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Sonoma Family Life Magazine

Is Your Little One Ready for Kindergarten?

By Tanni Haas

There are few moments more exciting to kids than the first day of kindergarten. It represents the day when they officially become “big kids.” How do you prepare them? Here’s what the experts say.

Teach independence. Kids are expected to be able to do many things on their own by the time they start kindergarten. Tracy Galuski, a professor of early childhood development and education, says that kids should be able to: dress themselves, including putting on shoes and putting on and taking off their coats; use the bathroom and wash their hands afterwards; unpack their lunches; and wipe their faces after they’ve eaten. These skills, Galuski says, will take your kids “from the coatroom to the lunchroom and beyond.” Spend the summer before kindergarten practicing them with your kids.

Promote autonomy. Merete Kropp, an experienced kindergarten teacher and child development expert, says that kids should be able to make many choices. This includes choosing among different activities in the classroom and with whom to play. “Children who’ve been given autonomy at home in developing preferences and making meaningful choices,” Kropp says, “are able to transfer this skill to the school setting.”

Assign chores. A way to make your kids more independent and autonomous is to assign them household chores. Charity Ferreira of GreatSchools, an education think tank, says that parents should give kids chores such as setting the table, folding the laundry, and tidying up. “These types of activities,” she says, “will automatically transfer over into the classroom and help your child feel successful and comfortable.”

Build self-confidence. It’s one thing to have certain skills; it’s quite another to have the confidence to show those skills in front of classmates. Amie Bettencourt, PhD, a child psychologist, says that parents talking to kids about what the school day will be like will help them feel more self-confident. 

Organize playdates. Many schools distribute class contact lists for students before the school year starts. If you receive such a list, set up playdates with some of your kids’ future classmates. That way, when your kids walk into class, they’ll see some familiar faces. “A lot of what makes kindergarten a tough transition,” Ferreira says, “is that kids suddenly find themselves in a big group all day long. The more social skills kids have, the easier it’ll be for them to concentrate on learning.” 

Create routine. Ferreira says, “following a consistent routine—and pointing out parts of the routine to your child—helps your child know what to expect and when. This will help your child transition to the school routine.” She suggests that parents create a fixed schedule for waking and sleeping. Bettencourt adds that the nightly routine should include a predictable order of activities: “take a bath, put on pajamas, brush teeth, read a favorite story or sing a favorite song, and get a goodnight hug or kiss.”

Read books. Listening to their teacher read aloud is often how kindergarten kids learn. So making reading an important part of your kids’ lives will prepare them for school. “Get your child a library card, take her to the library to check out books, and be sure to read to your child every day,” Galuski says. Melissa Taylor, an education expert and author of Imagination Soup, a well-known blog, agrees: “Reading to your child teaches her many things that we adults take for granted. Kids learn basics, such as how to hold a book, left-to-right reading, wondering what will happen next, and discovering new words.” So read to your kids every day; choose a variety of material and ask them frequent questions, just like the teacher would.  

Acknowledge feelings. While you prepare your kids for all the exciting new things they’ll learn in kindergarten, also acknowledge any unease they may experience. Melanie Dale, the author of several books on parenting, says that parents should let their kids express their feelings: “If they say they’re nervous, rather than say, ‘Don’t be nervous,’ ask them why they’re nervous and validate that feeling. Share a time when you were nervous and how it worked out.”  

Tanni Haas, PhD, is a college communications professor.