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Parents can help ease kindergarten jitters

By Keryn Page

MISSISSIPPI STATE -- A child's first day of kindergarten represents the beginning of a new stage of life that parents should help make exciting and memorable.

Micki Smith, a child and family development area agent with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said parents must be sensitive to a child's first-day-of-school jitters.

"If you can't remember your own first day of school, think about your first day at a new job. What were your feelings? Anxiety, apprehension and a fear of the unknown are all common feelings when we face a new experience," Smith said. "If you have a child who is entering school for the first time this year, chances are he or she will have some of the same feelings you experienced."

Be sensitive to these emotions, and talk to the child about his or her expectations for school.

"Take time to learn what the child fears and what he or she is excited about. Reassure your child that you are available to talk about anything that troubles him or her," Smith said.

Parents can take steps to ensure the transition to kindergarten goes smoothly for children and themselves. Start by taking the child to visit the new school and meet the new teacher before school starts. Make a list of questions together to ask the teacher and other school staff.

"Reading books to your child about going to school can help introduce the new experience in a fun way. My favorites are 'Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten' by Joseph Slate and Ashley Wolff and 'Going to School' by Melissa Beth Radabaugh," Smith said.

Visiting the school cafeteria before school starts can help children learn to carry a plate and milk on a tray. Provide experiences for the child to eat in local cafeterias to acquaint him or her with moving a tray down the line and selecting food.

"If your child will take lunch from home, talk about what you will put in the lunch box," Smith said. "Try to place a note in the lunch box or backpack from time to time to encourage your child and to say 'I love you.'"

Make sure the child knows what to do after school each day, whether riding a school bus home, being picked up by a parent or attending an after-school program.

Emphasize the excitement of starting school by taking a photograph of the kindergartner on that first big day.

"This picture can become a precious treasure, as we all know that the next 12 or 13 years will pass so very quickly," Smith said.

Margaret Elliott is beginning her ninth year as a kindergarten teacher at Madison-Ridgeland Academy in Madison. She advised parents to stay involved in their children's education while encouraging the independence that is so important for kindergartners to learn.

"Kindergarten is such a fun, special time for children, and we want parents to feel like they're part of it. We need parents very much," Elliott said. "However, it is very important, especially at the beginning of the school year, to let the child bond with his or her teacher and let us work on important self-help skills. It is usually better to wait until later in the school year to volunteer to help in the classroom."

Elliott said she sends home weekly newsletters to keep parents informed of the skills their children are learning. She also suggests activities for parents that reinforce the lessons children learn in class. She calls parents on the telephone if she needs to discuss a specific issue.

Parents can help children prepare for kindergarten by teaching self-help skills like tying shoes, cleaning up after oneself and following oral directions. Reading to children helps with language development and offers a fun bonding experience.

"Set aside some time each day to read to your child; bedtime is a good time. Look at the cover of the book and ask your child what he or she thinks the book is going to be about," Elliott said. "Allow your child to interact during the story by asking questions along the way. This helps children learn to think more critically. When you get to an exciting part in the story, stop and ask your child what they think is going to happen next."

Once the story is over, ask the child what his or her favorite part was, and then flip back and read that part again.

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Released: July 21, 2005
Contact: Micki Smith, (601) 859-2672

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