This fall a new group of 5- and 6-year-olds will embark on a significant milestone of their educational journey – starting kindergarten or first grade. Whether you've been through years of preschool or not, the transition into "big kids' school" can cause parents and children alike some first-day jitters.
"Kindergarten and first grade are full of excitement and fun! There's no need to be nervous," says Dr. Mary Zurn, vice president of early childhood education at Primrose Schools. "If you prepare your child for the transition with a few simple adjustments to your routine, you will end up enjoying the milestone and dispel some of those natural twinges of sadness as you see your 'baby' grow up." To help ease the transition to independence, Dr. Zurn suggests the following 10 tips to help calm kindergarten jitters:
1. Establish a daily routine that fits your family's schedule and ask everyone to do his or her best to stick to it. Consistently begin morning activities at the same time every day. Don't wait until school begins - start at least two weeks before the first day and continue the routine throughout the year.
2. Nighttime routines are important, too. The whole family can help make mornings easier by taking care of tasks the night before. Try making it a habit to pack book bags, complete homework and pick out the next day's clothes in the evening to avoid morning mayhem.
3. Get your rest. Read a bedtime story early enough in the evening for children to get a good night's sleep. Many morning issues can be avoided if everyone is rested and ready to begin the day.
4. Read, read and read some more. It is often the anticipation of the unknown that makes children anxious about kindergarten. Reading about starting school gives children an opportunity to imagine their own experience and express their fears. The following books are fun to read and can help children prepare for the feelings they might experience when school starts:
" When Mommy and Daddy Go to Work by Joanna Cole
" First Day by Joan Rankin
" The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn
" Don't Go by Jane Breskin Zalben
5. Prepare your kindergartener for longer periods of separation in increments. Before leaving your child at school for the first time, have him or her stay with a grandparent or a babysitter for increasingly longer periods of time. This will teach your child to trust that you will always return.
6. Tour the school with your child. Visit the classroom, meet the teacher and tour the playground so the places and faces they will see on the first day feel familiar and safe. Afterward, talk about what both of you saw and how fun the different activities looked. Refer to the teacher by name to help your child think of her as a person you know and trust. Reinforce the idea of school as a safe place to learn and play.
7. Set the stage. Talk to your child about kindergarten and help him or her visualize what the day's activities are likely to be. "On Monday when you go to school, you will see your friends, play on the swings and read stories. Ms. Smith will be there to help you. It will be a great day! And mommy or daddy will be there to take you home when school is over for the day."
8. Shop for school supplies. Children love shopping for school supplies. Give your child the opportunity to pick out a few items he or she likes (within reason, of course) to provide a sense of ownership and responsibility in the decision-making process.
9. Say a quick "goodbye" and promise to come back. When dropping your child off at school, give a quick hug and kiss, cheerfully say goodbye and promise to return later. When you linger, you undermine your child's confidence that you feel good about where you are leaving her.
10. Establish a partnership with your child's teacher. Children look for emotional cues from mom and dad's behavior. The more comfortable you are with your child's teacher, the more comfortable your child will be. Discuss with your child's teacher how your child is adjusting over the first few weeks of school. The more visible you can make the connection between home and school, the more secure your child will feel.
These tips can help parents adjust to their child entering kindergarten just as much as they can help children.
"Starting kindergarten or first grade should be an exciting time for families, not a source of anxiety," says Dr. Zurn. "If you feel confident and prepared for the transition, your children are likely to feel the same."