As an early interventionist OT, one of the most common questions I receive is, “will my child be successful in kindergarten?” Whether your child consistently struggles with schedule changes or they only struggle during big life cycle events, transitioning into kindergarten can be overwhelming for any parent or child. After all, this is the beginning of a formal educational career; it’s a milestone that can be celebrated when approached correctly.
Time and Transitions
Before speculating on how the transition to kindergarten will affect your child, reflect on how they transition during a regular week. In a given day, children may experience 15-20 transitions between activities that can collectively consume up to 70 minutes of instructional time. Children may struggle to end a preferred activity, begin a non-preferred one, or simply be unable to adjust to an unexpected change. Problem behaviors related to transitioning include resistance, avoidance, distraction, negotiation or a full-blown meltdown. Here are a few simple strategies to help your child transition, no matter the circumstances.
- Always tell your child what will happen in advance. This means mentally preparing them for what comes next. Just like adults, kids want to know what to expect!
- Visual schedules with pictures can also be used to serve as a constant reminder of what’s ahead. This can be especially helpful for kids who haven’t yet developed strong communication skills.
- Always give your child a five-minute warning when an activity will be ending.
- When needed, you can also use a 10-second countdown as an additional reminder to the child that the activity is about to end.
- Visual timers, such as a sand hourglass, can work wonders! Remember that time is an abstract concept for kids, and that visual timers can clarify and reinforce this concept leading up to a transition.
- Try to create and stick to a routine every day to promote familiarity.
- Make the transition fun! Play is of utmost importance to a child’s wellbeing, and turning the transition into a game can motivate them. Try timing your child to see how quickly they can get ready for the next activity, or encourage pretend play while moving onto the next task.
MENTAL PREPARATION FOR TRANSITIONING INTO KINDERGARTEN
Although kindergarten classroom expectations may seem high, and school is said to be more competitive than it’s ever been, you, the parent, have the ability to help prepare your child for this milestone. Here are a few tips to help your child mentally prepare.
- Read books about starting kindergarten.
- Talk enthusiastically with your child about starting kindergarten.
- Incorporate older siblings into the conversation.
- Reassure your child as they experience feelings of anxiety or fear.
- Plan for your child to visit their new school as soon as possible.
- Discuss the academic, social and behavioral expectations with your child.
- Discuss and implement new routines leading up to the start of kindergarten.
- If you’re able to find out who your child’s new classmates are – set up a playdate!
- Attempt some play therapy at home. Using puppets, stuffed animals, and other figures, “act out” coping strategies when transitioning to a new place.
- Role play the first day of school with your child during pretend play.
- With your child, write a story about their first day of kindergarten, including logistics, feelings, etc.
KEEPING THE TRANSITION GOING
Remember that as a parent, you are your child’s biggest advocate. Your involvement in the transition process is paramount. Ongoing communication with your child’s teacher has been shown to support academic success. This means that the family-school relationship plays a role in how your child performs in the classroom. Find out if your child’s teacher prefers to communicate via text, phone or email.
Keep in mind that the phrase “school-readiness” is multi-dimensional and that every teacher and/or school might give you a slightly different response for what this means. If your child is weak in one area, he/she has many strengths in other areas.
Once your child has actually started kindergarten, ensure that they still have outlets to play and be a kid. Kindergarten classrooms have increased teacher-directed math and literacy instruction, and there is less time devoted to free play.
Remember that you are not alone during what can be a difficult time. It’s estimated that almost half the students entering school experience some difficulty transitioning into kindergarten.
For more information or if you have specific questions about your child? Ask our physical or occupational therapists for guidance.