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Now is the time to prepare for kindergarten

Published on: March 01, 2004

Is
your child ready for kindergarten? The experts claim the real readiness
process begins at birth--not in the spring on kindergarten sign-up day.
But for the many parents whose kids will encounter school busses,
teachers and classrooms for the first time next fall, now is the time
to get serious about finding ways to prepare for the home-to-school
transition.

"Readiness" is a sweeping
concept that's defined any number of ways. Covering everything from
emotional development to cognitive skills, it can mean learning to
cope, pay attention and get along with others--or, learning to count,
put on a jacket and recognize colors.

It all depends who you're asking--and sometimes, which kindergarten
you're considering. "The realm of normalcy is huge," says Linda
Averill, principal of Shoreline Children's Center.

So where should readiness begin?

Helping to hone your child's social skills is a good place to start,
says Averill. Make sure he learns how to be part of a group. Expose him
to settings--the preschool, the library, the zoo--where other children
are present.

It's important to teach children ways to get along with other kids,
suggests Julia Matthews, kindergarten transition coordinator for
Seattle Public Schools. "Talk to your children about having respect for
others and for their differences."

Come up with problem-solving ideas and techniques they can use to
resolve conflicts without resorting to fighting, says Matthews. "Ask
them what solutions they can think of," she says. "If they can't offer
suggestions, you can."

Getting
your child excited about kindergarten should be your next step, says
Diane Kroll, director of early childhood services for the Puget Sound
Educational Service District. Talk to your child about school, take him
to the playground, visit the school together and, most important, be
upbeat, she says. Sometimes that means hiding your own anxieties and
fears-and putting on a positive front. "If the parent is excited, the
child will be--and that child will have an easier transition," says
Kroll.

Kroll suggests reading your youngster books about going
to school, such as Miriam Cohen's, Will I Have a Friend?

Parents might also create their own stories using a digital camera. "Show your child, 'this

is the bus, this is the school, here

is the teacher,'" Kroll says. "That personalizes the process and makes it more concrete."

Developing a longer attention span is a critical readiness skill kids
can master--with a little help from parents or caretakers.

"Replicate circle time at home," says Averill. "In the circle, you can
sing, read or talk about the day. And practice having your child follow
directions. The idea is that kids are learning to sit still and conform
to a group." The goal, she says, is for children to focus on an
activity for more than 10 or 15 minutes.

Coming to kindergarten with a few basic skills can't hurt, claims
Matthews. "Some preschools don't have a set curriculum, but operate
more like all-day playtime sessions," she says. "It's sometimes up to
parents to introduce concepts like colors and numbers."

Thanks to increasing expectations at the elementary and secondary
levels and to legislation such as The No Child Left Behind Act, the
learning bar's been raised, says Matthews. Counting to 10, naming
primary colors and recognizing the letters of the alphabet would be
"good to know" before entering kindergarten, she says.

Exposing children to books, words and experiences will help establish
them as lifelong learners. "Talk and listen," says Averill. "Do that in
the supermarket and in your living room. Read to your kids and use
libraries."

Kids who have acquired sizeable vocabularies in their early years come
to kindergarten better equipped, she says. "Many students who enter
school with vocabulary deficits never catch up."

But don't think school readiness means parents should feel pressured to
drill their children, notes Kroll. "Readiness is about creating
stronger bonds and relationships, and providing age-appropriate
experiences."

Parents are their child's best supporters--and chief advocates--for
paving the path toward school, says Kroll. "Ask yourself, what do you
want out of your child's educational experience? Then advocate for it."

Linda Morgan writes frequently on education issues for ParentMap.

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