My 5-year old son starts kindergarten next Monday. So, this week, I have been busy getting him ready. We've gotten all the school supplies, gotten uniforms all squared away (yes, his public school has uniforms -- I love it, by the way), purchased and 'broken-in' new school shoes... But kindergarten success doesn't come in your freshly-sharpened set of No. 2 pencils. It isn't packed in your lunchbox...
So we have done a few extra things at our house to get ready:
Getting Down the Schedule:
One of the toughest things about starting school -- for my children -- has been the schedule. From early wake-up to eating by the clock, the regimentation of the school day has been a big challenge. To prepare, we spend the last two weeks of summer vacation on "school time". That means my children have been woken by their alarm clock. Our morning routine has mirrored what it will be on school days, with grooming and dressing and breakfast all completed in time to leave for school. Instead of the usual drive to school, I have rewarded the kids with a game or loaded them in the car for early morning shopping. I have worked rest into the schedule later in the day to help their bodies adjust.
Getting Ready for Lunch:
My oldest son and his kindergarten classmates had a difficult time with -- of all things -- lunch! There were packages to open, trays to balance, those crazy milk cartons. Many of them were overwhelmed. Kindergarten lunch was also the first experience many of the students had with eating on their own. There is no parent there to say, "hurry up!" or "eat your sandwich first, then your cookie!" To prepare for lunch, I have tried to give lunchtime foods all at once, so my son can choose what to eat when. I also have made him responsible for opening his own packaging -- yogurt lids, for instance -- so that he'll be able to do that without a problem later on. I also keep an eye on the clock and don't let the lunchtime meal at home last too long. If he's used to eating in a timely way at home, he'll be more likely to get the nutrition he needs to last all the way through the bus ride home.
Reading, Writing, and 'Rithmetic:
Okay, a kindergartener doesn't necessarily need to have a lot of academic skills. But whatever skills you can teach at home will help the teacher move the class forward. We have worked on reading and writing the alphabet and short words, writing my son's first and last name, and numbers 1-20. Every afternoon after lunch, we sit down and "play school". Spending this time together helps us work on holding the pencil correctly, listening and following directions, and sets the stage for us to work together on homework later on. Besides, I love the one-on-one time I have with him, and he loves the feeling of success he gets from showing me something new he's learned.
Teaching About Safety:
Finally, I am preparing my son by going over some very basic safety items. He knows his address and phone number. We have talked about a variety of situations that may arise at school. He knows who may pick him up in an emergency. We've also talked about friends and being responsible for your own behavior and choices. He knows that he has to evaluate a situation and decide what to do about it for himself, but that he also has a group of trusted adults who are ready to listen and help him when he needs it.
In our family, we talk about feelings a lot, and I've tried to make space for my son to share his excitement and fears about this new adventure. We've checked out kindergarten stories from the library and visited his school to make things feel familiar, even as they're so new. One theme I've noticed about most of the stories we've read is the hovering parents reluctant to leave the room. I know I'll be one of them -- I'm not ready to let my little guy go so soon.
...but that's a post for another day.