The start of the new year may seem early to start thinking about the first day of school, but for families with children entering kindergarten next school year, it’s not too soon to get ready. In fact, many schools hold their kindergarten registration events beginning this month.

In 2021, discussions about virtual learning vs. onsite classrooms also are a factor for families preparing their child for their first year of elementary school. The first step is for parents to contact their local school for kindergarten registration information.

Then, at home, no matter what back-to-school situation families may face there are things families can do to help their child be successful on the first day of kindergarten. First Things First (FTF), Arizona’s early childhood agency, has resources to help parents and caregivers online on the FTF Kindergarten Readiness page, found at www.firstthingsfirst.org/resources/kindergarten-readiness.

Below are some tips from FTF to help ease your preschooler’s transition to kindergarten:

• Read with your child at least 20 minutes per day. This can be done by having short reading sessions throughout the day to add up to 20 minutes total, which can help with shorter attention spans. Try books that repeat words; involve activities like counting, identifying colors, objects or letters; or, are about things your child likes. Ask questions like, “What do you think happens next?”

• Talk with your child everywhere – at home, in the car, at the store. Have real conversations with your preschooler. Make up stories or songs about your outings.

• Writing begins with scribbling. Give your child safe writing tools to play with, like crayons, chalk or markers and blank paper. Ask your child to tell you about their drawings. Also, writing requires fine motor strength. Your child can build hand strength by playing with play dough.

• Teach your child how to use the bathroom by themselves, to wash their hands after going to the bathroom and before eating, to blow their nose and sneeze into their elbow.

• Since preschoolers may be in places where cloth face coverings are required, help them get used to wearing them. The American Academy of Pediatrics offers reassurance that mask wearing becomes routine when reinforced by adults and peers, just like wearing a bicycle helmet and buckling into their car seats.

Even if you don’t have kindergarteners this year, it’s never too early to start helping kids prepare. Children who have positive early childhood experiences tend to score higher on school readiness assessments and are more likely to do well in school and graduate.

By turning everyday moments into learning moments, we can send our young kids to school with the skills and confidence that will help them succeed in kindergarten and beyond.

(Padilla is regional director of the Santa Cruz Regional Partnership Council for First Things First, a statewide organization that funds early education and health programs to help kids be successful once they enter kindergarten.)

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