A child’s first-ever day of school can be emotional in more ways than one. The child might be crying, the parent might be emotional, and the whole process can seem confusing. Whether your child is entering preschool or kindergarten, they are transitioning into a very transformative and important time in their educational lives.
Dr. Oneith Cadiz, a general pediatrician at the University of Miami Health System, says that parents’ concerns are often in regards to the curriculum of the school, qualifications of staff members, safety of the children and whether preschool is right for a child. While these are all completely valid questions, she says that a child’s education begins right at infancy, or even before. It’s up to parents to make sure they are emotionally and physically ready to enter into the school world.
Nancy Gomez, a special education preschool teacher at Palmetto Elementary in Pinecrest, says that it is crucial that parents keep a positive attitude about school. The whole family should have a good outlook to ensure the child succeeds.
Cadiz and Gomez answer common questions parents have as they prepare to send their child to pre-K or kindergarten for the first time.
▪ Are children who go to preschool more ready for kindergarten?
It really depends on the child’s situation at home. If they are coming from an enriching, engaging home environment where parents offer plenty of social and interactive experiences such as taking them to museums or zoos, it’s equivalent to what they would learn in preschool, Cadiz said. In regard to separation anxiety, she said that it will happen no matter the age. In a well-adjusted child, it should resolve itself within a couple of days.
▪ Is there a set of skills that a child should know before entering preschool or kindergarten?
Not necessarily. One of the most important things children learn in preschool is socialization, Gomez said. In preschool, a child typically learns how to get along with their peers. They also extend their attention span so they can pay attention while the teacher is reading a story or teaching a lesson. Some kids are coming from households where they are the center of the world, Gomez said. “The most important thing is learning to get along.”
Years ago, it was more common for kids to go straight to kindergarten without receiving a preschool education. Now, kids might have more pre-reading and number skills because they go to pre-K. While this is becoming more common, the most important skills learned in preschool are often those pertaining to socialization, Gomez said.
▪ How can I emotionally prepare my child for their first ever day at school?
The best way to prepare your child is to reassure them that you will be there to pick them up when the school day is over. Remind them that you will be at the door of the school or at the carpool to pick them up, Gomez said. She also recommends reassuring them that the teacher will treat them well and that they will make new friends. Constant reassurance is key, Gomez said.
▪ There is often confusion about what age is right to start a child at school. What would you recommend?
Age has very little to do with it, Cadiz said. It’s based more on the development and socialization of the child. They need to be getting mental stimulation at home, as well as good nutrition, an adequate routine, and consistency in schedule. Kindergarten is more education-focused, so it’s up to the parents to decide if they want to hold off another year if they’re not seeing emotional and social development yet, she said.
▪ How can I tell if my child is happy in school?
No matter the age of the child, it’s always difficult to ask general questions like, “What did you learn?” Gomez recommends asking your child questions about who they sat next to and who the funniest person in class was that day. Cadiz encourages parents to monitor their child’s opinions about going to school. If separation anxiety persists beyond two weeks, it could be an issue. Additionally, if the child expresses fear of the teacher, begins acting out, or experiences sudden sleep disturbances, it could be triggered by a problem at school, she said.
▪ What are other signs that my child is not thriving in school?
The child should enjoy reading and playing with games, colors, and shapes, Cadiz said. Especially in early education, learning should be as fun as possible for children, Gomez said. If the child is anxious to go back, or if you have any other concerns, it is important to keep an open line of communication with your teacher. It’s important to know that a child might feel some discomfort when they are suddenly surrounded by a group of kids, but if you have further questions, talk to the teacher, Gomez said.
▪ How do I know if my child needs any sort of extra help in school?
At this age, it’s hard to tell. Kids don’t learn at the same time or pace, especially in early education. The only way to truly know is testing, Gomez said. It’s important to keep up with the developmental milestones that children need to achieve. Additionally, so much homework assigned today is completed online. Parents should monitor whether their child is able to keep pace with it, she said.
“A lot of the time, if children are struggling with something, they will say, ‘I hate math,’ or ‘I hate reading,’ ” she said. “It’s important to address these concerns to the teacher.”
▪ What can I do to help my child succeed in their early education?
Parents need to be positive about school, Gomez said. Children thrive on routine, and a schedule at home is extremely important. Making sure the child gets a good night’s sleep and eats breakfast before school is crucial. She urges parents to relay to their child how much they loved school. Making negative comments about school, even if it’s just a complaint about waking up early to go, can have negative effects on the child’s outlook.
▪ My family speaks a language other than English at home. Is this OK?
In Miami, families often place their children in a Spanish-speaking daycare. Children then aren’t exposed to English until they enter kindergarten. Unless there’s already a language or speaking issue, this is when specific recommendations are made about which language to use. Most commonly, speech therapy is given in English to reinforce that language.
“Other than that, continue using your native language at home because at that age they are absorbing so much,” Cadiz said. “They will be introduced to English at school and should pick it up right away.”
Cadiz recommends that, in a case where there are multiple languages spoken at home, use one language per person. For example, mom can speak in Spanish, dad can speak in French.
▪ What should I do if my child cries when I drop them off?
Gomez recommends making eye contact with the teacher, and ask them what they should do. Usually, the best thing to do is give them a kiss and one last hug, and then tell them you’ll be back later.
“As bad as it sounds, don’t feed into it,” Gomez said.