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Suggestions for a healthy transition to kindergarten

By Jessica Clark


Learning to walk and how to dress one's self are big steps for a child, but entering kindergarten is one of the most pivotal times in a young child's life. A Kansas State University education professor gives tips on how children, and their parents, can make the transition to kindergarten a breeze.

Lori Norton-MeierLori Norton-Meier, assistant professor of elementary education, says going to kindergarten is a big transition for children because it is the start of a new experience in a new environment.

"There is usually more focus on academics and more expectations upon entering kindergarten," she said. "Whether children were cared for at home or at a day care, they have to adjust to a new way of doing things and different classroom structures such as larger classes."

Children may be anxious about entering kindergarten because they do not know what to expect.

"They have been told about kindergarten and may feel some of their parents' tension and may be fearful of the unknown," said Norton-Meier.

Other concerns for children may be finding the bathrooms, where they will eat lunch and wondering when they are going to learn how to read, she said.

Norton-Meier said kindergarten is also a big transition for parents. Kindergarten is a time when parents realize how quickly their child is growing up and gaining more independence. It may also bring up memories, both positive and negative, of when they were in school.

"Parents know that kindergarten is the start of a journey for both their children and themselves and they just hope their child will adjust well and have a good experience in school," Norton-Meier said.

Although most children will enjoy school and adjust well to kindergarten, others may not.

"If your child begins acting differently and you notice changes in their behavior, this may be a sign of stress or unhappiness," Norton-Meier said. "It is important to dig beyond the surface and find out what is making them unhappy so the problem can be addressed.

"The first parent-teacher conference is essential. It comes at a time when children have had a little time to settle in and get used to their new environment and routines. It gives the child, the parents and the teacher an opportunity to talk together and find answers to any possible problems."

Parent-teacher conferences also give parents the opportunity to find out what their child is doing in the classroom and what they are learning about. Parents can use parent-teacher conferences as a way to initiate conversation and communicate better with their child about their experiences at school, Norton-Meier said.

Suggestions to help your child's transition to kindergarten include:

* Be aware - read newsletters and communicate with teachers to know what your child is learning about

* Be interested - ask specific questions such as, "Can you tell me three things you did in school today?"

* Communication is key - talk with teachers at any time; you don't have to wait until parent- teacher conferences to address concerns

* Read books - there are many books about kindergarten that can be shared with your child to ease fears and initiate conversation with them about their experiences

"Kindergarten is set up to be this huge thing that often brings many expectations for children, making it so important for parents to take proactive steps in helping their children adjust to kindergarten and enjoy their new journey," Norton-Meier said.

Summer 2003