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Preparing your child for kindergarten?

July 30, 2014

Kindergarten is a big step in the life of a little person. Children are expected to get through their day with greater independence and meet academic standards. As an occupational therapist, I’d like to shed a little light on one of the “other skills” needed to be a great student.

Although the terms sensory processing or sensory integration have been around since the early 1970s, they’ve only recently become popular. If you haven’t heard a child described as “sensory” then chances are you probably will. So, let me explain. Sensory processing is something all of us do every day. It simply describes how our nervous system takes in all the sensory information in our world, processes and makes sense of it and then generates responses to help us adapt and function in our environment. This theory has been widely researched and is being used by occupational therapists in clinics and schools worldwide. My reason for telling you all of this is to let you know that as parents, we often prepare our children for academics but forget to ready them for the sensory world.

I’d like to highlight a few situations integral to the Kindergarten Day and give some tips to help your child be ready to learn and less overwhelmed in this new environment.

Circle Time - This is where your child will get a large part of their instruction. Students are required to sit still within the group and sustain their attention to the teacher. They have to be able to hold their attention on the teacher while sitting in a small, undefined space next to wiggly and sometimes noisy peers.
  • Take your child to story time at the library or local book store.
Independent Work and Centers - Instruction for these is often given verbally and demonstrated by the teacher in front of the whole class. Students are then expected to carry out the assignment working at a table on their own. While teachers will walk around and offer help, students are expected to complete the work by themselves. The student will have to sustain attention and listen to the directions, understand the expectations, remember each step, and then complete the assignment (often a worksheet) with the necessary supplies and within the time allotted- all this amongst the activity and noise of their peers. Whew!
  • Provide your child opportunities to practice at home by giving them a simple task within their skill level while you are close by but busy. Give them a picture to color, junk mail to cut into pieces, a few puzzles, or LEGOS to build while you cook or wash dishes. The task should be one they enjoy and within their skill level. Video games and iPad or tablet apps don’t count on this one. Have them complete their task without talking to you. Set a kitchen or sand timer so your child can see how much time they have left. Offer a reward- time with you is often the best. Give your child clear expectations such as “I’d like you to work quietly coloring this picture. When you’re finished, we can read a book together.” The first few times may be a bit exhausting but practice will help. Start with very small time expectations (even 30 seconds to 1 minute).The goal is for them to be successful so they can earn that reward you promised. Once they earn that reward a time or two, they can develop the motivation and confidence to work for longer periods of time. Try working up to 5-10 minutes.
Lunchroom - A lot has improved since we were kids but this is still an unchartered frontier for the Kindergartner. Cafeterias are often loud, you sit very closely together and you have to either manipulate the lunch line with its foreign foods and unfamiliar adults, or you have to open packages in various small containers.
  • Have fun packing a few picnics to share together. Make sure your child is able to successfully eat lunch on their own. See if there is anything you need to change so that they can be more independent. i.e. Reusable zippered lunch containers vs. toss out zip locked bags.
  • During the school day, build their confidence and lift their spirits by drawing a little picture on their napkin or sending in a special treat. Cutting their sandwich into fun shapes with cookie cutters makes a fun surprise.
Transitioning Home - After a long day at school kids are ready to be home. They are usually exhausted, hungry, and looking for attention from parents. A few sensory strategies can go a long way in helping your child unwind and prepare for a less stressful evening at home. Pick one or two of the following to try with your child:
  • Give them“jobs” that include pushing, pulling, and lifting such as pulling weeds, vacuuming, carrying grocery bags in to the house, pushing the laundry basket to the washer.
  • Have a race with animal walks such as crab walk, bear crawl, or wheelbarrow walking.
  • Set up a quiet area with a small pup tent or blankets placed over a table to make a little cave. Fill it with a bean bag or big pillows for a quiet place to read or listen to music.
If you’re interested in learning more, here are a few books that you might find helpful.

Sensational Kids by Lucy Jane Miller

The Out of Sync Child by Carol Stock Kranowitz

How does my Engine Run by Williams & Shellenberger