Looking ahead to your child starting kindergarten is the moment in parenting when you first catch a glimpse of time's boomerang headed right back at you—and fast!
All those tiny steps and little moments in the long days (but short years) of baby and preschool parenting are realized in the little one who is somehow, head-spinningly marching off to kindergarten. It's the next phase in the series of separations that lead to happy, thriving independence, and it's a big one. Or at least it's the beginning of a big one.
Kindergarten itself is not so different from preschool in many ways. But it is the unequivocal marker of a bright line that your child now falls on the other side of: five and up, school-aged, big kid (though littlest of big kids, assuredly). So, from the comfort and ease of preschool-dom, let's look ahead together. What are the best ways to make sense of what's ahead for both of you?
Let time pass
Impossible, right? We've just ratcheted up the drama by classifying kindergarten as this watershed moment in your family's life, and now we expect you to be zen about it? Basically, yes. In nearly every significant way, your child will get herself ready for kindergarten, or as ready as her own developmental trajectory is going to get her before Day One. He taught himself to flip over, sit up, crawl, walk, run and stand back up again after a fall, for all the help and held breath you provided along the way. And more than likely, she'll develop the fine and gross motor skills, cognitive ability, and social and behavioral skills she needs all by herself too—with, of course, your continuing help and held breath.
Make an informed decision about readiness
Kindergarten in the U.S. traditionally includes kids who are five years old, or who will be in the next two or three months. And, not coincidentally, the educational framework of kindergarten readiness looks for behaviors and strengths and coordination that kids that age typically have. But here's where things get tricky: private school age cut-offs are quite different in many cities, and even at public schools, parents have recently (and controversially) decided to hold their children back. The flow-through effect of these decisions is a kindergarten class including some kids who are still four or freshly turned five and some who are already solidly six. If you've got a June birthday boy or twin August girls, perhaps you've got a judgment call to make about your child's readiness for kindergarten. Talk to your preschool teachers, learn about the readiness assessment, review a checklist, and go with your always-knows-best parent instinct.
Drop a few details early
We parents bandy about the word "kindergarten" as shorthand for the giant social, emotional, and educational step it signifies. To our little ones, though, it's as opaque as "red" or "dangerous" or "Mommy and Daddy's anniversary." Help them out; give it some meaning, some context, some details to make it clear. Your preschooler has probably only gone to one or two places outside the home as a school on a regular basis. His friends are likely wholesale the same from year to year. Her routine at preschool has been the same or similar for as long as she can remember. All that, or a lot of that, is likely to change. So, keeping in mind how important routine is to preschoolers but also how resilient they are, perhaps it is wise to give your little one just a peek at what's ahead. Something about a new school in September and a bit of an idea of teachers and friends and lunch and recess and backpacks and that good stuff. And, of course, the timing of these details' release is up to you; some little ones are curious in January, some are happily clueless through July.
Give a little bit of extra attention to the lagging skills
Kindergarten readiness assesses everything from finger strength (to hold a pencil and push it into making a recognizable letter) to cognitive ability (to recognize letters and numbers out of sequence) to the ability to hop on one foot (to do something that we need a developmental neurologist to explain). Don't miss all our Savvy activities like this one and this one, well, really, all of them, to combine development and fun in one Savvy idea!
It's you who is likely to be knocked breathless when time's boomerang smacks into you. Your little one will thrive in kindergarten—that's what they do. It's you who must find a way forward, helping in the school and at home as you can but recognizing that this step is far more your little one's alone than yours together. Break out the baby albums, clutch the tiny outfit you saved, indulge the tears that spill for the loss of babyhood. And then flash back to the sleepless nights, the endless diapers, the life before you could talk and read and laugh together—and look ahead to kindergarten with happy tears too!
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