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Get Ready, Get Set, Learn!
By Carolyn Tomlin

Getting a child ready to enroll in a child care setting or kindergarten classroom demands a lot of attention. But it doesn’t happen the day or the week before classes begin. Preparation begins early in life and the best place for “readiness” originates in the home.                    

According to many educators, three types of readiness are important for children to make the transition between home and school a successful one. Before children attend school or child care, they need to be prepared physically, mentally, and emotionally. If children are not prepared in these three areas, the school setting can become a traumatic place for everyone involved. The following suggestions will prepare your child and ensure a great first year.


Physical Readiness

The physical area of helping your child adjust to school depends on caring parents who are good role models, who provide health care, and who care enough to take time to teach. To prepare your child physically, try the following:

  • Schedule an appointment with your child’s doctor. Each state requires a health form to be completed by your child’s doctor before attending school. Included in this examination will be a thorough check of your child’s teeth, eyes, and ears. In addition, each school system requires a child to have specific immunizations. Check with your county health department for this list.
  • Observe your child’s speech, vocabulary, and listening skills. Because language development and hearing loss are closely related, parents should observe speech, vocabulary, and listening skills to detect potential problems. 
  • Teach children to look both ways before crossing a street, to walk only with an adult or responsible person, or to wait for the crossing guard at school. By teaching your child these simple safety tips, you help protect him against accident and injury. If your child rides a school bus, talk to him about proper ways to board the bus. Before school starts, it is helpful to walk the route your child will take to school or to practice getting ready to board the school bus.
  • Never allow young children to stay home alone after school. Use after-school care, secure a reliable sitter, or change your schedule to arrive home the same time as your child. Check with your local child care programs to see if you are able to enroll your child in before and after school care. Many programs also transport young children to and from local schools
  • Teach children their full name, address, and phone number. With a toy phone, practice dialing the telephone operator and the emergency number in your area.


Mental/Intellectual Readiness

Statistics report that a large percentage of what children learn is acquired before five years of age. When parents ask, “What can I do to help my child adjust to school?” the answer is to encourage early preparation. Here are just a few things you can do at home to foster a love of learning in your child. 

  • Storytelling can and should be a part of every day. This stimulates reading aloud and storytelling. A study by Dorothy Alison and J. Allen Watson (1994) showed that the earlier parents begin reading aloud to their children, the higher the children’s emergent reading levels are at the end of kindergarten. In another study, psychologist Robert Thorndike (1975) found that children who have been read aloud to from an early age become the best readers.                       
  • Talk to your child. Then listen. High Scope Educational Research Foundation suggests setting up a “planning period” each day. During this time, talk to your child about what he intends to do. Suggest plans for the morning, afternoon, or bedtime. Plans could include: How do you plan to paint a picture? What will you need? What book would you like to read at bedtime? This type of conversation takes active listening on both sides. Refrain from asking your child “closed” questions that require a one-word answer. Phrase statements or questions so that the child must think about the answer before responding.
  • Choose challenging activities. If an activity appears too easy, the child becomes bored. If too difficult, the child loses interest.                       
  • Set aside time each afternoon to discuss your child’s day. Get involved in homework, even if it’s listening to a kindergartner count to 10, name rhyming words, or spell her name. Parents who encourage self-discipline and responsibility keep in touch with their child’s school or child care. It’s one of the best ways to ensure your child remains stimulated, mentally and intellectually.                      
  • Foster Independence. A study by Robert J. Havighurst (1972) shows that specific types of behavior are required if individuals deal successfully with challenges and problems. He defines these as “developmental tasks.” Achieving personal independence becomes a task for the school-age child. Of course, it’s a slow process, which begins in early childhood and continues into adolescence and possibly adulthood. As a parent, it’s important to give your child the opportunity to try new things and to be supportive when she’s not successful on the first try.


Emotional Readiness

Parents who strive to help their children adjust emotionally and socially to separation find the first days of child care or kindergarten a joy for everyone. Helping the child make the adjustment from home to school challenges many parents. Begin early in each area of readiness. Be consistent, read from experts in child development, and ask qualified people for guidance. Soon your child will look forward to Monday morning.


Activities to Prepare Your Child for School

“Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do.”  – Benjamin Spock, Baby and Child Care, 1946

A loving, concerned parent is a child’s first, and best, teacher. No one knows and understands your child like you. You can make a difference in how your child adjusts to school with the following activities.

·         Teach left and right. This skill is necessary for both pre-reading and pre-writing skills. Both subjects begin on the left side of the paper or page and proceed to the right. Play games such as “Simon Says” and “Follow-the-Leader.” Listen to the actions of “The Hokey Pokey.” Celebrate a “Left Hand and Right Hand Day” by wearing a ring, bracelet or sticker on one hand or the other.

·         Practice opening. Teach your child how to open containers such as juice or milk cartons. Point out the arrow on the top of the carton and say, “This arrow shows where the box opens. First, pull on this flap. Next, pop up the top. Now, you try it.”

·         Practice carrying a lunch tray. First practice walking with an empty tray. Demonstrate that both hands must support each side. Hold the tray at waist level, near the body. Add a plastic place setting and a carton of milk. Practice walking and keeping everything balanced. Emphasize walking, not running in the cafeteria. 

·         Develop cutting skills. Teach scissor safety. Always walk when holding scissors. Hold points down when walking.


Carolyn Ross Tomlin is a former professor of education at Union University. What I Wish It Hadn’t Taken Me So Long to Learn is available toll-free 1-888-280-7715 or order from the web at www.1stbooks.com.


Alison D., & Watson, J.A. (1994). The significance of adult storybook reading styles on the development of young children’s emergent reading. Reading Research and Instruction, 34, 57-72.

Ginsbery, H., & Opper, S. (1979). Piaget’s theory of intellectual development. Englewood, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Havighurst, Robert (1972). Developmental tasks and education, New York: David  McKay Co.

Margenau, Eric (1991). Sports without pressure: A guide for parents, coaches, and athletes. Gardner Press.

Thorndike, R. (1975) Reading comprehension, education in fifteen countries: An empirical study. New York: Wiley.