Get ready for Kindergarten!

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Kindergarten: it’s a whole new world for your five-year-old (and likely a lot different than you remember!). Here’s a collection of advice from the pros and the parents who have been there to help you and your children prepare for and navigate this important transition into Elementary School.

Gone are the days some parents may remember of half-day kindergarten.  CMS kindergarteners have a seven-hour school day, almost double the amount of time children may have spent in preschool daily.  Moreover, though start times vary slightly from school to school – 7:45 for Lebanon Road and Clear Creek, 8:15 for Bain – kids will need to wake up much earlier to get to kindergarten on time.

The transition to a long day spent in school can be even tougher on kids who are entering school for the very first time.  “My twins didn’t attend preschool, so they weren’t really prepared for the full day of school,” says mom of rising second graders Barbie Tallent.  “We had many meltdowns, naps, and late dinners. While we did change to the school bed-time and wake-up schedule two weeks prior, it took about three weeks for my kids to adjust to the overstimulated school schedule.”

To combat those after-school meltdowns, mom of three Jamie Jackson has a suggestion: snacks.  “If you’re doing pick-up, have snacks ready in the car. If they’re riding the bus, have snacks ready for when they walk in the door,” says Jackson.  “The end-of-school day meltdown is rough, y’all, and sometimes the only thing standing between you and it is a bag of goldfish.”

In addition to a longer school day, kindergarteners also tackle a curriculum that is more rigorous than they encountered in preschool and likely more academically demanding than their parents remember from their own kindergarten days.  “When you’re going to preschool, there’s a lot of play, you’re just learning basic letters and numbers,” says Mindy Reilly, who has been teaching kindergarten at Clear Creek for eight years. “Kindergarten is a whole new world for them.  You’re expected to do more than you do in preschool, your expected to sit a whole lot more, do a whole lot more writing.”

To prepare kids for the rigor of today’s kindergarten classroom Reilly recommends practicing letters and numbers with your children before the first day of school.  Kids who enter kindergarten knowing at least some letters and sounds will be in a better position to be reading and writing by the end of the year, which is ultimately the goal in CMS kindergarten classrooms.

To add to the challenge, kindergarteners are expected to handle a longer and increasingly demanding day with less individual attention than they may be used to.  While their preschool class may have been a dozen or fewer kids with two teachers, kindergarten classes can be as large as twenty children with a single teacher.  

Moreover, the structure of elementary school necessitates that kindergarteners handle more tasks independently.  Preschoolers may have been walked to their classroom by a parent; kindergarteners can take the bus to school. Preschoolers most likely ate a boxed lunch in their classroom; kindergarteners can buy lunch in the cafeteria.  Preschools may have taken children to the bathroom in groups, but kindergarteners need to be able to use the toilet independently.

Reilly suggests parents prepare their children for the increased independence of kindergarten by talking to them about these changes and easing up on things they may tend to do for them.  “Make sure they know their name. Make sure they can use the bathroom independently,” encourages Reilly. “Don’t walk them all the way to the classroom. Make sure they know where their lunch is and where their snack is.”

Remember, adjusting to life as – and with – a kindergartener won’t happen overnight.  “Don’t schedule a lot during the first few weeks after school,” urges Kaitly Betts, whose son started Pre-K at Lebanon Road last year.  “Give them time to get used to the schedule and new routine.”

“Be ready for what a huge change it is for them, logistically, emotionally, mentally, and socially and dig deep for patience with how cranky and tired they will be at first,” says Jennifer Stanley, whose daughter will be entering first grade this year at Bain.  “Mia went to preschool from age two, and I left her at the YMCA child watch, so she was used to being in social situations without me, but not for such long hours. She needed downtime. Eventually we added in dance and then soccer after school, which was a little intense, but she loved it and we made it work.”

Remember that kids will spend much more time sitting in kindergarten than they did in preschool.  “It can be hard to fit into the schedule with homework, getting dinner on the table, bedtime routines and all the other stuff that comes after school is out,” counsels Jackson, “but get those kids outside and let them RUN.”

And while the brand new world of kindergarten can be overwhelming, don’t forget about your kids’ pre-k life and friends.  “One thing that became really important to my daughter was her Friday play dates,” says Stanley. “The thing she missed most about pre-school life was MOMS Club and other friends to socialize with. She made friends at school, but recess is so short and the rest of the time is so structured that it’s not the same.”

One more thing that’s critical to success in kindergarten?  A good night’s rest. “That’s a big thing, making sure they get a good night’s sleep,” says Reilly, noting that today’s kindergarteners don’t get a nap.  “Kindergarten has changed over the years. When my kids went to kindergarten, they had a quiet time, a nap time,” she remembers.

And remember: it takes a village to raise and educate a child.  “Be a partner with the teacher,” says Reilly, who encourages parents to reinforce classroom rules and procedures at home.  “Go through their backpack right when you get home and they are snacking,” encourages mom of two Madeline Romeo. “At Bain they had a planner and it was how the teacher communicated with parents on various issues. Sometimes there was a folder,” says Stanely.  “Always something to look at! She really liked for me to look through each individual piece of classwork/art so she could tell me about it.”  

The transition to kindergarten can be overwhelming, but with patience and love – for your kids and yourself! – you can make it a great first year of school!

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Mary Beth Foster
Mary Beth Foster works part time as an essay specialist at Charlotte Latin School and full time as a mom to her five-year-old daughter Hannah and her two-year-old son Henry. Prior to having children, she worked as a high school English teacher for nine years. Most recently, she chaired the English department at Queen's Grant High School. She and her husband have lived in Mint Hill with their children and their cats since 2011. Email: