When parents begin preparing their child for kindergarten, most of them focus on letters, numbers, and colors. Kindergarten preparation is something that all parents focus on before the first day of school. I have experienced that first day of school for 25 years and my observation is that each child’s first day could be so much easier if parents had a different perspective of what kindergarten preparation means. Letters, letter sounds, colors, numbers are essential. Please do not stop that exposure! This article will focus on those things that parents don’t think about, the unwritten rules of kindergarten preparation.
Every parent I know envisions the first day of kindergarten and the day is bright, their child’s new shoes are unblemished, their uniform is pressed, and their child’s smile lights up the room. Then the alarm goes off and life really begins. Parents want that morning to go smoothly. You do not want to learn that your child finds the uniform shirt to be too itchy to wear or that they do not like their new shoes on the morning of the first day of school. The tips in this article will focus on things you can do starting now to prepare for the first day. By August, your child will be a pro and their teacher will thank you.
Prepare Your Kindergartner’s Clothes
Some school districts require uniforms, others follow a dress code. Find out the requirements for what your child will have to wear. Pay attention to the requirements for shoes and belts. These two items are the most troublesome. Many children are used to wearing their favorite, well worn shoes, but school shoes are usually new and have those troublesome laces. Let your child break-in their new school shoes. This will make them more comfortable and less likely to cause your child any distress or aggravation at school. Students are not allowed to take their shoes off at school or on the bus. Try to break the habit of taking off their shoes to get comfortable or when they get in the car.
Now is the time to teach your child how to tie their shoes. If your child cannot tie their shoes by the time school starts, Velcro is the way to go. Some Velcro shoes are not as fashionable as many parents prefer. For these parents, there are shoelace locking clips that are as understated or as fancy as you would like. These clips will keep your child’s shoes tied throughout the day, which will make it much less likely that your child will trip over their own laces and injure themselves.
Belts are only a problem during restroom breaks. If your child’s school requires a belt, find one that your child can fasten and unfasten on their own. This would also be the time that you check to see if your child can work the buttons on all of their pants. Most parents opt for elastic waist pants in kindergarten, but if you choose buttons, make sure your child can complete the task of going to the restroom, without assistance, in their school clothes. Also, they need to understand what to do when things don’t work out with their toilet paper. Your child’s teacher cannot help them wipe themselves and would rather not have to unbutton and button the pants of all 27 students in her class.
Wash your child’s new school clothes a couple of times before school starts. New clothes sometimes have a stiffness to them or a smell that children find irritating. By washing them ahead of time, they will feel and smell like home. Smell is a powerful memory maker and having the smell of home, at school, will make the day go by easier.
Prepare your Kindergartner for New Procedures
I have already addressed restroom issues, but this one is really important and deserves a little more time. Using the restroom alone is a new skill for the majority of kindergartners and it is the one place where teachers cannot help much. Kindergarten preparation needs to include your child practicing the best ways to wipe themselves and the best things to do if they get anything on their hands. There have been many instances where the child will call out to the teacher, “I’m done!” and they expect the teacher to come in to help them. This is not the case. Teachers will provide them with wipes if necessary, but your child will have to do the cleaning themselves.
Another new procedure is using a lunchbox. In your kindergarten preparation, fix lunch for your child and put it in their new lunchbox. Allow them to eat lunch on their own. They need to be able to open and assemble everything that you provide in their lunchbox. If you do not plan to send them with a lunchbox, practice carrying their plate to the table. In daycare centers and preschools, most lunches are brought to the child as they sit at a table. In kindergarten, the child will go through the cafeteria line and have to carry their food to the table. If your child cannot carry a full plate of food from the counter to the table, they will not be able to carry a tray from the cafeteria line to their seat. Opening a packet of catsup or a milk carton can be fairly difficult. Provide opportunities for your child to practice opening these items on their own.
Taking turns is a new procedure for some students, but taking turns in kindergarten is next level. Not only do they have to share their favorite item, they may even have to wait until a different day to play with that item. Children sometimes have a favorite activity or center that they like to work in, but in kindergarten they may not get the chance to do that activity each day. Let me give you an example. Your child’s favorite center is the kitchen. The teacher rotates all of the students through the kitchen center twice a week. It is Wednesday and your child does not get to play in the kitchen center today at all. This is distressful to several students because they may be used to waiting a few minutes to play with something, but not necessarily waiting until tomorrow.
