August 1996, The First Day of School
The California sun shone brightly down on us the day I took my daughter to school for her first day of kindergarten. In her pressed white shirt and blue plaid skirt, she looked like she was ready for school but inside she was a bundle of nervous energy. Over the summer she had been bubbling over with excitement, but as the first day of school approached she became increasingly anxious. Consequently, like countless first time parents, I was not sure how to help her. We read books about going to school, met her teacher, visited the classroom, collected school supplies and went shopping for new school clothes. We talked about what would happen at school, where I would drop her off and when I would pick her up. These activities helped her mentally prepare for her first day.
Nevertheless, with my daughter simultaneously bouncing up and down with excitement and clinging to my arm with uncertainty, we arrived at school with both of us still feeling anxious. I tried to hide my own emotions as I struggled with sending my baby girl off to school for the first time. I choked back my emotions, overcome with pride and joy that she was growing up, but sad that she would no longer be my “little” girl. When we made it to the kindergarten door, I gave her a quick hug, told her I loved her, and then I walked away–pretending this was an everyday occurrence. I managed to hold it together until I made it to the car, where I promptly burst into tears.
August 2016, Transitioning to Kindergarten
As the end of August approaches, many children and their parents will have a similar experience preparing for the first day of kindergarten. It is a rite of passage, full of mixed emotions and new challenges. Twenty years ago, I was unprepared to help myself or my child be ready for the first day of school. I acted on my first instincts and thankfully my feeble attempts held some value. According to the recommendations for kindergarten transition from The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), reading and talking about the first day of school are important activities parents and children should do together. They have created an online guide Transitioning to Kindergarten to help children and their parents prepare to start school, especially those overwhelming first few days.
This guide addresses various common concerns, suggesting activities and procedures for a smooth school transition. For example, they suggest starting the school routine early so that children are able to adjust going to bed and waking up at the right time. They suggest labeling everything with your child’s name and including an emergency contact card in their backpack with the child’s name, address and parent phone numbers on it. NAEYC also discusses the importance of setting aside time each day to talk to your child about his or her day at school. This can be an important bonding ritual that lets your child know how much you care about them by taking an interest in their daily experiences. This was my favorite time of the day with my own children; listening to the silly things that happened, hearing them talk about friends and helping them think through their challenges.
Books About Starting School
As I did with my own daughter, NAEYC suggests that reading books about kindergarten or starting school can ease some of the anxiety. The children’s librarians at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh have developed bibliotherapy lists, or books on a specific theme to assist children and parents with common childhood challenges. Created to help children and parents prepare for the first day of school, the Bibliotherapy-School list showcases some of the best books to read with your child about starting school. However, don’t be limited by the list, there are many other books at your local library that are worth checking out. One of my favorite silly “going to school” books is Pete the Cat: Rocking in My School Shoes, by Eric Litwin and illustrated by James Dean. This story reminds me of my own family tradition of buying a new pair of school shoes every year, although it was also a tradition to have them nearly ruined before the end of the first week.
Sadly, not all children experience a smooth or easy start to their school experience. According to the Pittsburgh based Ready Freddy Program, nearly 50% of children struggle to successfully navigate the challenges of starting kindergarten. In Pittsburgh, the extreme concern over preparing children for a successful kindergarten transition resulted in the development of the Ready Freddy Program that believes, “On the first day of school, every kindergarten child should walk into the classroom feeling excited, ready to learn, and supported by the school, their parents, and their community.”
Working in partnership with Pittsburgh Public Schools and the University of Pittsburgh Office of Child Development, their research suggests that “quality transition to school will bring life-long benefits to a child.” If your child is starting kindergarten in August, the Ready Freddy website is an excellent resource for learning more about how to support your child’s readiness for school. My favorite resources are the Ready Freddy Goes to School interactive book and the Ready Freddy Calendar that highlights learning activities every month for parents to do with their child.
Preventing a Rocky Start
Preventing a rocky start to school for your child will set them on the right path towards school success. I hope the resources mentioned here will help parents and caregivers feel more confident and able to help their preschoolers prepare for kindergarten. Twenty years ago, access to this type of information was very limited. Knowing more about it would have saved me hours of lost sleep and maybe a few tears. Thankfully, by the time my son started school, I was more confident in my ability to help him with the transition. He was ready and I was ready to wave him goodbye at the door without the tears and fears from the first time around. Well, maybe there was one tear, after all, my baby was growing up and heading off to school.
Jamie is the Children’s Specialist at CLP – West End. She is originally from the wilds of Idaho and grew up with a small menagerie of animals. Most memorably were the cats, dogs, rabbits, sheep, horses and one very temperamental goat. Of course, her favorite children’s stories feature animals doing rather silly things.