Smart start

Knowledge, communication can ease transition into kindergarten, pre-K

Knowledge, communication can ease transition into kindergarten, pre-K

August 27, 2004|by ANDREA ROWLAND

Nancy Henry knows a thing or two about first-day-of-school jitters. She's been teaching kindergarten at Greencastle-Antrim Primary School in Franklin County, Pa., for 35 years.

Her top recommendations to parents and youngsters making the transition into preschool programs or kindergarten? Arm yourselves with knowledge about school policies and routines, and establish strong lines of communication with educators.

That's good advice, experts said.

"It can be very normal for parents and their kids to have some first-week jitters or separation anxiety," said clinical psychologist Debbie Glasser, past chairwoman of the National Parenting Education Network and founder of a Web site at, which features news reports, journal articles and other information that might be useful to parents.


The National Center for Early Development & Learning in 1996 surveyed 3,600 kindergarten teachers about transition practices into kindergarten. Teachers reported that 48 percent of children experience moderate to serious problems in making a successful transition, according to survey findings posted on the center's Web site at Center investigators concluded, in part, that communication between teachers and parents is an important aspect of successful transition.

Robert C. Pianta, professor of education at University of Virginia, directed a 10-year study on the preschool-to-kindergarten transition for the National Center for Early Development & Learning. Lack of meaningful communication among elementary school personnel, parents and students topped his study's conclusions, Pianta said.

Students' guardians and prekindergarten teachers often enjoy open and informal communication, he said, but communication during the elementary school years becomes restricted, constrained and driven by the school. While many schools send out newsletters and host open houses just before or after the school year begins, few schools foster strong, individualized bonds between educators and families, Pianta said. Parents typically wait a few months after the school year begins for their first one-on-one meeting with their child's teacher.

"Schools need to reach out to parents, reach meaningfully to parents, reach back in time, in a sense," said Pianta, who edited the book "The Transition to Kindergarten" and co-wrote "Successful Kindergarten Transition: Your Guide to Connecting Children, Families, & Schools." "It's really all about building relationships that ease the transition from the preschool into the kindergarten period."

Pianta is now helping school systems nationwide with transition planning.

"There's a growing awareness of the need for it," he said. "A lot of what they need is some structure and some encouragement and some ideas for transition training. When school systems start to do transition planning and start some of these activities that we and others suggest, parents are very enthusiastic about them, and teachers are very enthusiastic about them."

Kindergarten teacher Henry said she strives to remain available to parents, whom she urged to carefully read the handbook in the school planner that's distributed at the start of the year so they understand the school district's policies. Henry also praised Greencastle-Antrim Primary's kindergarten orientation program, which started 15 years ago. Participants tour the school, meet teachers, learn about daily routines and take a ride on a school bus, Henry said.

In addition, parental involvement at school can make kids' first year as students much smoother, Glasser said.

"Adjusting to school is a process that really lasts the entire year," she said. "Be a partner in your child's education."

Hard to let go

Though parents might feel sad or anxious about their child's first foray into studenthood, it's important to project a positive attitude - both verbally and nonverbally, Glasser said.

"Reflect on the reasons you're sending your child to school and all the wonderful advantages of this experience," she said. "When it's time to say 'goodbye,' be positive and reassuring, and let them know you'll see them after school."

Glasser's advice for easing separation anxiety includes:

· Send youngsters to school with a small object from home - such as a family photo - to keep in their backpacks or lockers.

"Love you's and security objects can help ease some of the separation fears," said Glasser, who also suggested a more imaginative memento. Give kids three kisses to keep in their pocket until they need them, she said. "One of the hallmarks of this age is that they're incredibly imaginative and playful. That's a nice, fun ritual that can also give them part of you at school when you're not there."

· Talk to the child's preschool director about working the child gradually up to a full school session.

Children who are experiencing separation anxiety also might benefit from brief "practice separations" at home, Glasser said.

Kindergarten teacher Henry said that while some parents might worry children's separation anxiety, most kids are likely too busy with near-continuous classroom activities to fret.

"The children don't have time to think about it," she said. "They get so involved they forget to cry."

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