To help with this, try going to the park but only playing on the slide if it is a specific day of the week or hour of the day. Warn them ahead of time and be consistent. Tell them that you will be going to the park, but today they cannot play on the slide. Explain that other children will be playing on the slide, but they will have to wait until the next time they go to the park. Be prepared to answer, “Why do they get to play on the slide?” The answer is, “Today is their turn to play on the slide. You will be able to play on it next time.” This scenario is a typical day in kindergarten. Preparing your child for this level of sharing and waiting their turn will be very beneficial.
The last new procedure I want you to prepare your child for is remaining in their seat while waiting for things to happen. In the average kindergarten class, teachers require the students to remain seated while she works with another student, passes out materials, or picks up supplies. Students have a hard time understanding that just because they are done, does not mean that they have permission to move to the next activity. Helping your child prepare for this expectation can be done while you cook a meal.
Tell your child to sit at the table and give them a task to complete. I suggest simple tasks like writing their name, drawing a picture, coloring a picture, or putting a puzzle together. Explain to them that they need to stay in their seat until you come back to check on them. Then go cook. When they get up to show you what they did, tell them to go back to their seat and that you will be there in a moment. Once they sit down, wait a beat and then go over to see what they did. Give them another task to complete and go back to cooking. Continue doing this until they understand that they need to stay in their seat while you are cooking. Kindergartners will be expected to wait for their teacher’s attention. Waiting for you to cook a meal while they sit at the table completing tasks will be good practice for them.
Communication Changes for Kindergartners
There are multiple levels to quality communication in a kindergarten classroom. The first issue to address is asking for help. Kindergarten is a challenge for all students. Language development happens in the brain first. Once their brain has developed sufficiently, children are then able to apply the instruction they are receiving from the teacher. This is a fine line to traverse for children. They have a hard time walking that fine line between needing help and giving up. Kindergarten preparation in communication can start with presenting them with a challenging task and encouraging your child to ask for help rather than just giving up. Some of the challenging tasks could be building things with blocks in a certain pattern, coloring detailed pictures, cutting on a line, or counting more than 20 items.
The second issue with communication is the fact that children have no filter and they hurt other students’ feelings because they are stating facts. For example, children will say things like, “You smell stinky,” or “Your eyebrows look like caterpillars,” or “Your belly jiggles when you run.” The statements aren’t lies, they aren’t meant to insult or be mean, but it hurts the other person’s feelings. Encourage your child to think before they speak.
I started this kindergarten preparation in Wal-Mart. There is always something or someone to see at Wal-Mart. When you see these “sights” discuss what is okay to say to you and what would be okay to say to the person or out loud. I trained my children to say to me, “Mom, I have something to tell you,” when they saw something they thought was noteworthy. Then we could have a private conversation about the woman’s elaborate hairstyle or the man’s unusual fashion choice rather than them yelling out and embarrassing us or insulting the other person. This level of self-control in a kindergarten classroom is golden.
The final communication issue is your child’s name. We have numerous students who go by a nickname at home and do not know their real name. Before school starts, explain to your child what their full name is and start practicing how to write it. It is not as big a problem when William goes by Will, but there becomes a problem when children go by their middle name rather than their first name and it is even worse when they go by a nickname. Official paperwork at school will have your child’s legal first and last name on it. Your kindergartner needs to recognize their legal name and be prepared to answer to it on the first day of school. Teachers are great about learning your child’s preferences over the first few days of school, but that takes time.
In conclusion, modern kindergarten preparation should include some different topics than you are used to. Please do not stop exposing your child to all of the basic academic skills such as letters, letter sounds, numbers, shapes, and colors. Read to them every day and talk about what you read. Talk to your child and have deep conversations with them. All of these things, along with my tips for the unwritten rules for kindergarten preparation will make the first day of kindergarten as pleasant as you always imagined it would. If you would like more information on helping your kindergartner, watch my video, Positive Communication Skills for your Kindergartner.