As the beginning of the school year approaches, many parents have stomach butterflies that outnumber their children’s. “Is she ready?” “Did I do enough?” Effective preparation requires planning and action well ahead of that all-important first day of school. When you arm your child with social skills, responsibility and a curiosity about the world around her, she is well on her way to a successful school experience.
Socialization, to some degree, is both expected and required from the first day of school. The social aspect is typically the most challenging adjustment for most kindergarteners, notes California clinical social worker David Reinstein. Your child becomes one of a group, sharing one or two adults. He is expected to get along with people he doesn’t know. Reinstein’s advice — provide the experience of a moderately structured preschool. If your child has this introductory encounter, he won’t feel like he has suddenly landed in a foreign country on his first day of kindergarten.
Parents and teachers strive for independent children. Maria Montessori, best known for the philosophy of education that bears her name, says that little children, from the moment they are weaned, are making their way toward independence. Never do for your child what she can do for herself, advises Jennifer Newman, Montessori pre-primary division leader at Ohio’s Lillian and Betty Ratner School. Teach her to prepare her own snacks. Hang hooks at eye level, so she can hang her own coat or backpack. Consistently offer her close-ended choices. Allow her to ponder tasks and solve problems — don’t always come to the rescue.
Stay patient, firm and consistent with rules at home. When you say “no,” really mean it — the teacher will. If a child knows he will get second and third chances, he will take advantage. Set age-appropriate consequences and rewards to teach him which behaviors are acceptable. Develop reliable routines for television viewing, naps, bedtime and clean-up. If you teach your child to follow rules, he will proudly come home from school touting lots of gold stars on his behavior card.
Communicate and interact with your child, but also allow her time to explore. Tap into her curiosity. Young children enjoy cause and effect. “What will happen if I drop this feather?” Take advantage of daily teachable moments. Never underestimate the value of play; it is a child’s gateway to understanding her world. Foster a love of reading — it opens the door to education. Newman advises keeping a bulletin board at your child’s level, so she can display her writing and artwork.
Even small children can help with simple chores. Don’t wear yourself out cleaning up after your child. Let him throw away trash, put his toys away or feed the dog. Children feel important when you give them grown-up responsibilities. It increases their sense of self esteem and prepares them to transition to the responsibilities at school.