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Parents can help prepare kids for school by preparing themselve

Teaching Your Child

Teaching Your Child

August 15, 2008|By LISA TEDRICK PREJEAN

I can still remember my son's first day of kindergarten. I took off work and waited with him for the bus. I took a camera and shot photos of him climbing the stairs, sitting down and waving goodbye.

I drove to school and waited for the bus to arrive. Then I watched him from a distance as he got off the bus and was led inside the school.

My maternal instinct kicked in and I tiptoed to a classroom window to take a peek. There was my little boy walking confidently to his seat with an expectant smile on his face. I could tell he recognized his name on the folder that was laying on his desk. He was ready for this day ... even if I wasn't.

Preparing children for the first day of school starts with preparing ourselves for letting go, says Vicki Folds, vice president of education and professional development for Children of America in Delray Beach, Fla.

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"We need to keep ourselves in check," Folds says.

Have a good cry in the bathroom if you must, but then put on a smile before coming out to breakfast. Children easily pick up on the signals we send and the cues we give, so it's important to be aware of our actions and words.

Many parents are too overprotective, says Folds, a former teacher and principal. She remembers how some kindergartners' parents would carry the child up the stairs, help the child take off his coat and assist with getting settled in the classroom. This does the child a disservice. Teachers are trying to instill self-help skills. Parents can help by encouraging a child to do things on his own.

Folds suggests that prior to the first day of school, a parent should role-play the "entering the classroom" process. Use a coat, bookbag, lunch box and assorted school items as props. Ask your child where he thinks his coat will go and how he will unpack his bookbag.

"They come up with the best answers," Folds says. "Then they feel like they're part of the problem-solving."

At home, have a special place where the book bag and lunch box will be placed each evening.

The book bag and the lunch box should be unpacked and packed each evening by the child. This will build a sense of responsibility.

"Make a big deal of their role in the family," Folds says. "It's very important for self-esteem building."

If possible, visit your child's school beforehand and meet the teacher. Be sure the teacher is aware of any allergies, illnesses or life changes (divorce, death in family, etc.) affecting your child.

"The teacher is adopting all of these children. We need to know what's going on so we can best observe them," Folds says.

Take a tour of the school and the classroom and don't forget to ask where the rest room is. Visit the restroom with your child. Listen for unusual sounds, such as a loud fan that might frighten him. Try the locks on the stall door and make sure your child knows how to lock and unlock them. Turn the water on and off and use the soap dispenser. This will help your child feel confident about using the bathroom at school.

Start enforcing bedtimes and wake-up times several days before school begins so a routine will be established.

On the first day of school, play a game such as I Spy on the way to the bus stop. This will help to calm both of you, Folds says.

When dropping off your child or saying goodbye at the bus stop, be reassuring. Tell him or her what will happen after school: "I will pick you up when school is done," or "The bus will bring you back home."

"Children have to have a thought in mind of what's going to happen next," Folds says. "Remember, your child is only young once. Apprehension and anxiety about school will typically pass after your child develops a comfortable routine."

For more parenting advice, go to childrenofamerica.com.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at lisap@herald-mail.com

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