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Kindergarten is essentially a readiness year. (2011)

Kindergarten is essentially a readiness year. (2011) Credit: iStock

Kindergarten is essentially a readiness year, a critical foundation for the following 12 years of school. "Many students come to kindergarten with a wider range of skills than any other grade level," said Julie McGahan, principal of the Kindergarten and PreK Center in the Oceanside School District.

Some come learning how to recognize their names in writing while others come reading books. Some come ready to learn how to count and others come adding and subtracting. "Some have had very frew social experiences and are just learning basic life skills, such as sharing and cooperating, while others may have grown up in large families or spent five years in daycare and come to kindergarten with a host of social skills under their belts," said McGahan.

Preparing students for their school career doesn't just mean learning the ABCs. Kindergarteners also learn to separate from Mom and Dad (while Mom and Dad learn to separate from their little ones), to follow directions and listen, and to work in small groups. They also learn to cope with a variety of emotions appropriately, said McGahan. "For example, they learn alternatives to hitting when coping with frustration and anger. They also learn how to cope with positive emotions, like being excited, without violating personal space and hugging when it's more appropriate to respond in another manner."

The beginning of kindergarten is often tougher on the parents than on the children. Typically kids may cry for the first week, but once they get used to going to school and start to make new friends, they'll learn to love their new-found independence.

Parents often harbor anxieties that are more difficult to shake. Don't panic, for instance, if your child can't identify all the letters of the alphabet yet, while your neighbor's child can. "By June, students are required to to leave kindergarten reading, to compute addition and subtraction problems, and to be able to navigate a computer, keyboard, and mouse," said Ellen Postman, principal of the Lynbrook Kindergarten Center. Each child should be able to count to 100 and to do it by fives and by 10s -- many kindergartens have a festive "100th day of School" celebration.

Socially, kindergarteners need to be able to speak to their peers, share their ideas and thoughts, and also learn how to make friends, said Postman. "These days, both parents are both working, but it's so important for our little ones to enter kindergarten knowing how to communicate to their peers and teachers." There are many things parents can do at home to prepare their kids for kindergarten. "Read to your child every day, in any language you feel comfortable," said McGahan. Play games, sing songs, have play dates with other children. "Try to find a balance of structured time and unstructured time to allow your child to develop the social skills needed for both types of activities," said McGahan.

And don't forget to talk about feelings with your child in preparation for the transition. "Children will experience a host of emotions in response to their upcoming transition to a new school year and in response to the anxiety they observe Mom and Dad going through," said McGahan. Helping children to identify their feelings and their own reactions to various emotions will pave the way for success.

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