FCA Featured in Frederick's Child Magazine April/May 2016

Kindergarten Readiness: 5 Ways You Can Prepare Your Child Now
By Joyce Scott

Sending your child off to school for the first time is hard. For many of us, it triggers a series of emotions all across the scale (sometimes simultaneously!) from happiness to sadness. But most of all, it triggers our inherent anxiety that we haven’t prepared our child enough for kindergarten. As a seasoned mom and teacher, I want you to know you’re not alone. But more importantly, whether you have an infant or a preschooler, there are simple ways you can help prepare your child for kindergarten today. Beyond the basic and practical skills such as dressing independently, knowing the ABCs, and holding a pencil—here are five ideas you can start now to give your child a happy first year of school (chances are you’re already doing some of them today, so relax, you’re a great parent!).

  1. Lead by example. You are your child’s first and most important teacher.  It is your job to model the behavior that you would like to see developed in them: kindness, empathy, gratitude, confidence.  Furthermore, teach them forgiveness. When you’ve been offended, forgive.  When you are the offender, be humble enough to admit it and ask for forgiveness! This will go a long way in the classroom. It warms my heart when I see a child set aside the grudge-holding or pouting when they are wronged and is willing to offer a friend an apology instead.

  2. Be a listener. Slow down, look at, and really listen to your child.  I know I don’t have to tell you this one because chances are you already know how important it is. But really, try to connect with your child as often as possible through engaging conversation. Not only does listening to your child with undivided attention give your child confidence that will relay to the classroom, it also is time well spent. Likewise, encourage them to listen and talk to others. Help your child develop an attitude of respect toward adults and teach them how to have a conversation. Promoting good conversational skills will help them not just in kindergarten, but for a lifetime.

  3. Provide meaningful experiences.  Rich, diverse experiences broaden a child’s outlook, enrich their vocabulary and communication skills, and spark curiosity and a love for learning. The time spent on engaging activities and family outings represents an opportunity to help children grow and acquire important social and emotional skills to develop lifelong interests. A visit to a zoo, museum, or library isn’t just fun for you and your child; it is an opportunity to learn! 

  4. Instill a love for reading. I cannot write enough here! Early reading habits are central to the readiness of a child entering kindergarten. Over the years as a teacher, I have noticed the significant differences in my students who are immersed in a print-rich world as a preschooler versus those who were not.  But don’t worry! It’s not too late to help your kids to enjoy reading. There are so many ways to encourage lifelong readers. Here are a few suggestions:

    • Enjoy reading. Yes, you! Kids should see us enjoy reading (and if you don’t, then pretend you do!). 

    • Read aloud to your child every day. 

    • After you read a story, ask your child to re-tell it. What did they like or dislike about it? If they were the writer, what would they change?  You don’t need to do all of these after every story, but give them an opportunity to express their thoughts and ideas. 

    • Let them write their own story! Ask your child tell you a story. Write it down and then read it back to them.  My kindergarteners LOVE this! 

    • Play word games, sorting games, and rhyming games with your child. 

    • Provide plenty of books of all types and teach them the proper way to take care of them. Whether you’re purchasing or borrowing books, in our digital media world it’s still important to let your preschooler touch and feel “real” books.

  5. Set expectations.  Give your child an idea of what a typical day in kindergarten will be. For example, you can tell them, “There will be a time for playing, singing, being quiet, and also a time for ‘work,’ like learning letters and sounds, and counting and writing numbers.  There is a bathroom break (when needed) and a time for lunch, snack, etc.” Remind them that even though you’re not there, that their teacher loves them, is there to help them, encourage them, and teach them to do right. Moreover, light-hearted role playing (i.e. how to be a good friend and what to do or say if their classmate is not being a good friend) is a good idea and can help them overcome nervousness and build confidence before their first day of school.  

I think my child is ready, but am I? When that first day of school does come (and wow, does it sneak up on us!), carefully guard against being over-indulgent or over-protective. I still remember the days I followed my firstborn (now 29!) into the classroom….doing all of his morning duties for him and then squatting down next to his little chair. I was worried whether he was ready to start his day; little did I realize that his slight separation anxiety was being ratcheted up by his worry-wart mother! This went on for about a week when finally his sweet teacher met me at the door one morning.  She gave him a teddy bear to hold if he “started missing mommy,” she then smiled, assured me he would have a great day and then promptly said good-bye while closing the door! He grew leaps and bounds that day. 

Since then, every fall you’ll hear me remind my own parents of kindergarteners, “Quick goodbyes, keep dry eyes!”  It is true.  Send them off with confidence and enthusiasm, and at the end of the day be prepared to hear all about their wondrous adventures!

This article was originally published in Frederick's Child Magazine, April/May 2016 Edition.