Updated: Dec 3, 2019
Written By: Monique Larocque
The big day has finally come, your little one is starting kindergarten. Where did the time go? How did you get here already? The first day of school can be a little scary for both you and your child. It is completely natural to feel this way. This may be the first time your child has been away from you, or the first time they will be with a large group of children. Maybe your child has been in a licenced childcare centre or in a home daycare and this is a transition to a new place. Here are some ideas to help you and your child prepare for Kindergarten, minimizing separation anxiety and first day jitters.
Firstly, over the summer; talk about school. Ask your child what they think it will be like, talk about the things they are looking forward to. This is a great time to share a story about when you went somewhere for the first time. If your child is feeling unsure or even scared about going and not knowing anyone, here are a few tips that could lighten things up. Point out to your child that everyone will be having a first day, and will probably be feeling a bit scared, and most likely won’t know anyone either. Encourage them to be a ‘friend’, meaning meet one new friend on the first day, by helping them, joining them in play or simply asking them their name. Your child may be the opposite, and they may be extremely excited and confident about entering a new environment, however, the same lesson applies, be a friend, help a friend. Also, it is important for your child to know that they have two educators in their classroom they can turn to if they are feeling uneasy or need help. Practice and teach your child both of their educator’s names, to help make the transition a little bit easier. If your child proceeds to tell you they don’t want to leave you, reassure them that you will always see them at the end of the school day and that they can see you anytime they need to; by putting a family photo in their backpack.
Next, practice independence. Teaching and practicing with your child how to use the washroom, dress and undress themselves (in case of an accident) is important. Also, this may be your child’s first time opening a lunch bag and feeding themselves. For a few weeks, practice with your child opening their lunch bag, opening and closing their containers, making healthy choices, as well as throwing out their garbage when they are finished. Setting a timer for 15-20 minutes will help them get used to the time allotted for eating. If your school has two nutrition breaks, ensure your child knows what lunch to eat when. This way they will spread out their food, and not come home with a hungry tummy. A two-sided lunch bag is very helpful for first time learners with the label 1 and 2 on each side. Alternatively, you could label each container with a 1 or 2 and eventually your child will get it down pat and you won’t need to label them anymore.
Familiarity is important in transitioning your child to kindergarten. Spend time walking to school and pointing out where they will go when they are dropped off. If your child is taking a bus, talk about what to do when they are on the bus and who to follow off the bus (i.e. look for a teacher usually wearing a bright coloured vest). Create your morning routine, so that it is predictable and consistent for your child each morning. This will make drop offs easier for both you and your child.
Label your child’s emotions. When entering kindergarten children feel an array of emotions; spend some time talking about what they can do if they feel sad, scared, mad, happy etc. Provide strategies to help them cope, i.e. if they want the teacher’s attention, but they must wait their turn, or if they are upset because someone is using the toy, they want etc. An idea could be; “When I feel mad, I will take a deep breath and count to 5”.
Your child has entered the classroom, and the educators have given them the opportunity to explore and play, encourage your child, to find an item in the room to go to play with first. It can be overwhelming being given choice in a big space, with other children to play. Talk about some of their interests and what they may like to explore first (i.e. books, puzzles, blocks, dramatic play, etc.) This will help them not feel as scared and give them some direction in their new world.
Lastly, make your child feel loved. Send your child little sticky notes in their lunch bag or backpack. Draw them a little picture; so, they know you are thinking of them too. The morning can be busy getting out the door but try and take a minute to let your child know they are loved, and you are proud of them for becoming a kindergartener and you can’t wait to hear about their day. When they come home, take time to listen about their day, ask how they felt about things they are sharing.
Your child is thinking about you all day and when they will get home to see you. They will be exhausted getting used to the routines of being in school. It is normal for them to come home and fall asleep or even fall asleep at supper. They use a lot of energy learning through play and investigating this new world around them. Support them through this transition and before bed, let them know you can’t wait to hear all about their day tomorrow!