I recall my first daughter’s transition to kindergarten. I was a stay-at- home with her since she was born and she had never been out of my care outside of a few hours with her dad or my mother….. until that first day of kindergarten. She was already reading at age three and by the time she entered kindergarten, she was quite advanced in her academic skills. But that had very little to do with her making a smooth transition into the formal classroom. It wasn’t about the school or homework, that was cause for concern. It was leaving home itself that most children[and parents] wrestle with.
At first she was excited, but when she arrived at school, she became a little ambivalent about leaving me for a room filled with strangers. It was new and it wasn’t home. There were other children and an adult in the room who were not me, her mom. What made her adjustment easier was that she had a teacher who was very nurturing, with a communication style similar to mine. In fact, my daughter grew to love her teacher and I, too, loved that teacher. Still to this very day, I have fond memories of her.
When your child is about to enter kindergarten, the transition is not only your child’s, but yours, too. There are many felt emotions and even more questions you ask yourself. Questions like:
- Is my child going to be happy or just okay without me?
- Will my child make friends?
- How long will the adjustment period take?Etc…
These questions are common and yes, normal, too. However, every child is unique. Depending on many different factors, such as whether it will be remote or in-person learning, or whether your child has gotten used to being in a structured learning environment already, can all influence the adjustment. For my oldest[and the other two to follow], there was structured learning going on at home already. As mentioned earlier, she was already a reader. There was structured and free play, and routines were also established. We had television watching time[mainly Sesame Street], reading time, play time, and meals were prepared at regular times. Structure. These things help to reduce the adjustment period and can make it a more smooth process.
How do you know that your child has or is adjusting to school? Initially, your child, as was mine, will be sad about leaving you to go to school each morning. When that no longer is so, that’s a great sign. Also, a sign of your child’s adjustment to kindergarten is when entering the room, he or she knows the routines. Knowing what to do, where to leave their coats, where to sit, and so forth are some of those signs.
If you are curious about whether and how your child is adjusting, take time to arrive at school a few minutes early to pick her up and quietly observe. Ask the teacher and ask your child about her day. Listen for excitement in her voice. Actually, after every school day, ask your child about the day.
Parents have a big role to play in helping their child adjust to kindergarten. You can help the process go more smoothly by being mindful of your own attitude towards this transition. Remember that your child looks to you first to gauge their reactions and responses to unfamiliar experiences, people and places.
Start preparing your child for the 1st day ahead of time. Talk about what they can expect to do during their day. You can visit the school ahead of time, meet the teacher and find the classroom. These help to remove the mystery and helps promote comfort in that new space.
If you or the teacher notices that your child is slow to adjust to the classroom, ask for additional strategies to help your child along. Perhaps the teacher may suggest a step by step plan. Other ideas may include your giving something special to your child to take with her to school. An item recognizably from you will help your child with the attachment issues that is creating a barrier to full adjustment. This item is not to be used as a security blanked, but reassurance that you are still with him or her, even though not physically together.
The item you and your child choose together will have to be slowly taken away. Don’t anticipate this ‘safety’ item to be there every day in kindergarten. The objective is to wean your child away from the item, in order that she can function without you in that environment. That is not to say that you shouldn’t give your child something special from you each day or once per week. A special surprise in their backpack or lunchbox is fine. Remember that it is not good to reward for going to school and rewards or treats aren’t to be food items all the time. That sets a potentially harmful precedence. This is specifically for the initial transition to help during the adjustment period only.
You will know when your child has made the adjustment to kindergarten; it will be clear. Your child will grow to enjoy school and the time away from home. No matter what, your child will always be overjoyed to see you there at dismissal. That will not change. Well, you have at least another five or six years before your child will absolutely not want to see you at her school. It will then be embarrassing for them. It is at that time, that you’ll have to realize that that little person is growing up. For now, lavish in the love and excitement your child will openly display when she, or he, sees your face.
During that first year of school, my daughter skipped a grade, went into the gifted and talented program at school and I discovered that she was quite the leader. In fact, she led all the way through high school, onto college and still leads as a Lieutenant Commander with NOAA, a now semi-famous Pilot and a ‘Hurricane Hunter‘. To think, it all started from home with me and that very first day of kindergarten.
The transition into kindergarten is nothing to dread, for it is the start of much bigger things to come. It is one of life’s unforgettable milestones.
UPDATE: My granddaughter has spent one full week in kindergarten and she is already excited about going to school everyday, has made a new ‘best’ friend and it seems like the much worried about transition period for 1st timers is relatively over…for now. She is fully aware that her morning checklist of supplies to take with her includes her backpack, lunchbox and water bottle. Let’s see what type of enthusiasm the tasks of nightly homework evoke. Personally, I think she’s got this!