Getting ready for kindergarten

Starting kindergarten can be frightening when we don’t know what to expect. Here are a few ways to help your child be ready for the formal school experience.

You’ve lived through the night feedings, teething, toilet training and endless “why” questioning. Are you ready for the next milestone? Your preschooler has turned into a 5-year-old and will be attending kindergarten this fall! How did it happen so quickly and is he/she ready?

Even for families whose children have attended early childhood education programs or preschools, kindergarten is a big step. Our concerns center on our child’s behaviors and feelings. They are approaching the unknown. Will my child be happy at school? Will he/she know what to do if someone is aggressive? Will he/she make friends? Will they listen to the teacher? Will they love learning and be good students? In short, will they be successful in their new environment? 

Early childhood experts agree with these gut feelings – starting kindergarten can be frightening when we don’t know what to expect. Here are a few ways to help your child be ready for the formal school experience.

Scholastic Books asked five experienced kindergarten teachers what types of skills they look for in their new students. Among the top readiness skills they listed was enthusiasm for learning. To encourage this skill, they suggest prompting your child to ask questions and to persist when the answer is not simple. When parents let their children explore the things they are curious about, the child finds that discovering new ideas and ways to think about something is fun. You don’t have to know the answer to everything, you just have to help the child formulate questions and help identify some resources where the answers can be found.

Another readiness skill kindergarten teachers say helps in the transition to kindergarten is the ability to listen. Listening is a literacy skill and it involves the practice of focusing on an activity and maintaining focus for an extended length of time. Parents can help their children develop listening skills by having two-way conversations with children, by reading with children and asking questions about the reading afterward. To help your child concentrate, limit distractions during listening activities and remember to conduct these types of listening activities in a quiet space away from the TV or other conversations.

Finally, self-help skills are critical to getting along in kindergarten. Even if your child has been attending preschool and is familiar with many of the kindergarten routines, he or she may not be used to doing everything for themselves. With the teacher to child ratio in most kindergarten programs being 1/25 or more, teachers do not have enough time to help each child with dressing or eating. Our children are capable of doing almost everything they need to take care of their own needs. If you haven’t been in the habit of teaching your child how to put on her own coats and boots, open his own juice box or take care of her own dripping nose, now would be a good time to start. Besides making things go more smoothly at school, your child gains confidence and self-satisfaction from doing for themselves, and if they can help someone else, even better!

The Michigan Department of Education website provides many resources for parents who have questions about kindergarten readiness. You can find articles such as what does a good kindergarten program look like or how to enroll your child. You can also view the Transition to Kindergarten Parent Guides and lots of articles for parents on kindergarten readiness can be found on the Michigan State Umiversity Extension website as well.

Many of us remember our own kindergarten experiences with warmth and pleasure – meeting new friends, getting to know our teacher and doing new and exciting things. It’s a time of growth and discovery for our children and, of course, we want them to be happy and successful in school. So, circle the first day of school on your calendar and let your child know that school is a “big deal” but they are going to be so ready for it!

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