After a relaxing summer, getting into the school routine can be a tough transition. There are lots of small things to do to help the school year get off to a great start.
- Good night, good breakfast and calm morning – Do what you can the night before including pack lunches, pick outfits and review the schedule. Have a morning routine that ends with a few minutes for something your child enjoy, like legos or playing with the dog. It gives them something to work towards and gives you a time buffer. It may be helpful to be as routine about the mornings as you are about bedtimes.
- Take advantage of preview experiences – This might include visiting the schools website with your child, playing on the school’s playground, and participating in home or early school visits. Anything to help your child feel familiar with their school.
- Expect your child to be tired for at least the first several weeks. – This may mean you’ll see more acting out or difficult afternoons. It’s good to lay as low on outside activities as you can. It may be helpful to reinstitute an afternoon quiet time for a while.
- Be on time – Schools usually do something predictable during the drop off window so children feel more comfortable. It helps your child to know what to expect as they enter. If you are late, the child has no idea what they are walking into. Being on time also ensures they are there for the morning planning time which can help a child feel settled.
- Participate in school as you can – Be a room parent, volunteer to read, make play-doh or send in party supplies. Your child sees that you value school which goes a long way towards their motivation.
- Plan playdates – It’s important to have time with a wide variety of kids in the class, not just their favorite one or two. It broadens your child’s social network and at some point during the year they will likely have to work in class with everybody.
- Ask more interesting questions – Many parents note children aren’t great at answering, “what did you do at school today?” It’s helpful to ask different and more interesting questions each day like, “who did you sit with at lunch?” or, “did anything funny happen today?” It might also be helpful to wait and ask after they’ve had a bit of time away from school.
- Read the Family Handbook – Schools work hard to write and update their manuals. Many of the questions you have throughout the year about school policies and calendars are answered in the handbook. Read it.
- Remind them of previous positive transitions – Remind your child of how much fun it was to start at a new camp last summer or to join join a new soccer team. Tell upbeat stories about when you started school.
- Read upbeat children’s story books about the start of school – Upbeat books include DW’s Guide to Preschool by Brown, What to Expect at Preschool by Murkoff, If You Take a Mouse to School by Numeroff, Kindergarten Here I Come by Steinberg and Welcome to Kindergarten by Rockwell.
- Know the drop off and pick up policies – Share the plan for drop off and pick up with your child. As best you can, be sure they know where to go and what to do.
- If there is separation anxiety – It can be helpful to learn about and have a real plan for separation. This may vary by age and by school logistics. Here is a link to a free 20 minute interview I gave about managing separation anxiety: http://www.parentsperspective.org/index.php?s=separation
The Department of Education cites reading aloud with children as the number one way to build successful readers. The goal is reading aloud to children for a minimum of 20 minutes a day in order to build a love of stories and books. Reading aloud with very young children can be a challenge.
Here are a few tips to keep it going:
- Start from day one and build it into your routine – The idea is to start reading aloud early, before you think they are really listening. Make it a habit from the beginning. Books offer a well edited version of the language which is beneficial for young children to hear.
- As an alternative, spend time just looking at, labeling and talking about pictures together – As your baby is a little older, they might not have the patience for listening to stories. It is beneficial to share time with books in other ways. Spend time looking at the pictures together, point to and label objects, have them find new objects. It’s fine to just look for and label colors, or tell pieces of stories in your own words as well.
- Read aloud daily even if they aren’t paying much attention – Once your toddler is up and moving around, they might not want to sit long enough for a story. Let’s say you try to read, and they are up and down to play with toys. At least occasionally, the answer is to stay seated yourself and continue to read aloud. They are in the room so they’re still hearing the language. You are also modeling reading aloud.
- Read aloud when you have a captive audience – Read aloud when riding in the car, or when you are waiting in line at the grocery store and they are buckled into the cart.
- Share more active books – Introducing lift-the-flap books, puppet books, pop-up books and picture search books can increase their interest.
- Go for books based on their interests – Okay, this is an obvious one but if they love trains, go for train books often.
When your child is challenged by a new problem, the idea is to remind them of what they already know and build from there. This can help make the task seem more manageable and provide a familiar strategy.
Let’s say your child has mastered 25 piece puzzles, and they are starting on a 60 piece puzzle for the first time. If they get to a point of frustration, you might remind them of previous strategies such as, “I remember the last puzzle, you started by finding all the edge pieces.” This helps them to break the big task into smaller tasks, and puts them on a familiar path towards problem solving.
When your third grader is starting to learn her multiplication tables, you might start by showing her how multiplication is repeat addition. She’s already mastered addition, so multiplication may seem a more managable task this way.
The theme this week is working through problem solving with your children. Our third guideline is ‘corrections shouldn’t feel like corrections.’
This guideline is easier to follow with younger children. When a two-year-old says, “I need a ram-baid,” we don’t tend to correct in a heavy way such as, “no, you said that wrong! It is band-aid, not ram-baid.” Rather than feeling like a correction, you might say, “oh, you need a band-aid. let’s go get you a band-aid.” You might very clearly enunciate the correct word, but the words all together didn’t feel like a correction.
