by Kathryn Poole, Family Nurse Practitioner
Being in kindergarten is a big step for your little one. But there are ways you can help your child mentally prepare for the transition and, along the way, make sure that you have all the health bases covered.
The sooner you can accustom your child to a regular schedule for sleeping, eating and school-related activities such as homework, the easier the kindergarten routine will be. According to Amie Bettencourt, M.S., Ph.D. from the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins, “Routines help children learn, make them feel safe and in control of their world, and foster their self-confidence and sense of belonging within the family.” [i] [ii]
Keep in mind that the kindergarten setting can be more structured than preschool. Your child will be expected to sit for longer periods of time, as well as transitioning from one activity to another, noted Dr. Bettencourt. This can be challenging since, at that age, they are still developing self-control and skills that help them focus and follow directions.[iii]
Soothe your child’s fears about the new school by attending an orientation (if one is given) or arranging for the two of you to visit the classroom or school ahead of time so your child will gain some familiarity with the environment.[iv] If the school is new to both of you, try to meet with the secretary, nurse, principal and others that you and your child will be interacting with.[v]
Once kindergarten has started, stay in touch with the teacher and staff members so you will be aware if your child needs help adapting to the routine. Also, realize that even the brief break during school holidays can affect your child’s ability to adjust when it’s time to go back, making it all the more important to stay consistent with the established schedule.
Don’t overlook the time before and after school. If you have a caregiver handling pick-up and/or drop-off, discuss this with your child. Is someone watching your child after school until you get home? Set up a routine for snacks, homework or playtime beforehand.[vi] Also, consider establishing a “parent” routine to make sure you review school-related information in a timely fashion, recommended Bright Horizons.
Lastly, build in time to talk with your child about school on a daily basis. You can share stories about your own kindergarten experience, or ask open-ended questions like “What was something new you did or learned today?” or “Who did you play with and what game did you play?” You can also ask what activity they liked and what was one they found difficult, which can also highlight something they may need help with. [vii] [viii]
Work on the basics.
While children learn new skills in kindergarten, there are some basics that they should be able to do even before school starts. Leapfrog has a useful kindergarten skills checklist that highlights areas to review to see where your child might need some help. These include social and motor skills, language, reading and writing skills, mathematics, social studies, science, creative arts and music, and reasoning and concept development.
If you have concerns about your child’s developmental readiness, discuss it with your child’s healthcare provider. The State recommended reading Learn More Indiana, suggests the sooner you take action to correct any delays, the better the outcome will be. Learn More Indiana has a downloadable publication that has tips and resources with more information. [ix]
Schedule a vision screening.
Since August is Children’s Eye Health and Safety Month, this is the perfect time to have your child’s vision checked, especially since healthy vision is a key factor in your child’s ability to learn, reach motor developmental milestones and achieve overall healthy development, says Prevent Blindness.[x] A vision screening identifies children at high risk for eye disease or who may already have a disorder, while an eye exam is a comprehensive evaluation of vision functioning and the health of the eye. [xi]
Learn more about the vision screening and eye exam requirements for school-aged children here.[xii] If you need financial assistance for vision care, Prevent Blindness has a list of organizations and services that can help.
Review the vaccination list.
August is National Immunization Awareness Month (NIAM). But with all the attention on COVID vaccinations, it’s easy to overlook the other types of immunizations that your child may be due for. Our vaccination page will walk you through the list of immunization your child may need. For more information about the Indiana 2020-2021 required and recommended school immunizations, visit the Indiana Immunization Coalition website.
Speaking of COVID, stay updated on any mask requirements due to the Delta variant and the high percentage of unvaccinated people. As of this writing, CDC recommends universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status. Children should return to full-time in-person learning in the fall with layered prevention strategies in place. Question? Check with your child’s school.
[i] Dreambox Learning — August is Get Ready for Kindergarten Month: Sleep Schedule — Adjust their sleep schedule gradually to the school’s schedule. [ii] Johns Hopkins — How to Get Your Child Ready for the First Day of Kindergarten—Kindergarten is a major step for young children — their first day of “big kid” school. As exciting as this time may be for some, many kindergarteners struggle initially with the long days, challenging curriculum and time spent away from loved ones. To get your student ready to learn, child psychologist Amie Bettencourt from the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry offers helpful tips. What can parents do to help prepare? Establish strong routines at home. Routines help children learn, make them feel safe and in control of their world, and foster their self-confidence and sense of belonging within the family. Some key family routines that will help children feel ready for kindergarten include:
- Bedtime Routines—Bedtime routines ensure kids get a good night’s sleep and will be ready for the next day’s adventures. Some important parts of a bedtime routine include a consistent bedtime and a predictable order of activities (e.g., take a bath, put on pajamas, brush teeth, read favorite story or sing favorite song, get a goodnight hug or kiss from their caregiver).
- Reading Routines—Parents are encouraged to read with their children for at least 20 minutes a day to build language and literacy skills. This reading routine can be part of the bedtime routine or at another time convenient for you and your child. A good way to make this time child-centered (and increase your child’s enjoyment and engagement in this time together) is by letting your child pick out the book.
- Family Mealtime Routines—Having a family mealtime routine is not only an opportunity to teach your children about healthy eating habits, but is also a chance to spend quality time talking with your children, which builds their language and strengthens their relationship with you. You can also build in routines around mealtime that will be useful to your children in school, such as washing your hands before dinner or teaching them how to clear dishes from the table.
- A longer school day — Many children transition to kindergarten from half-day preschool programs, so spending a full day of school engaged in structured activities can be a difficult adjustment for them.
- Transitions — Transitioning from one activity to another is challenging for most young children, particularly when they have to stop a preferred activity (e.g., playing) to engage in something challenging (e.g., learning to read), and a typical kindergarten school day is full of these transitions.
- Sitting still and paying attention for long periods of time — The format of kindergarten has become much more structured and passive in nature, meaning young children are being required to sit still and pay attention to their teacher and to schoolwork for longer periods of time. This can be challenging for many kindergarteners who are still developing self-control and skills that help them sit still, focus and follow directions.
- Ask your children to tell you one new thing they did or learned about in school that day.
- Ask your children to tell you one thing they liked and one thing that was difficult about school that day.
- Ask your children about who they played with in school and what games they played.
- Create a family routine around talking about your day. For example, during mealtime or another time when you are spending time with your children, you can model how to talk about your day by sharing one or two things that you did that day and then asking your children to share one or two things about their day.
- Identifies children who may be at high risk for eye disease or in need of a professional eye examination
- Helps detect the possible presence of disorders at an early stage when treatment is more likely to be effective
- Provides valuable information and education about eye health
- Results in a referral to an eye care professional or primary care provider when screening tests indicate a need for diagnosis and treatment
The Role of Eye Examinations
- Provides a comprehensive evaluation of vision functioning and the health of the eye
- Is conducted by an Ophthalmologist or Optometrist who can diagnose and prescribe treatment for vision disorders