Q: Our daughter, Meghan, starts kindergarten in August. She was excited after orientation, but now she's so anxious about it. She cries that she wants to stay home with her little sister. She's one of the youngest in her class, so maybe she's not ready. Should we hold her back a year?
A: Wanting to stay home with her younger sister isn't a good reason to hold your daughter back a year. Unless there's something that educators didn't pick up during her kindergarten screening, stick with your plan.
"Kids pick up on parents' feelings, so show enthusiasm and stay positive," says North Bellmore, New York, kindergarten teacher Robin Obey. "Questioning Meghan's readiness will only reinforce her own hesitancy."
Kindergarten jitters are completely natural, says Obey. She suggests the following activities to help Meghan overcome her worries:
-- Share books about starting kindergarten: There are many great "first day" stories that capture the feelings Meghan might be having. Bookstores, online vendors and libraries feature them this time of year. Reading and discussing them with Meghan can help allay her jitters.
Obey suggests these classics: "Kindergarten Rocks!" by Katie Davis (HMH Books for Young Readers, 2008); "First Day Jitters," by Julie Danneberg (Charlesbridge, 2000); "Timothy Goes to School," by Rosemary Wells (Puffin, 2000); "Will I Have a Friend?" by Miriam Cohen (Star Bright, 2009); "Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten," by Joseph Slate (Puffin, 2001); "The Night Before Kindergarten," Natasha Wing (Scholastic, 2001); "Countdown to Kindergarten," by Allison McGhee (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006); "Wemberly Worried," by Kevin Henkes (Greenwillow Books, 2010); "The Kissing Hand," by Audrey Penn (Tanglewood Press, 2007); and "Tiptoe Into Kindergarten," by Jacqueline Rogers (Cartwheel, 2003).
Address her concerns. Meghan may worry about something that you assume she already knows, such as, "How will I get to school?" or "How long do I stay?" or "Will I be able to play?" and so on. The more details you provide -- such as driving the school route and showing her how long the trip takes -- the better.
Visit her new school if possible. Some schools allow short visits prior to the first day. If yours does, show Meghan her classroom, cafeteria and gym, and check out the bathrooms. (Show her how to flush those noisy toilets!) If you can't get into the building, visit the playground.
Polish her kindergarten skills: Find opportunities to model and describe problem solving, resilience and independence, says Obey. Look for things Meghan can do to assume new responsibilities, such as helping set the table, unpacking groceries and laying out clothes. Give positive reinforcement when she seeks attention appropriately and waits patiently.
Remember, it's a transition: If Meghan is still apprehensive when school starts, let her teacher know her concerns and what you're doing to ease them, but don't hover at school. Avoid overscheduling Meghan during the first few months. Make sure she gets enough rest and free play to balance the structure of kindergarten.
Be sure to ask those all-important questions: What did you learn today? Who did you meet today? What questions did you ask your teacher? You'll build Meghan's language skills, along with her confidence as a learner.
(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)