This guideline is harder to follow as children get older. When your fourth grader has gotten the last two math problems wrong, and is working through a third in the same incorrect way, it is common for parents to say, “no, you’re getting this one wrong too! Why aren’t you thinking?” When corrections feel like corrections, we tend to turn children off to the problem solving process. By all means, you may need to correct the math problems, just use lighter language. This might be something like, “I see your having some trouble working through, how can I help?” or, “hmmm, this seems tough. Why don’t you walk me through the last problem, and we’ll work together?” Yes, you are correcting, but it doesn’t feel like correction.
The idea here is to keep them engaged in the problem solving process.
Continuing the theme of helping children become independent problem solvers, give hints and suggestions not outright answers.
A few examples:
- When your first graders asks, “mommy, how do you spell elephant?” Avoid spelling it for them. Give hints and suggestions for how they can spell it. You might offer to help them learn to look it up in the dictionary. If your school encourages inventive spelling (and I hope they do through second grade), you might say, “listen to the word and try to figure out what sounds you hear, those are the letters to write down,” and then slowly, stretch out and clearly enunciate, “el-e-phant.” Here you are teaching them ways, not just to spell elephant, but also how to figure out future words.
- When your fourth grader asks you for the answer to a long multiplication problem, you might offer to do the first step, or you might offer to work through another similar problem to teach them the steps, and then stay with them while they work through their own. You might offer to read aloud the pages of their textbook that cover how to solve these problems.
The idea is to give them enough to get back on track. You are supporting the problem solving process without doing the actual work for them. You are also hoping to provide them strategies for the next go around.
The start of Kindergarten is an exciting time! If your child is starting this fall, there are many things you can be doing to get them ready.
- Preview the school – Spend some time this summer playing on the school’s playground. Visit their website with your child to view pictures and videos. If there is a preview day or back to school night, attend this as a family.
- Read books about the start of school – This includes Kindergarten Rocks by Davis, Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten by Slate and Welcome to Kindergarten by Rockwell.
- Talk about your own positive early school experiences – Parents stories can go a long way towards providing a sense of comfort and excitement. Keep your stories about school upbeat during this time.
- Get back to your bedtime routines at least a week before – Being well rested helps to provide a smooth start to the school year as a whole and to each school day. It is good to set a firm bedtime and routine for the evening and the morning. It’s best to start this at least a week prior, so it is expected once the year begins.
- Provide and start using a calendar with them – The start of the school year is a great time to introduce the calendar and mark days off as you go. If you can, start this in Kindergarten with tracking field trips and other special events, it will be easier to use tracking tests and projects as they get into the later elementary grades.
- Read aloud with them everyday – Reading aloud as a daily activitiy is one of the best ways to build readers. For Kindergarten, it lays foundation for phonemic awareness and builds listening skills.
As a follow-up to my Kindergarten Readiness workshop today, I wanted to post a few notes:
- Kindergarten teachers are not often as stressed as parents about an individual child’s readiness for Kindergarten. From the teacher’s standpoint, there are two main categories, academic readiness and social readiness. Across studies, social readiness ranks higher on teachers’ scales of importance. Social readiness includes things like being able to listen and follow directions, being able to sit still, being able to participate in a group activity and play skills like sharing and turn taking.
- It may be important to consider the tendency to wait a year of other families in your school district. With some children starting who turn five the day of requirement, and others who bypass that by more than a year, there is a wide age range for children entering the classroom. This increases what was already a wide range of skills.
- If you are planning to delay the start of Kindergarten for a specific reason, the next step is to start thinking about the best use of that year. If there is a specific concern, see the right people, get the right homework, read the right books. Make a plan to use the time wisely.
This is a topic that could stand further discussion. Please post your related questions in the comment section below.
Dear Dr. Rene,
My daughter started Kindergarten last week, and by Friday she was just exhausted. She is a good sleeper. What can we do?
mom of two, ages five and two-and-a-half
Kindergarten can be exhausting! For many children, it is their first experience with being away from home regularly for the full day. Think about the effort here – they are meeting and remembering many new friends, getting comfortable with a new teacher, learning to follow rules and directions, being introduced to academics, having to eat on a new schedule, likely getting up earlier than they did in the summer and not really being able to rest when they are tired. My younger daughter Claire was wiped out by the start of Kindergarten. By Thursday every week she was dragging, and by Friday she was weepy at pick-up. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to help in the process.
The first is to be sure your child is getting a good night’s sleep. Through the elementary school years the goal is for children to have ten to twelve hours of sleep each night. If you are not there, you might think to move bedtime earlier by 15 minutes each week. Transitioning to this goes best if you move slow and systematically.
You might also lay low on participating in other activities, at least for the first several weeks. After school sports and music lessons are likely too much here. Once you are into the school year, go back and add one activity at a time.
Waiting to join other actitivies helps to ensure your child is getting enough dowtime. Downtime is relaxed time that they are in charge. It is unstructured playtime. It is recommended that children have an hour of downtime a day through ten years old.
If it’s really bad (and ours was), you might try an early pick-up at least on Fridays.