas in kindergarten, lunchtime is spent in a big, noisy cafeteria with many children. Often even kindergarten teachers eat in the teachers’ lounge instead of in the cafeteria with their students. Each week a certain number of teachers are assigned to lunchroom duty and it’s their responsibility to keep the cafeteria under control.
Walking into a large, noisy cafeteria can be overwhelming, so teach your child a few simple tasks to build confidence. Practice opening milk cartons. It sounds easy, but opening a milk carton can be hard for a child who has never tried it. Carrying a tray can also be a real challenge. During the summer, visit a cafeteria-style restaurant and allow her to carry her loaded tray to the table.
If you pack a lunch from home be sure your child can open the food containers, stick the straw in the juice box without soaking her neighbor, etc. Teachers may not be around to help her with these tasks.
How will I get home after school?
Once again, go over the game plan several times with your child. If you plan to pick your child up after school, caution her about darting out in front of other cars. To avoid this, most schools like carpool parents to line up after the buses leave and pick the children up one at a time. If your child rides the bus, meet her at the bus stop the first day with a big hug.
Remember: children watch you carefully and listen to everything you say, so if you’re worried or apprehensive about anything concerning kindergarten, don’t show it. This can be hard, especially if it’s your first child, but don’t let her see you cry on her first day of school. My daughter’s school has a special room set aside stocked with coffee, donuts and boxes of Kleenex just for that purpose. I know I’ll be there.
Paula Court is a freelance writer.