Q: My 5-year old daughter, Illana, has been so excited about starting kindergarten, but suddenly she cries when we talk about it and insists she's staying home with her sister. She loved preschool, so I don't get it. How can we get her ready for her first day?
A: Many children, even those with preschool experience, get last-minute "kindergarten jitters," says Shirley Harden, a retired Maryland principal who coaches parents on supporting their children's school success. She offers these tips:
-- If possible, visit Illana's school before classes begin. "Often principals encourage kindergartners to come for a sneak peek to see their classroom, cafeteria and other rooms," says Harden. "During your walk-through, point out bulletin boards and displays. Even show her the bathrooms, so she's familiar with the facilities."
-- Probe her worries. Because parents make the first day a big deal, kids may develop unwarranted concerns, says Harden. "Talk through any fears and put them to rest," she says. "Explain how her day will go and what she will do after school to allay concerns about how she gets home." Tell her about first-day jitters in your life, such as a new job. Explain that it's normal to have anxieties about new things.
-- Read books about starting kindergarten. "There are some really funny ones," says Blanche Warner, a library manager in Naples, New York. "Librarians have them ready in August."
Warner suggests these time-tested titles:
-- "A Place Called Kindergarten" (Puffin, 2008) by Jessica Harper. Tommy's animal friends become alarmed when they learn Tommy has gone to a place called "kindergarten."
-- "Countdown to Kindergarten" (HMH Books for Young Readers; 2006) by Alison McGhee and Harry Bliss. Ten days before school starts, a new kindergartner can't tie her shoes and fears the worst.
-- "Jake Starts School" (Square Fish, 2010) by Michael Wright. A boy worries about staying at school without his parents.
-- "Kindergarten Rocks!" (HMH Books for Young Readers, 2008) by Katie Davis. Dexter isn't scared to start school, but his stuffed dog, Rufus, is terrified!
-- "Late for School!" (Carolrhoda Books, 2013) by Stephanie Calmenson and Sachiko Yoshikawa. A teacher oversleeps and is late for the first day.
-- "Look Out Kindergarten, Here I Come!" (Puffin 2001) by Nancy Carlson. Henry looks forward to kindergarten, but he isn't sure about staying once he gets there.
-- "Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten" (Puffin, 2001) by Joseph Slate and Ashley Wolff. This book introduces the alphabet as Miss Bindergarten and her students get ready for kindergarten.
-- "On the Way to Kindergarten" (Puffin, 2008) by Virginia Kroll and Elizabeth Schlossberg. This picture book helps parents show their kindergartner all of her accomplishments in the past five years.
Make a plan to support Illana's learning all year. Include daily activities such as reading each night, reinforcing social and emotional skills needed in school, and talking about a range of topics to develop oral language and a strong vocabulary. Find ways to connect math and science concepts to daily life by using science and math vocabulary; for example, "Today's weather brought rain. Let's measure how much rain we got." Encourage active play and limit screen time.
Introduce yourself to her teacher and offer your support, says Harden. "That way," she says, "should a problem arise, you'll have a working partnership from day one."
(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.)