Building Independence in Preparation for School
Starting school is a tremendous milestone, and before you start collecting props for that "First Day of Kindergarten" social media photo shoot, think about what you can do at home to proactively prepare your youngster for their first day.
The key to smooth mornings is getting organized the night before. When given a week's worth of clothing options, your 5-year-old should be able to set out their clothes for the next day. Only offer choices from five shirts, five bottoms, underwear and socks, and put shoes next to the door. You know your child best, and if they can handle a closet full of choices, that's fine. But many children will be overwhelmed when they have to pick school-appropriate, seasonal choices from the many possible options if presented with their entire wardrobe. If your child will attend a school with uniforms, this process becomes even easier.
In the morning, your kindergartner can eat breakfast and put their dishes in the sink or dishwasher. They can also brush their teeth without assistance. Because children are easily distracted, using a visual schedule like this one can be an excellent support for them to see what comes next. It also provides a way to stick to a routine. Predictability makes for a much smoother morning on hectic school days.
While having clothing options laid out is a good start, your child should also be able to button, zip and fasten their clothing. This is an important element of independence because in the kindergarten classroom they are one of many, and the teacher will not be able to offer individual assistance for every child all the time. Knowing how to zip jackets and trousers makes your child independent and can provide a sense of being a "big kid." Give your child opportunities to practice zipping a jacket or buttoning a shirt at home when you are not in a hurry, if they have not yet mastered this motor skill.
Keeping shoes together and near the door is one way to make sure kids are ready to go, but they should also be able to put them on the correct foot. Most beginning kindergartners cannot tie shoes, but they can use velcro straps, If you live in a climate where boots and snow pants are worn to school in the winter, it doesn't hurt to give practice opportunities for these items in early fall.
By age five, your child should know their first and last name. In preparation for school, teach them their teacher's name. That way, they can proudly announce it to anyone who asks, especially if, for some reason, they become separated from their class in those first days.
Given choices, your kindergartner can pack their own lunch the night before. Now, it might make you feel good to be the parent that makes Pinterest Perfect lunches, and if that is your thing, awesome! But for those who just need to focus on feeding hungry bellies, providing a lunch checklist can make the process successful for even the young ones. Make sandwich fixings, cut up meat and cheese cubes, peeled boiled eggs, nuts (if permitted) and other entree options accessible to them. Fruit and vegetable choices already washed and cut, and reasonable snacks fill out the meal. Your child can package these in zipper bags or small containers, working on fine motor skills in the process.
When we think of independence, we don't always think of using good manners. However, giving your child the tools for communications helps promote independence. Knowing when and how to use "please" and "thank you" without being prompted shows that your child understands pragmatic language and social cues. Knowing how to take turns promotes independence in that a child does not have to always be reminded to share. Using good manners is always a nice thing to do, but at this sensitive age, it actually works to help children develop autonomy.
Not every child will master all of these by the time the first day of school rolls around. It takes time, patience and lots of practice for little humans to learn functional life skills. As a parent, through deliberate placement of objects and choices, you can create an environment where your child can have many little successes in their first year of school. A reward chart takes some of the guesswork out of hot to start parenting a school-aged child while using positive reinforcement to celebrate growth.