Starting Kindergarten During the COVID-19 Pandemic
We realize the COVID-19 pandemic has created new challenges for entering kindergarten families, which may not be addressed here. Overall, positive kindergarten transitions, whether virtual or in-person, include early interaction, engagement, and connection between you, your child, and your child's teacher and school. We encourage partnership between families, teachers, and school administrators to support transition activities, such as virtual teacher visits, to the greatest extent possible.
How to Help Your Child Be Ready for Kindergarten
Starting kindergarten is an exciting time for children and parents. It is also a time when children and parents may feel nervous. It’s normal. All transitions or changes in life can cause worry and anxiety. Parents, be aware of your feelings for the transition. Children pick up on adult stress, and it can increase their own stress.
Do you have concerns that your child is not ready? Get tips for support and find out about First 5’s Help Me Grow program (alamedakids.org/help-me-grow).
As you help your child prepare, it is important that they have a positive view of school. It is also important that they feel confident about their ability to learn. Here are some activities you can do with your child to prepare:
- Talk often with your child about kindergarten. What questions does your child have? For tips, check out this article from the Harvard Health Blog (www.health.harvard.edu/blog/12-ways-to-help-a-child-make-the-transition-to-kindergarten-201308166611#story).
- Attend kindergarten orientations offered by your school or school district.*
- Visit the school and classroom before the start of school. Some schools offer tours and special times to visit.*
- Try to meet the teacher and other new kindergarten families. Some schools schedule play dates and/or family gatherings just before the start of school.*
- Read books or watch videos with your child about kindergarten.
- Practice separations with your child. Give yourself and your child opportunities to practice spending time apart.
*During the COVID-19 Pandemic, these events might take place virtually
Being fully ready for kindergarten depends on a combination of skills. It also depends on support from your community and your child’s school. The Building Blocks of Readiness represent areas of development that are important to a child being ready for kindergarten. At First 5 Alameda County, we use the Building Blocks of Readiness to determine kindergarten readiness, as part of our Kindergarten Readiness Assessment (www.first5alameda.org/alameda-county-kindergarten-readiness-assessment).
Building Blocks of Readiness
A child with strong self-regulation skills can stay focused, follow rules and directions, play well with others, and participate in group activities. It’s normal for these skills to be difficult for young children at times. Here are some ways you can practice and improve self-regulation with your child.
Things you can do:
- Talk about feelings with your child. Name feelings they or someone else might be having. Teach them that both positive (happy) and negative (sad) feelings are important. Children need to know it is healthy to express and talk about their feelings. If they are feeling scared or sad, ask them what might help them feel better. Help them think about solutions and find what might work for them.
- Model good manners. Saying “please” and “thank you” when appropriate will help them know when to use the same words.
- Encourage your child to feel proud about their efforts even when the outcome is not what they wanted.
- Offer your child opportunities to play with others. Play dates, play groups, and other chances to interact with children help your child practice their social and emotional skills.
- Set boundaries. Make reasonable rules, stand by them, and be consistent. Firm rules help children know what the expectations are.
Social expression is communication of one’s needs, wants, and feelings. It begins at birth when babies communicate what they need by crying. Then young children use body language, pointing, and eventually words and speech. Children who are talked to, read to, and sung to at home learn to read more quickly. Children with strong social-expression skills can talk about a story, express their needs and wants, show empathy for others, and are eager to learn.
Things you can do:
- Talk, read, and sing with your child as much as possible. Talk during meals. Read before bedtime. Sing in the car.
- Tell stories to your child and let them tell you their stories.
- See difficult moments with your child as learning opportunities. It is tough when your child is having a tantrum. Once everyone has calmed down, try talking with your child about what happened. Acknowledge the feelings your child was having while sharing the feelings you had.
- Teach your child about empathy. Children learn empathy both from watching us and from experiencing our empathy for them. Asking your child about their friends helps them empathize with them. For example, when a conflict happens, have them think about their friend’s point of view.
- Have family meetings. Hold family meetings when there are family challenges or conflicts. Give children a voice and encourage them to think about the point of view of other family members. Listen carefully to your children’s views and ask your children to listen carefully to the views of others.
Kindergarten academics may be the easiest Building Block of Readiness to understand. It includes basic knowledge such as numbers, letters, shapes, colors, and basic writing skills. It also includes understanding books, being able to rhyme words, and the ability to count.
Things you can do:
- Read to your child every day. Describe the pictures and ask them questions about the story. Read in a fun way so your child can see how you are enjoying the story.
- Practice writing letters and numbers with your child. To make it fun, use finger paint or something with bright colors.
- Count objects at home with your child, for example plates, forks, and cups at the dinner table or pieces of laundry.
- Describe the shapes of everyday objects. For example, point out to your child that oranges look like circles and windows look like rectangles.
- Practice writing your child’s name with them. Name each letter one at a time as you go.
- Build with blocks. Children learn math, engineering, and other concepts from blocks.
