Another school year is upon us. Many parents are probably celebrating the end of summer vacation craziness and the return of normalcy and routine. However, there is a group of parents who are sending their child to their very first day of Kindergarten. The transition to Kindergarten is a big one for every child, and their parents too!
Along with feelings of pride and nostaglia for the days when your babies were, well, babies, you are probably feeling some anxiety about your child’s first true schooling experience. How will they do? Will they develop a love of learning, or struggle to keep up with their peers? How will this change them?
The Transition to Kindergarten
I don’t have to tell you that Kindergarten in a major milestone in a child’s life. Your child develops a new identity as a student and a learner. You can find out if your child has the skills that will ensure they are ready for Kindergarten here. As a teacher of ten years, I can tell you that the transition to Kindergarten is also a major change, and it will take some time for your child to adjust. You may want to read some of these books before the first day of school to help ease any anxiety your child may be experiencing.
Here are some things to expect from your child during the transition to Kindergarten:
Tired and Cranky!
Kindergarten is a major transition in the life of a child. While at school, they will be learning new routines, and have many expectations put on them. They will interact with new peers and have a new ‘leader,’ the teacher!
Think of it as starting a new job. If you have ever started a job, you know that the first few weeks are especially tiring and stressful. At the end of the day, you are tired out and probably are not in the best of moods, right? This is exactly what your child is feeling. Transitions are difficult for all of us, and there is a lot to learn at school, not only academics, but new a new social network and behavioural expectations.
Once at home, your child is back in their “safe zone” they can let out frustrations and let their guard down. Don’t be surprised if you child is extra cranky when returning home from school. This happens to most children (I hear this from parents ALL the time).
Luckily, this stage is temporary. Like you at your new job, things become easier day by day. You settle into a routine, learn spoken and unspoken rules and make new friends. Your child will do all this too, in time.
My advice would be to not worry (or at least try to) until the first six weeks of school have passed. If you are still noticing a significant behaviour change, it may be time to speak to your child’s teacher about how they are adjusting in the classroom. Of course, if you have any major concerns that are causing you anxiety, you can always talk to your child’s teacher at any time. This will probably ease your fears, or at least start a dialogue.
Hungry, Make that Hangry
The appetite of many children increases during the transition to Kindergarten. After all, learning so many new things can make a little one HUNGRY. I know for myself, I eat about twice as many snacks at school during September and October than I do the rest of the year. Be sure to pack lots of snacks! There is nothing worse than a child who has run out of food, but is still hungry at school! (You haven’t known the true definition of hangry until you’ve seen a hungry five-year old at 1:30 during the first week of school!).
You may also find your child might not eat as much as expected. There is, of course, a schedule to be followed in Kindergarten (lunch rotations in the cafeteria, designated snack times, etc.). Children who are used to grazing all day may not be used to being asked to eat quickly. Don’t worry, in a few days they will get the hang of things (and the teacher will give them lots of reminders). Be ready with a big snack at the end of the day!
I would advise to pack a few more snacks that needed, then, as your child settles into a routine, you will probably get a good idea of how much to pack your little one. As always, healthy snacks with protein and fiber will help fuel you child’s body much more than sugary treats (maybe save them for the end of the day and have a chat about their day over cookies and milk).
You Thought You Were Done With Sleep Regressions…
During the transition to Kindergarten, you may find your child revert to sleeping habits they had when they were younger. Either they are so exhausted they need a nap or they wake up in the night, maybe for the first time since they were a baby. Either of these reactions is totally normal.
I hear of lots of children having a late afternoon nap the first week of school. Remember how all that learning built up their appetite? It also wears them out. Sometimes we even have students fall asleep at their tables after lunch!
Other students may have trouble falling asleep at night, or may wake in the middle of the night. This is probably a reaction to the transition to Kindergarten, as it can be stressful to some children. There probably isn’t anything seriously wrong. It is normal for children to react to a transition this way. Anytime I have a stressful change going on in my life, I ALWAYS wake up at 4 am. This too, will most likely peter out after a few weeks.
Whether you have a napper or a night owl, it’s important to try to be sure your child gets adequate sleep. Practice good sleep hygiene (stick to a bedtime routine, no screens an hour before bed or in the bedroom, consistent bedtime). If your child hasn’t slept well, you may be tempted to let your child sleep in and drop them off later the next day. This really isn’t the best habit to begin. It is important that students are present the first few weeks in order to learn rules and get into routines. Once they’ve made the adjustment, sleeping issues will probably resolve themselves, so by not attending, you may be causing the problem to continue.
For a few lucky parents, the novelty of homework means their children will excitedly complete it. However for others, homework on top of a long day at school, is just too much! Students with poor fine motor skills often find homework the most difficult (here are some ideas to strengthen fine motor skills through play). Often children balk at homework and it can be very difficult on both the child and the parent! I would advise you to do the following:
- Let your child has a little down time after school before starting the homework routine.
- Make sure they have had a little drink and snack.
- Chunk homework into manageable sections, and allow breaks of rewards in between (e.g. print letters, then have 10 minutes of playtime, read a book, then take a break for dinner). This visual timer is helpful because it gives your child a visual representation of how long they have to work for.
- Stay close at hand to lend support and be a cheerleader. Children at this age should not be expected to complete homework independently
- Don’t be afraid to contact your child’s teacher if your child is struggling. They may suggest keeping the homework over the weekend so your child can tackle it when they are fresh.
One tip: many schools (mine included) distribute homework on Mondays and collect it on Fridays, rather than having assignments to complete every night. Some parents get very keen and want to do all the homework on the first night and have it “out-of-the-way” for the rest of the week. This can be very difficult for your child. Stagger the activities throughout the week in order to get the most out of your child.
After the Transition to Kindergarten
After the transition to Kindergarten period, your child will master new routines, expectations and meet new friends. In just a few weeks, your child will grow to enjoy Kindergarten. So much so that you never hear the end of what Mrs. So-and-so does and says. I can tell you one of my very favorite parts of teaching kindergarten is the enthusiasm of the children. At every parent-teacher interview, parents always tell me they are so surprised that their child LOVES learning and simply will not stop talking about patterns, letters, or rhyming words. I love looking into the faces of a group of little children who love learning just as much as I do!
Have you had a child go through the transition to Kindergarten already? Did you find the transition difficult or easy? How did you help your little one adjust to their new identity?