Pediatrician Helps Children – and Parents -- Manage Transition to School

July 23, 2014


Preschool and Kindergarten Readiness

With Cheryl Kemerer, M.D., pediatrician

Wednesday, August 6

7 p.m.

Fauquier Hospital Sycamore Room

 

Almost every parent asks the same question as their child leaves toddlerhood and enters the preschool stage of development. “Is my child ready for school?” Pediatrician Cheryl Kemerer, M.D., recognizes the difficulty that parents face, but assures, “School readiness does not depend on chronologic age or a single developmental factor. It is better defined as ‘the extent to which a child exhibits behaviors, skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in school.’ ”

 

She says that while preschool offers the chance for play in a structured environment, kindergarten is more academic. It’s where children begin developing the memory, organizational skills and social interaction to start the process of learning in a school setting. Success in either setting depends on developmental readiness -- emotional, social, physical and cognitive.

Helping a child prepare for the school experience starts years before the first school bell. Dr. Kemerer says, “Parents are a child’s first teachers, but that doesn’t mean you need to invest in  workbooks or flashcards. Look for everyday ways to teach and reinforce letters, shapes, colors, numbers, etc.”

 

One of the most important activities that parents can foster is reading. Dr. Kemerer says, “Read to them! A lot! Reading exposes a child to a large vocabulary that will enhance ease of learning to read. Encourage them to ‘read pictures’ to you by having them tell a story about the pictures. And take advantage of story times at local libraries – it not only reinforces a love of books, but is a great place to learn basic rules of attention and to practice interacting with other kids.”

Dr. Kemerer says that limiting screen time to two hours a day leaves more time for exploration and physical play. “While providing opportunities for exploration in different settings, such as nature, zoos, museums, even grocery stores, respect and foster curiosity by answering questions and posing questions to your child to stimulate thought. And providing a variety of materials (pencils, pens, markers, paint, pipe cleaners and beads, etc.) can help develop fine motor coordination.”

 

It’s easy to think that kindergarten is all about counting and alphabets, but it’s important to remember that your child will be learning vital social skills that he or she will build on all during their school-age years. As a parent, use the time leading up to kindergarten to increase your child’s feelings of responsibility-- teach them to pick up clothes, hang up their coat, put toys away and share in other household chores. Dr. Kemerer says, “Whatever they can do for themselves, have them do it. Allow children to try to come up with solutions to problems on their own before jumping in to help. It will develop practical skills and give them a sense of their own competency and self-reliance.”

 

By the time kids start kindergarten; they should have had some experience with making and playing congenially with friends. Play dates and group activities allow children to develop these important skills.

 

Your pediatrician can help you decide if your child is ready for the next step. Make wellness appointments and be sure to ask about any developmental concerns you may have.

 

School readiness starts long before the bus arrives, but as the first day of school approaches, Dr. Kemerer offers some ideas on how to manage those last few weeks before the big day:

  • Visit the school and meet the teacher.
  • Read books about preschool or kindergarten.
  • Show enthusiasm, but don’t “overplay” the milestone of starting school. This may increase anxiety.
  • Try not to visibly show your own negative emotions about the start of school (fear, sadness over “growing up too fast”). Children will pick up on this.
  • Nutrition is important. Healthy meals and snacks should be on the menu, and children should get in the habit of having breakfast. Practice with lunch boxes and any containers they will use, so they are familiar.
  • Several weeks before school starts, start making bedtime a bit earlier and start getting up at the time they will need to get up for school.

A preschool readiness checklist

Your child is ready to start preschool if he or she:

  • Is out of diapers and can use the bathroom  independently;
  • Can feed him or herself;
  • Can play with or near peers for at least 15 minutes at a time, without adult intervention;
  •  Can follow one- to two-step directions;
  • Can tolerate small levels of frustration without tantrums;
  • Can separate from parents;
  • Has the physical stamina to tolerate several hours of activities;
  • Has the ability to pay attention for short intervals; 
  • Is starting to be able to share and follow rules; andHas the ability to make his or her needs known and speak in five- to six-word sentences.

 A kindergarten readiness checklist

Your child is ready to start kindergarten if he or she:

  • Can express her or his needs and wants verbally;
  • Can relate to peers;
  • Shows concern for others;
  • Can engage in symbolic/ imaginative play with self and peers;
  • Expresses curiosity and an eagerness to learn;
  • Can separate from parents;
  • Can participate in small and large group activities;
  • Can complete some tasks independently;
  • Can transition between activities;
  • Can control impulses (age appropriately);
  • Can listen and follow simple directions;
  • Can tell about experiences and tell a story;
  • Can put on a coat, remove the coat and hang it up;
  • Can use the bathroom independently;
  • Can appropriately cover cough/nose and blow nose;
  • Can work zippers, snaps and buttons (It’s great if he or she can tie shoes, but this is often more of a first grade skill.);
  • Can eat and pour drinks independently;
  • Can wash hands independently; and
  • Can hold a pencil, paintbrush appropriately, color, cut with scissors, paste, trace lines or shapes and copy lines or shapes.

 

 

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