A network to share best practices for children with special needs
It is hard to believe, but it's already time to start preparing for a new school year. If your child is entering kindergarten, you are probably going through many emotions. I remember taking each one of my three children to kindergarten on the first day. It was such an emotional time. I was excited for them and a little sad, but certainly I was not prepared for the tears that came after I walked them into the room and said good-bye. I remember my son suggesting that we tell each other, “I love you” BEFORE we left home, not at school. So, for my sake, we came up with a signal. We would give each other a squeeze of the hand; that meant, “I love you.” Whew, that saved my heart!
At this moment, you are probably concerned about making sure your child is ready for this big transition in his/her life. Even if your child has been in daycare and/or preschool, the transition to kindergarten can be stressful if the child doesn't know what to expect. Here are some ideas to prepare your child for a wonderful Kindergarten experience:
1. Talk about going to kindergarten. Talk about the many different feelings your child (and you) may be experiencing. In order to know what he/she is expecting, ask him/her what they think a day at kindergarten is going to be like. It may be easier for them to draw a picture of "A Day at Kindergarten.” This will give insight on how realistic the expectations are. With a child with special needs, this can be very helpful.
2. Take your child to the school during the summer. The unknown is very scary for all of us. Remove any anxiety about kindergarten by introducing him/her to the principal and the office staff, walking around the building, visiting the library, cafeteria, and even some of the classrooms. Allow him/her to explore and ask questions. Often, kindergarten students are kept on a different schedule than older students and do not see other parts of the building. Allowing him/her the opportunity to see the entire school and meet the office staff gives them a sense of security and alleviates anxiety.
As Director of Special Education, I would schedule this transition time for many of our children to visit a new school several times during the summer, especially students with autism. They would meet everyone and explore all parts of the building. For children with autism, we'd modify the times they would come to school and leave school for the first week. They would come after the halls were cleared and leave before the bell rang. We gently transition them into the school routine. It works beautifully!
3. Start your “school schedule” one week before school begins. If you have other children who are already in school, this will help them prepare for the beginning of school also. BEWARE: They will not like getting back into a routine of set bedtimes, homework, etc. A helpful way to encourage your kindergartener to get used to the schedule is to develop a visual schedule with pictures. Take a picture of him/her getting up in the morning, then take a picture of them brushing their teeth, washing their face, eating breakfast, etc. This will remind him/her of what needs to be done in the mornings. You can also do this for after-school time and evenings.
4. Role-play with your child to prepare him/her for different situations in the class for which he/she may not already know how to handle. For example, practice saying good-bye in the mornings; sitting quietly during circle time; raising his/her hand and what to do if the teacher is talking and he/she needs to go to the bathroom. If there are situations in which you know your child has difficulty, role-play how she/he can handle it!
5. Have your child draw or color a picture for the teacher. If he/she is shy and you worry about him/her “warming up” to the teacher and new friends. Most schools have “Open House” before school starts. Here, the children and parents have the opportunity to meet the teacher and see the classroom. (Of course, you will have already taken your child to the school, so he/she should already be comfortable about “Open House.”)
6. Read books about kindergarten with your child. There are some excellent books that will address some of the unknowns about kindergarten. Check out this GREAT article, Get Set for School with these Kindergarten Books! It includes a wonderful list of books to help your child get ready for their first day of school.
7. Do not worry about flashcards, workbooks, alphabet drills. If your child is ready in all of the other ways, the academics will come easily!
If you follow through with these simple suggestions, you and your child will have a great start to a successful school year! Good luck, and, remember, three-hand squeezes!