Starting kindergarten is a major developmental milestone that even seasoned preschoolers - and their parents - are likely to remember for the rest of their lives. "It's exciting to a young child. It's the beginning of the ‘real school' that big kids go to," says Susan Golbeck, professor of education at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.
At the same time, children will need their parents' help preparing for the significant changes and sometimes stressful upheavals in normal routines that lie ahead, Golbeck says. In one all-too-common scenario, for example, children in the vast majority of communities offering only half-day kindergarten programs will need help coping with suddenly becoming pint-sized commuters shuttling back and forth from an assortment of before- and after-school programs.
But parents should be careful not to transmit to their children their own concerns about sending their little one off to school, cautions Golbeck, who is an associate professor at Rutgers' Graduate School of Education and the author of a new book, "Psychological Perspectives on Early Childhood Education," published earlier this year by Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Beyond worrying about their child's safety and emotional well-being, she notes, parents may also fear that perhaps they haven't done everything they could to prepare their child for the long academic journey ahead.
Fortunately, there are a number of things parents can do to make their little scholar's transition to "big kid" school as easy as ABC. Golbeck offers these suggestions:
- Explore your child's surroundings. Golbeck suggests parent and child visit the new school several times before school starts. "If possible, visit in the late summer, walk around the classroom or peek in the windows and talk about what will be going on inside. In that context, talk about new routines," she advises.
- Make learning fun. "Sometimes parents think they need to prepare their children academically or cognitively in some way. They do the workbook thing and they are concerned about ‘What should my child know before she gets into kindergarten?' "