By Betsy Fenzel, LCSW-C, LCSW, LICSW, Georgetown Psychology
As the temperatures soar and we are busy in the swing of our summer schedules, it’s easy to forget that school will be here before we know it. For rising Kindergarteners, taking time to emotionally prepare for this big change will help make a smoother transition. There are many things parents can start to do right now to help their children get ready for school in the fall.
Talk about and validate the range of feelings your child is having about Kindergarten. Excitement, curiosity, fear and worry are all appropriate emotions for this big change. Playing “school” or reading books (see book list below) are excellent ways to help children express their feelings to you. Talking through play or through a character in a book can help a child access feelings that they may not understand or know how to put into words.
Acknowledge to yourself that this is a big transition for you as well. You may be feeling a number of feelings similar to your child, including excitement, worry and fear. Being aware of these feelings and taking care of yourself will help you be more open and present to your child during this experience.
Throughout the summer, make direct references to Kindergarten to gradually accustom your child to the idea of going to school in the fall. For example, if you see a school bus, remark: “Oh, I wonder who is in that bus? Maybe some big kids going to school? Isn’t that cool! You will ride a bus just like that when you go to school.” Have your child pick out their backpack and lunchbox for school. “What do you think you will bring back home in this backpack? Maybe some art work from school or some work you do with your teacher? What do you think?”
Make positive associations with your school. Have your child ride their scooter to the school playground and play on the playground. Get ice cream and go for a walk by school. Your child likely has visited the school on an orientation. Remind them of who and what they saw. “Remember those cubbies? You are going to have one all to yourself to put your things. You will have a desk too with your name on it. And remember Ms. Green. She will be your teacher. She was so nice and was always smiling.”
Plan for this transition to be a process. Sometimes children are fine the first day but begin to show signs of stress or upset in week 2 or 3. With this big transition and longer hours at school, exhaustion, irritability or being withdrawn can be natural reactions. Think about limiting after-school activities in the fall so your child has time and space to decompress and adjust. Once school starts, set aside one-on-one time with your child to play and check-in with your child about their day.
Kindergarten is an exciting year with so many new experiences. Being mindful about preparing your child emotionally for the changes ahead will set you all up for success.
Books on Kindergarten
Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten Joseph Slate
The Night Before Kindergarten Natasha Wing
On the First Day of Kindergarten Tish Rabe
Planet Kindergarten Sue Ganz-Schmitt
Look out Kindergarten, Here I Come Nancy Carlson
Books on Worry
Wemberly Worried Kevin Henkes
Be Brave Little One Marianne Richmond
Books for Separation from a Caregiver
The Kissing Hand Audrey Penn