If you’re anxious about whether your child is prepared to start kindergarten this fall, don’t pass along your jitters. Kids need encouragement, not worries.
Skip any last-minute ABC drilling. Instead, have fun reading together every day, shopping for school supplies and going on family outings to close the summer. Turn off that phone and talk to your child as you go about your routine to build her vocabulary.
With family and friends, work on coaching your child to respect what adults say; to follow two-step directions; to convey feelings with words, not by hitting; and to take turns without flipping out. In other words, don’t leave everything from social skills to counting up to your child’s teachers.
“Your child’s ability to calm herself, understand emotions and communicate feelings are skills that, alongside reading and math, are needed to succeed in school,” says M.L. Nichols, author of the new book “The Parent Backpack for Kindergarten Through Grade 5” (Ten Speed Press, 2013). Nichols, also the director of education nonprofit group the Parent Connection, says that a child’s self-control will go a long way toward a successful first year of learning.
With the start of kindergarten, there’s also a learning curve for parents on how best to advocate for their child without putting teachers on the defensive.
Your involvement with your child’s education at school is more important than ever, says Nichols, who has developed a communication strategy she calls “the Power of P3.” That is, be positive, professional and persistent in your approach. Any behavior that is not “P3,” she says, can lead to a battle for control that takes the focus off the student. Her tips:
• One way to be positive is to ask a teacher what you can do at home to support a new strategy at school. Also, share specific information about your child.
• Being professional means respecting the chain of command at your child’s school and going to the teacher first. Be polite without making accusations. Use words such as “I” instead of “you” to avoid attacking the teacher.
• Being persistent means continuing to be positive and professional, but you may need to go above the teacher. However, tell him or her you are doing so.
“A ‘you-owe-me’ attitude of entitlement will not get you closer to the education your child needs,” says Nichols. If you write long, accusatory emails, you risk tearing down the bridge between school and home.
The point is that parents have to step up, now more than ever, and build that bridge. Volunteer, bring in supplies, send in kids who have had enough sleep. Do whatever you can to help teachers who otherwise feel unsupported with bigger class sizes, few resources and no assistants.
As part of your daily reading before kindergarten starts, check out an array of books about the big day from your local library. There’s a wide selection to help ease the first-day jitters, including:
• “Kindergarten, Here I Come!” by D.J. Steinberg (Grosset & Dunlap, 2012). This book includes short rhymes about first-day nerves, lunch boxes, class trips and show-and-tell.
• “The Night Before Kindergarten” by Natasha Wing, (Reading Railroad Books, 2001). Kids get ready for their big first day, and for saying goodbye to their mom and dad.
• “Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten” by Joseph Slate (Puffin, 2001). A teacher and students get ready for school.
• “Welcome to Kindergarten” by Anne Rockwell (Walker Childrens, 2004). Tim visits his future kindergarten classroom and finds it’s a just-right fit.
• “Kindergarten Rocks!” by Katie Davis (Sandpiper, 2008). Dexter, a soon-to-be kindergartner, learns it’s OK to be nervous about school.
• “How Do Dinosaurs Go to School?” by Jane Yolen (Blue Sky Press, 2007). Dinosaurs tower over teachers and children as the author speculates about how rebellious the dinosaurs might be in a classroom.
• “My Kindergarten,” by Rosemary Wells (Hyperion, 2004). Featuring a guinea pig named Miss Cribbage as the teacher, this book follows Emily the rabbit and her animal classmates through the first year of school.
• “The Kissing Hand,” by Audrey Penn (Tanglewood Press, 2007). Chester Raccoon doesn’t want to go to school, so his mother shares a special family secret: the Kissing Hand.