Thousands of five and six-year-olds across the Triangle are headed to kindergarten this week (mine is among them). I checked in with Sherri Lambeth, supporting school readiness co-coordinator at Project Enlightenment, Wake County Public School System's early childhood education and intervention program, which serves both teachers and parents.
I asked Lambeth some common questions that parents of rising kindergartners have, especially after they've attended their first staggered entry day.
Project Enlightenment offers resources for both teachers and parents, including a great resource center and library where parents can check out books (including an assortment on kindergarten) for adults and kids and ask questions.
Here are more tips from Lambeth:
1. We have about five days before many rising kindergartens go to school full time. Are there some simple things we can do to help them get ready for that big step in the next week?
Lambeth said it's not too late to start establishing a good bedtime and ensure kids are getting enough sleep so they can focus and pay attention at school.
"Sleep is very important," she said. "At this age, they need 10 or more hours of sleep each night."
If they are still napping during the day, Lambeth said that it's best to start cutting that out. Some kindergarten classrooms will have rest periods, but not all. And those go away by the middle of the year, she said.
"If they are still napping two hours a day, that’s going to a be a shock to their system," Lambeth said. "If they haven’t cut out those naps, greatly reduce them."
Establishing a solid morning routine also will help smooth the transitions. Project Enlightenment's resource center has materials for parents to make a routine chart with their kids, which is a great tool for getting through the dressing, teeth brushing, breakfast eating and bag packing with less nagging and arguments. Lambeth also recommends getting lunches ready and laying out clothes the night before.
Finally, especially for kids who might be a little anxious about going to school, Lambeth recommends putting a family photo in their book bag or lunchbox, which they can look at during the day.
2. What if a child attended his staggered entry day and returned saying he doesn't want to go back? How can I help him get excited for the first day?
Lambeth said it's actually fairly unusual that kids have bad days during their staggered entry day as teachers work hard to make the experience fun. But for kids who aren't so eager for this next step, Lambeth said to focus on the positive.
"I would talk about all of the new friends they make and all of the fun they are going to have," she said. "I think it's really important for parents to be positive. If they are negative, children feed on the negative."
For instance, Lambeth said parents should be careful to not focus on how sad you might be that they're going to kindergarten.
"If parents are sad about [the child] going, she's like 'oh my gosh, I need to stay here and take care of my mom,'" Lambeth said.
If a child is anxious to return to school, try spending some playtime this weekend on the school playground, even meeting up with other rising kindergartners at the school, Lambeth said.
"It's very important that parents be positive about how the experience is going to be so that children feed off on that," she said.
3. My daughter seems excited about kindergarten, but she keeps telling me that she's sad about it because she's going to miss all of her old friends from preschool. How can I help her feel better about the new school?
Again, Lambeth said, be positive. Focus on all of the new friends that she's going to make, but also point out that there will be opportunities to get together with old preschool friends. And then make good on that promise: Set up some playdates with old friends and schedule some gatherings with new ones.
4. My daughter was absolutely exhausted after her staggered entry day. Is this normal? I was thinking about signing her up for activities after school, but I'm worried she'll be too tired.
"This is so normal," Lambeth said.
Make sure that they're getting at least 10 hours of sleep at night and starting the day with a good breakfast, she said. And be prepared for cranky kids when they get home from school.
"The children might be cranky, they might be disrespectful, they might cry, they might have things that aren't normal for their behavior," she said. "It's like parents starting a new job. You don't know the expectations. You go in there, you're a little nervous, you don't know what's coming next. Once they start understanding the routine and know what's next" things will get better, she said.
Lambeth recommends not signing kindergartners up for after school activities right away until they are used to the new routine. Help them to relieve stress when they get home. Parents know what their children need - maybe its time to run outside, time cuddling with a parent to talk about their day or alone time.
"Some children like to come home and get right to their work," Lambeth said.
Once you do start activities, think about what days would be best for your child. Maybe Mondays are tough because they are just coming off the weekend. Maybe Thursdays are tough because they are exhausted by the week.
"There’s no down time in kindergarten," Lambeth said. "Some children do well with that and some children don’t and they need some time when they come home."
5. My son isn't reading yet, but there seem to be several kids in his class who are reading well already. Should I be worried?
Absolutely not, Lambeth said.
"There will be children who are reading, of course, and there will be some that aren't," she said. "That’s what they are going to learn in kindergarten."
Lambeth said kindergarten teachers do a great job at differentiating their instruction - so kids who need more help get it and kids who need more challenge find it.
"They are really good at meeting the other children's needs," she said.
6. I want to volunteer in my child's classroom, but the teacher prefers it if parents stay out for the first month or so. Why?
Lambeth said a lot of teachers do this and she thinks it's smart. Those first few, parent-free weeks help teachers establish a routine for the classroom. And, if a child is having a hard time adjusting, it may be more difficult for them to feel comfortable in kindergarten if a parent keeps coming and going.
Often times, children will be reluctant to leave mom or dad at drop off, but end up walking in to the classroom once they leave and do just fine, Lambeth said. A parent returning to the school to eat lunch, for instance, might just stir up those feelings again.
Let the teacher establish those routines during the first few weeks. Then start making plans to volunteer.
"I think that's a good plan," Lambeth said.
Project Enlightenment, a fantastic resource in Wake County, serves families with kids from birth through kindergarten. Parents, caregivers and anybody with a concern about a young child can call the TalkLine to ask experts questions. The TalkLine is 919-856-7808. Hours are 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m., Tuesdays, and 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
With parent permission, Teacher/Parent Consultants can address classroom difficulties that children may experience with behavior, social development and learning. It also offers a slate of workshops for parents. Project Enlightenment's website has more information.