Preparing your child for kindergarten

Written on the 8 June 2016

In a recent episode of "Call the Midwife", the final words  were something like this:

"We are shaped by the hands we cherish and hold in ours and then gently let go."

This statement made me think of children starting Kindergarten.  During my years as a kindergarten and early childhood teacher I witnessed and participated in many "letting goes" that were not so gentle for the child or the parent.  There are many different reasons for this starting school trauma but there is no escaping the fact that children must go to school.  In all states of Australia, children are required to be enrolled in school when they are 5.

How can we prepare our children to leave us happily and to make this big step into another world gentler for the child and the parents?  Firstly, childcare and school are very different.  Many children have had experience of childcare in some form and have settled in happily.  Surely these children will have a smooth transition to school.  NO, NOT ALWAYS!   The carer /child ratio is greater at childcare than at school or kindergarten.  At childcare there is always someone who knows the child well to give them attention, to help with personal tasks and just to be there.  At Kindergarten there could be 20 plus children in a class and 2 adults.  This is a different environment, with very different expectations, and parents need to prepare their child to be more self reliant.

We all know about the usual preparations, such as visiting the school and meeting the teacher, talking about the rules and routine and being able to listen and follow instructions. These skills are very important in preparing your child for school but I am writing about some much more basic skills which some might think are so obvious that they don't even need mentioning.  However, during my time as a Kindergarten teacher I found that surprisingly, not all children have these skills, but those who do have a more confident start at school.

  • They should be independent in all aspects of toileting.  This includes wiping their bottom.  Remember there are only 2 adults and 20 other children. How awful to be wanting to go to the toilet and being afraid to because you know you can't wipe your bottom.  This fear can be the cause of "accidents" at school. 
  • They should be able to manage their own clothing.  They should be able to put shoes, jumpers and smocks on and off by themselves.  Not long ago I noticed a Kinder child who looked very hot. When he said that he was hot, I told him to take his jumper off and was shocked by his reply, "I can't."  This poor little fellow was uncomfortable because he couldn't perform this simple self care task and probably didn't know how to ask.
  • Children should be able to recognize their belongings and pack, or attempt to pack, their own bag.  Put recognisable labels on ALL their belongings, including socks and shoes.  Practise packing the bag at home.  I always found that a big bag is better because there is more room in which to put things.  Small children don't have the fine motor development to fold and pack things carefully.  Yes, the little cartoon and movie character ones are cute, but cuteness doesn't help at the end of the day when you are tired and need to hurry.
  • Children should be able to easily open and close their own lunch box and manage the wrappings and small containers.  Again, don't go for the cute or well-advertised product but choose the practical ones that your child can manage.  It's not a good idea to spend a lot on lunch boxes and containers.  In spite of best intentions, items, usually lids, get lost.  It's a good idea to practise eating lunch from the lunch box before school starts.

So if your child can take care of their belongings, clothing and toileting confidently, they are free to play and learn and to build relationships with other children and that's what Kindergarten is all about.

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