with Learning Specialist and Behaviour Analyst Cori Stern
WHAT YOU’LL LEARN
- Determining When Your Child Is Ready For Kindergarten
- Preparing Children For Kindergarten
- Managing The Transition For Anxious Children
- Anxiety About Kindergarten As A Parent
- Tips To Ease The Transition
- Other Considerations For Kindergarten Readiness
Do you have a child starting kindergarten this year? That’s always a huge transition, but this year is even more of a transition than usual. Many of our kids haven’t been out of the house in a year and a half, and we haven’t been away from them in that amount of time either. Preparing for this transition and making sure your child is ready has always been a source of parent stress, and this year kinder prep is more important than ever. Learning Specialist and Behavior Analyst Cori Stern is here to help us prepare for starting kindergarten this year.
Determining When Your Child Is Ready For Kindergarten
“We need to know there is a level of independence they can hold onto,” Cori Stern said. She pointed out this doesn’t have to be perfect, but if you’re sending a kid to school they need to have a basic level of independence like being able to put on a coat by themselves or handling their own food at lunch.
“Can they engage in parallel play? Which means when you put two kids beside each other, can they play alongside each other?” she asked. “Can they play interactively? Can they play cooperatively? Can they share?” Kindergarten is a play based curriculum so if a kid hasn’t managed these skills yet, they may not be ready for school.
Kids build confidence and a sense of ownership in kindergarten. It’s empowering for them to find a place outside of home and family life.
Preparing Children For Kindergarten
In terms of getting ready for kindergarten, we plan to practice opening and closing containers this summer. Being able to wipe your own bottom and take care of our own toileting is also important. Although, teachers are prepared to help if a kid isn’t quite there yet.
Being able to pull pants up and down after using the bathroom and properly fasten everything is another big one. Kindergarten teachers often feel they have to practice quickly zipping and unzipping backpacks. They love it when you’ve practiced this at home.
“I’m telling all parents to do the handwashing test with their kids,” Ms. Stern said. She explained it can be really easy for parents to do everything for their kids when they’re home. But handwashing is a skill with a lot of steps and they’ll do it multiple times a day at school.
“Cover their hands in washable paint, turn the tap on for them, and tell them to wash their hands,” Ms. Stern recommended. You’ll easily see how well they’re washing their hands by how much paint is left. You’ll know if you need to add a song or do something to keep the kids focused or reteach the skill.
“Right now, take your kid to the playground. If you can, enroll them in a summer program,” she said. Kids haven’t had to use social skills in a year and a half, so building those social skills is really important now. And if you can do playdates with someone who is going into your kinder program, it’s also the chance to have a familiar face on the first day.
Managing The Transition For Anxious Children
“A lot of kids have literally not left their parents’ side for a year and a half,” Ms. Stern said. This means separation anxiety could be worse this year.
In a lot of places, you may not be allowed inside the school for public health reasons. It may feel like you’re sending your kid off into the unknown.
As parents we want to shield our kids from anxiety, but just because your child is anxious about starting school doesn’t mean they aren’t ready. One thing we know is that the more you avoid something, the scarier it can become. Keeping an anxious child at home for an extra year to postpone the transition could actually make starting school harder.
Anxiety About Kindergarten As A Parent
You may have fears and anxieties about your kid starting school too. “We don’t want to impose that onto our children if our children aren’t showing any signs of that. Because that, I think, is also a really challenging thing for parents to do especially in this current environment,” Ms. Stern said. Because not only are we dealing with a transition that would be a major event in your kid’s life on it’s own, we have the added stress of a pandemic.
The story we tell ourselves can really matter too. We might think, “My child has only ever been with me, and now I’m going to leave them in a building with strangers for 8 hours a day. They’re going to feel abandoned.”
But that’s the story we’re repeating in our head. Your kid might think it’s a huge play day with 20 of their closest friends, so it’s important not to attribute that anxiety onto our kids.
“Kids need a runway. You’ve got to create a narrative to set them up for success,” Ms. Stern explained. Kids need predictability, and when their daily life is about to change, one way you can give that to them is to create a positive narrative.
Tips To Ease The Transition
One thing I’m doing to make the transition easier is making a little picture book with pictures of the school and the school bus. Just things I’ve been collecting to help my son feel more comfortable going to this school he’s never been inside of.
You can also help them get familiar with the physical space of the school even though you may not be able to go inside right now. Ms. Stern suggested walking the perimeter of the school and maybe taking a video of your child as they walk around the school. “Kids love watching videos,” she said.
Another option might be to let your kid play on the school playground. This is a fun way to help them get familiar with their new environment if you can’t take them inside.
Other Considerations For Kindergarten Readiness
“There are certainly families that question readiness when there are a lot of behaviours that happen at home. There is a group of kids who fall under school refusal,” Ms. Stern said. These kids just say they won’t go into the school. And some kids are afraid to leave the house this year with everything going on.
“You have to take this big idea of starting kindergarten, and you have to break it down into very small bits and pieces and create a plan that is going to slowly, slowly build your child up for this big transition,” Ms Stern explained. She usually recommends preparing for kindergarten in May, not August, because kids need time to prepare. Sometimes parents also need the extra prep time to get used to the idea of their baby being gone all day.
A lot of kindergarten programs are full day. Some kids can’t handle that. If you feel like your kid needs a more gradual start, you can reach out to your school and work on a more gradual transition. “It doesn’t have to be all or nothing,” Ms. Stern said.
If you are dealing with separation anxiety, or worrying about a transition, reach out to our Wellness Center. Because there is more support available, and you deserve the support you need.
Cori is a Learning Specialist and Behaviour Analyst. She’s also a Mother of a 7 & 5 year old. After completing her Masters in Child Study & Education she merged her backgrounds in Positive Parenting, Education, Child Development, and Applied Behaviour Analysis to deliver a very unique perspective on child growth & development. Her current work focuses on coaching parents through the different ages and stages of development so they can parent with less of the day to day stress and overwhelm! Consider her your Chief Executive Problem Solver- from the toddler years straight through the school age years.