All children starting Kindergarten and particularly those with special needs benefit from additional assistance in making their first transition to "big kid" school even if they are experienced preschoolers. When it comes to your special needs preschooler, there are major advantages to easing into preschool and kindergarten.
Gina Maranga, director of program operations at the Block Institute, recognizes that the start of kindergarten adds to the routine anxiety associated with a new school year for both children and parents, especially when special needs are involved.
"Children moving from preschool or day care to kindergarten experience extra-anxiety, in part as the child transitions from a known and familiar school to a new school, more so from preschool to "big kid" school, and sometimes from a special education to a mainstream setting," Maranga notes. "There are easy steps that parents can follow through the summer and before the school year that can make the transition less stressful and start the year off right for children and parents."
1. Even during summer vacation, parents can introduce the concept of "structured" day, consistent with their preschool experience. Have scheduled times for specific activities including fine motor (playing with blocks, sand box, coloring, puzzles), gross motor (climbing, bicycling, running, playground time), cognitive and language (reading, word games, puzzles) as well as social/emotional time playing with friends in small groups.
2. Parents should encourage sustained attention to tasks and activities for 15 to 30 minute intervals. If a child can't sustain their attention, try to work up to the goal in 3-5 minute increments. Reward success with verbal praise, stars on a chart or special play privileges such as picking their next activity.
3. Encourage social interaction with peers such as play dates centered around specific activities or group play at the playground.
4. Introduce and reinforce pre-academic skills - colors, shapes, letters, weather, clothing, children's songs ("Wheels on the bus", "Itsy-bitsy Spider", etc.).
5. Incorporate story time every day with parents and caretakers reading to their child. Summer reading clubs at public libraries are a great opportunity to engage and reward children in active reading.
6. Incorporate reading time, quiet time for a child to "read" books on their own every day.
7. Encourage the child to separate from the parent/caretaker through play dates, play groups. Start with small blocks of time and build up to several hours if possible.
8. Encourage independence at whatever level child can function, such as eating, dressing, toileting, and washing hands.
9. Play "school" at home and enlist the help of big brothers and sisters or neighborhood kids to make the "class" fun and more realistic from their personal experiences.
10. Meet teacher and visit your child's new school before school starts. Schools are very accommodating to allow children with special needs or simply those who are anxious to see the room, find their way to the bathroom or through the halls, to the cafeteria, playground, gym, auditorium or school library.
11. Involve your child in preparing for start of school in activities such as shopping for new school clothes, supplies, etc.
12. As September approaches involve child in a countdown to the first day. A summer craft project can be to fill in a school starts soon calendar to cross of the days.
13. Talk to your child about what to expect - well in advance and often.
14. Create a picture book together. Draw or clip out pictures of a school bus, school, classroom, teacher, etc. After the first day of school talk about what is similar and what's different.
15. For children who will be leaving special education preschool to be educated in mainstream settings, prepare a one-page summary of your child's significant needs, key strengths and weaknesses, unique behaviors or effective management tools. It will help a teacher who needs to learn about an entire class and to get through some detailed files on special needs students.
Parents need to understand that as a child moves from preschool to kindergarten, and perhaps into mainstream education settings, contact with teachers and therapists often becomes less frequent. This is a sign of progress, not a loss of control.
"Starting Kindergarten is not just about the start of a new year, but the start of a child's "official" education process. It can be both exciting and stressful and it's important for parents to remember," adds Maranga. "Progress for all children, particularly special needs children, is often measured in different ways. Celebrate each of your child's successes in meeting the challenge of a new school and learning environment. Take lots of pictures and capture the progress and in twelve years you'll be amazed to look back and reflect on the journey."
The Block Institute is a not-for-profit, non-sectarian agency serving developmentally delayed children and adults. The education program services children aged three months to nine years old both with and without developmental delays in an integrated setting. The adult programs include on- and off-site residences, adult day, clinic and vocational programs.