Kindergarten doesn't start for another couple of weeks, but parents should be getting their children ready for the big day now. Long Island experts suggest a dozen ways to help your child - and yourself - make the transition to formal education as easy as A, B, C.
1. Go shopping together
Involve your child in choosing his backpack and packing it with school supplies. Perhaps let him pick a new outfit to wear the first day of school. Let your child know you'll label his jacket and backpack with his name, so if he misplaces anything, he won't fret, suggests Louise Grazia, director of the Kiddie Academy of Brightwaters. Use a calendar to count down the days to opening day.
2. Read books about kindergarten to your child
Snuggle with your child and read stories such as "The Kissing Hand" by Audrey Penn (Tanglewood Books, $16.95), which tells of a raccoon mom who kisses her child's palm before school and tells him to put it to his face when he misses her or gets lonely. That's the book that Grazia reads to preschool children at her learning center to help them transition to kindergarten.
3. Make several trial runs
If your child isn't waking at the time she'll rise for school, start setting her alarm for the right time a week beforehand. On a few days, park your car at the bus stop, and then do a trial run, suggests Joseph Famularo, superintendent of the Bellmore school district. Wake her, dress and eat breakfast, then walk to the bus stop. Drive her to school from there in your car, so she gets used to the trip the bus will make. On arrival, let her play on the same playground she'll use during recess. "The more they have a mental picture of where they're going, the less anxiety they'll have," Famularo says.
4. Be positive
Talk about how much he'll learn and how much fun he'll have. No matter how emotional you might be, don't let your child pick up on it. "It's more of a transition for the parents," says Famularo. "Often they project that onto the child." If your child sees you crying or upset, he'll think, "Maybe I should be crying."
5. Attend all orientations
Most districts have a day before the first day of school when they invite kindergartners and their parents to meet their teachers, introduce themselves to other students in their class, and even take a short ride on a school bus. "On the day itself, then there's less of a sting," says Joseph Rella, deputy superintendent of the Comsewogue School District in Port Jefferson Station. If your district doesn't have such an orientation, see if you can make a trip to the school with your child one day while his teacher is setting up the classroom.
6. Communicate specific concerns
You might want the teacher to know that your child tends to get tired at about 10 a.m. or that, if the teacher seats her in the back of the room, her mind will likely wander. "We listen hard to the parents when they talk to us," Rella says. If there are any health or allergy concerns, be sure to talk to the school nurse before Day 1.
7. Arrange for your child to sit with a friend on the bus
There will likely be other children from the block or neighborhood on the same bus. Call the parents of one you know and arrange for their child and yours to know they'll sit together on the first day. If your child doesn't want to board the bus, don't give in, Grazia warns. "If they cry and you don't put them on the bus, then they're going to think that every day they cry they're not going to have to get on the bus," she says. What you could do is follow the bus to school. Tell your child, " 'I'll follow the bus the first day, just to make sure you get there safely,'" she suggests.
8. Choose a transitional object
Send a picture of Mom and Dad in your child's backpack or lunch box, or let her bring a stuffed animal or other object from home to help her still feel connected to you.
Some schools enlist parents to volunteer to help kindergartners at lunch during the first few days of school, opening milk cartons, helping them find seats, and more. Call your PTA to see if you can help. Volunteering would give you a chance to see the school in action, and even to catch a moment with your child (unless you think seeing you midday might reignite any separation anxiety).
10. Put "meet-the-teacher" night on your schedule
Rest assured that you will soon know your child's teacher's expectations for the school year. Many schools have this back-to-school session within the first couple of weeks after school opens. The teacher will answer many questions you may have and usually will be available before and after the session to talk to you. Find out whether your child's teacher has e-mail or even a Web page for the class where you can see lesson plans and topics for each week, suggests John Williams, superintendent of schools for the Amityville school district.
11. Greet the returning school bus
If you can, be there when your child gets off the bus the first day. Congratulate her on a great start.
12. Talk about the school day
What did you do? What did you learn? Did you meet anyone new? What's your teacher like? Some families ask about the best part and worst part of the day, to find out what might have been upsetting. "I think the best time to do it is at the evening meal, when you have some uninterrupted time," Williams says.