Newswise — TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The first day of kindergarten can provoke feelings of anxiety and fear in both children and their parents, but there are numerous ways to help make the transition one of excitement and joy rather than trepidation, said one University of Alabama child-care professional. Children might feel anxious about moving on to kindergarten because they are worried they will not know anyone, they might not like their teacher, they might get lost in a new building or they will not know how to do the work, said Robin Hollingsworth, director of the Child Development Research Center’s children’s program, a part of the College of Human Environmental Sciences’ department of human development and family studies. And, it does not stop with just the child’s fears. Parents have their own concerns, which is to be expected, because it is also a new experience for them, Hollingsworth said. But, a parent’s anxiety “always translates to their child,” she said. “Children are amazing at reading people,” Hollingsworth said. “That’s why, when families are going through a crisis or divorce or other major stressful times, it’s very hard for the children,” she said. ”There’s nothing worse than seeing mom and dad upset.” The more parents can know about the school and what to expect, the easier it will be to help prepare their child. Parents should get to know the school principal and the kindergarten teacher; learn about the school policies and preferred method of communication; find out about after-school programs and volunteer opportunities; and decide how their child will get to school. “Thinking about these things in advance, having a plan and then making sure your child knows that plan is very important,” Hollingsworth said. Parents can also spend the summer months ensuring their child knows what to expect. For children who have not yet been in a structured environment, the routine of kindergarten could be a little daunting. Simple things like walking in a line, using a bathroom with stalls, entering a lunch room number into a machine and opening a milk carton might seem fairly simple tasks, but for a child who has never had to do them before, it might be terrifying. Parents can help alleviate those anxieties by talking to their children about what to expect. They can visit the school over the summer, identify some friends that may be going to the same school, set up play dates and make a calendar counting down the days until school starts. Another important factor is going over the child’s daily routine. “Just knowing what will happen on a daily basis provides a sense of security for children,” Hollingsworth said. There is a long list of things that children should be able to do by the time they enter kindergarten, and most of those involve a child’s social and emotional development, Hollingsworth said. Research shows that children should be able to verbally communicate their thoughts, get along in a group, listen well and be enthusiastic and intellectually curious — those are true indicators of a child’s success in school, she added. There are academic standards, and those vary from school to school, but parents can still help ensure their child is prepared for the academic aspect of kindergarten. “Let them set the table and count out the forks and napkins,” Hollingsworth said. “Give them some responsibilities at home, whether it’s folding clothes or picking up their own toys. And if you’re not reading to your child, you should definitely be doing that. Talk about the different parts of a book, and let your child anticipate what comes next. Help them understand reading comprehension. Also, make sure they have access to materials so they can write and draw pictures.” There are many resources available for parents, through Internet sites, the individual schools and various educational organizations. The key is helping families find and access that information. “The most important thing you can do is just be proactive,” Hollingsworth said.

Register for reporter access to contact details