Sending a child to school for the first time is a bittersweet moment. About 3.79 million American children will start kindergarten this fall, and it can be an emotional, nerve-wracking time for both parent and child. To set a child up for success, educators suggest parents take some simple steps to turn the first day of school into an exciting, positive experience.
Kindergarten teachers recommend starting at home, ideally making changes over the course of a year to mentally and physically prepare a child for this transition.
“I truly believe that kindergarten readiness is not just about being academically ready,” said Kathy McIntosh, former elementary school teacher and founder of Capital Learners, a private tutoring service in Washington, D.C. “Children need to learn real-world skills, such as being able to share and take turns, as well as develop social-emotional skills that will ensure success in kindergarten.”
What Does This Year’s Kindergarten Class Look Like?
Today’s five-year-olds were born in 2018. Around 3.79 million births were registered that year, which signaled a 2% decrease in the total fertility rate (compared to 2017). In 2021, the Current Population Survey found that 48.5% of 3 to 6-year-olds were non-Hispanic White—meanwhile, 15.8% identified as Black, 6.1% as Asian, and 25.4% as Hispanic.
When these kindergartners graduate high school in 2036, demographers predict the U.S. will look considerably different from today. For one, the country’s racial makeup is quickly diversifying. The U.S. Census Bureau’s current projections indicate that, by 2045, the non-Hispanic White group will shrink down to 49.7% of the total population. Instead, growing racial minorities and increasingly multiracial groups will represent most of the country’s population.
“The mostly white baby boomer culture that defined the last half of the 20th century is giving way to a more multihued, multicultural nation,” wrote William Frey, demographer and Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institute. “As the nation becomes even more racially diverse … more attention needs to be given to the needs and opportunities for America’s highly diverse younger generations.”
Setting Kids Up for Academic Success
It might seem counterintuitive, but the best way to prepare your child for a full day of learning at school is by teaching them the basics at home. According to Melissa McCall, a preschool literacy teacher and owner of Moving Little Minds, there are multiple academic skills that a child can work on before starting kindergarten. These include:
- Learning to recognize letter sounds
- Writing letters independently
- Counting numbers to 30
- Counting up to 10 with objects like toys and snacks
- Identifying basic shapes like circles, triangles, and squares
- Listening to stories and answering basic questions
But the most important recommendation that all kindergarten teachers agree on? Teach your child to read and recognize their full name.
“Learning their name, identifying their name is huge,” emphasized Jackie Hudnall, a long-time kindergarten teacher at Benton Elementary School, in an interview with local news. She explained: “The first day of school, we have them go find their name on their table. And if they can find their name on their table… that is a huge confidence booster.”
Building Your Child’s Kindergarten Toolkit
The transition to kindergarten can be difficult for varied reasons. Some children experience separation anxiety when they are not used to being away from their parents. Other children struggle with staying and adjusting to a structured environment for extended periods.
Although teachers are equipped to handle these growing pains, parents can ease the process by preparing their children before school starts. Donna Paul, a former elementary school teacher and author of the That’s So Montessori blog, outlined her recommendations for a successful first day of kindergarten:
1. Establish Routine.
Begin preparing your child by adjusting their schedule. Have them go to bed early and wake up in time for school. Accustom them to a structured environment that mimics the kindergarten routine.
2. Encourage Independence.
Tying their shoes, opening their lunchbox, and going to the bathroom alone are all tasks your child will complete by themselves daily. “Kindergarten classrooms often require students to take care of their basic needs, and being independent will boost their confidence and ease the transition,” said Paul.
3. Develop Social Skills.
Interacting with classmates and teachers is a crucial part of a kindergartner’s development. Prepare your kid by arranging playdates or taking them to community events with other children. Find opportunities to practice social skills like making introductions, playing and taking turns, and asking adults for help.
4. Visit the School and Meet the Teacher
“If possible, arrange a visit to the kindergarten classroom and introduce your child to their new teacher,” suggested Paul. “Familiarizing them with the school environment and staff can alleviate some anxieties about the new experience.” Some elementary schools organize a Meet the Teacher Day to welcome incoming kindergartners—check your school’s website and social media posts to learn more.
5. Cultivate Curiosity and a Love for Learning
“Create a learning-friendly environment at home by reading books, engaging in educational games, and exploring the world together,” recommended Paul.
Some popular reading recommendations for the anxious new kindergartner include “Kindergarten, Here I Come!” (D.J. Steinberg) and “All Are Welcome Here” by Alexandra Penfold. If you want to start teaching your child how to practice self-esteem, try introducing them to “Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon” (Patty Lovell). For more suggestions, consult your local librarian or the American Federation of Teachers’ Transitioning to Kindergarten Booklist.
“Through patience, support, and a focus on holistic development, parents and teachers can help young students cope with the difficulties they encounter during this critical transition to kindergarten,” was Donna Paul’s message to concerned parents.
Parents, Turn That Frown Upside Down
“I always tell parents to just have a positive outlook on their child starting kindergarten,” advised Hudnall. “Your child will probably base their opinion of school on how you feel about it.”
The National Association for the Education of Young Children agrees. Be positive in the lead-up to the first day of school. Avoid behaviors that might upset an already nervous child, like arguments or stressful situations. When the time comes to say goodbye, give them a hug and a smile, and reassure them that you will see them later.
This article was produced by TPR Teaching and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
I'm an Irish tutor and founder of TPR Teaching. I started teaching in 2016 and have since taught in the UK, Spain, and online.
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