Benefits of Bilingualism (Multilingualism)
Do you speak a language at home other than English? Speaking more than one language has many benefits for children. Most importantly, maintaining your home language supports the passing of your culture and values to your children. Studies show that young children’s brains are primed to learn different languages and that multi-language learning helps to build a stronger brain. With the proper resources and support from schools, young children who learn more than one language are found to surpass their peers in academic achievement by fifth grade.
Importance of Attendance
Regular Attendance Is Important
It’s common to think that regular attendance at school for young children is not as important as it is in middle school or high school. However, studies show young children with regular attendance perform better in school than children who had many absences. It is important for your child to develop the habit of regular attendance from the beginning of their time at school. This will help them build a strong academic foundation that will last through high school, college, and adulthood.
Here are some things you can do to support regular attendance for your child:
- Decide it is important: Decide that your child will have regular attendance. Try to have your child miss school only when they are truly sick. Avoid vacations that are longer than three days during the regular school year.
- Routines: Practice routines that will help you and your child get to school on time. Think about sleep and wake times, having enough time for breakfast, putting on clothes, getting lunches prepared, and packing everything your child needs in their backpack. The more you do it, the easier it gets.
- Back-up Plan: Talk with family, friends, or neighbors and see if they might help get your child to and from school when needed.
Healthy Eating and Healthy Sleeping
Children do best when they are well-rested, well-fed, and have overall good health. They need energy to learn and focus. Getting enough sleep each night is as important as eating enough food. A hungry or tired child will have difficulty concentrating.
Here are some healthy habits that can help children be ready to learn:
- Get Enough Sleep: Young children need about 10 to 12 hours of sleep each night. Without enough sleep, growing and learning is more difficult for children. Set a bedtime routine to help your family get to bed on time.
- Eat Healthy Food: Healthy eating is not always easy for young children. Try your best to offer your child healthy choices. Starting good eating habits early will last a lifetime. WIC (https://acphd.org/wic), Cal Fresh (https://foodnow.net/choose-one), and the Alameda Food Bank (https://foodnow.net/) can help your family access healthy foods. Schools can also help! Many schools serve breakfast in the mornings and offer free or reduced lunch to qualifying families. Contact your school district to find out more. (www.acoe.org/meals).
- Exercise and Play Everyday: Active play and exercise are important for your child’s healthy growth and development. Pediatricians encourage at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day for children.
- Take Care of Your Teeth: Your child’s baby teeth matter. Pediatric dentists recommend your child see a dentist by age 1 or within 6 months of their first tooth. Tooth decay and pain are common reasons children miss school and have a hard time focusing. Start healthy dental habits early. Young children need help brushing their teeth until they are 9 years of age because it is found that they don’t have the manual dexterity until then. Remember to brush twice a day.
Do you need help with health or dental insurance, accessing food or other resources for your child and your family? If so, call Help Me Grow, 1.888.510.1211, to receive information and support to apply for health insurance including Medi-Cal.
Building Partnerships with School and Teacher
Start as soon as possible to build connections with your child’s teacher and school. Children perform better in school when their parents are involved at the school. Children have more pride about their school when they see their parents engaged in school activities. You know your child best. Sharing information about your child and your family with their teacher will help the teacher work better with your child. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many of these activities may not be possible, but you can communicate with your child’s teacher by email, phone, or even virtual meetings on the computer.
- Take advantage of opportunities to visit the school prior to the first day of class. Due to the pandemic, these might be “virtual” visits on the computer.
- Try to meet, email, or request a virtual meeting with the teacher early in the school year.
- When in-person activities resume, volunteer in the classroom or at the school.
- Attend back-to-school night, orientations, parent/teacher conferences, and field trips.
- Share information about your child with their teacher. The teacher might provide a form for parents to fill out. If not, fill out the form provided in this guide on page X. Give the form to your teacher on the first day of school. During remote instruction, you can take a photo of your answers and email it to the teacher.
What Schools Can Do
Some of the activities that can help a child and their family feel more comfortable and excited about going to kindergarten are often those events sponsored by schools. Schools may reach out to families to make sure children get off to a strong and healthy start. Other kindergarten transition supports include orientations, open houses, family social events, communication between kindergarten and pre-K teachers about students and curricula, parent-teacher meetings, and home visits. Parents can help schools, too. If you feel the school could use more transition activities, reach out to the school and let them know you’d like more. Parent Leadership Action Network (www.bayareaplan.org) and Parent Voices (www.parentvoices.org) are parent-led organizations that support parents to increase their leadership role in their schools and communities.
Created with images by CDC - "Captured in a metropolitan Atlanta, Georgia primary school, this photograph depicts a typical classroom scene, where an audience of school children were seated on the floor before a teacher at the front of the room, who was reading an illustrated storybook, during one of the scheduled classroom sessions. Assisting the instructor were two female students to her left, and a male student on her right, who was holding up the book, while the seated classmates were raising their hands to answer questions related to the story just read." • Erika Fletcher - "untitled image" • Bessi - "child model girl" • Gautam Arora - "untitled image" • OmarMedinaFilms - "children kindergarten fun" • Gautam Arora - "untitled image" • Lukas Blazek - "Alarm clock friends situation with hand" • Element5 Digital - "untitled image"