When parents think about life in the kindergarten classroom, they often picture story time, with kids enthralled by the teacher’s animation. Or math, with the teacher kneeling at a child’s side to help her arrange a set of blocks.
But while most parents are hard-pressed to admit it, the thought of how their child’s behavior will fit into this picture-perfect scene can be anxiety producing. The truth is that even for the most consistently well-behaved child, the changes that are brought about during the transition into kindergarten can cause difficult behavior. If thoughts like these are keeping you up at night, relax. With the help of your child’s teacher and a consistent classroom environment, a well-prepared child will will meet the expectations of kindergarten.
Just what are those expectations? Teachers differ in what they expect. But here are some examples of behaviors that are sure to earn your child a gold star in his class:
- He can follow the lead of a teacher, and will honor the requests of authority figures.
- She treats people and materials with respect.
- He understands that there are class rules, and he follows them.
- She knows that hurting someone physically or emotionally is unacceptable.
- He has an awareness of time, and can distinguish between work time and play time.
- She can follow two or three unrelated directions at a time.
- He can listen attentively for an appropriate amount of time.
- She knows how to take turns, share, and work in a cooperative environment.
- He takes on self-responsibility with toileting and mealtime needs.
- She does her best at all times.
If you checked off each expectation without a second thought, then you’re in the clear. If you stumbled on a few, not to worry. While teachers hope that students come to kindergarten with all of these behaviors in place, they also realize that the development of these behaviors happens at different times for each child. A great teacher will recognize areas of need quickly, and keep in communication about behavioral progress. Dr. Meera Mani, Research Director for Preschool California says that a parent’s role in helping behavioral success is to “know their child well, and keep in close contact with the teacher.” Often, behavior breakthroughs don’t occur until springtime of the kindergarten year.
As the school year begins though, make sure that your child is ready to put his best foot forward. How much rest your child gets and what he's eaten can directly affect his behavior. In order for students to be on their behavioral marks, these healthy routines should be established before kids take their first steps onto the schoolyard. “Make sure they are well rested, well fed and have a sense of routine,” says Mani. Encourage appropriate social and communicative behaviors. A child's ability to talk to adults about her needs and convey frustrations in a calm way, shows she's ready to thrive in a school environment. A child’s level of interest in working and playing with peers is also a predictor of kindergarten readiness, along with her ability to work independently. And of course there is the ever-important direction-following piece. According to Mani, your child’s ability to follow directions and follow the teacher’s lead can strongly influence her level of behavioral success.
Most of all, make sure that you point out great behavior when your child displays it. Discourage whining. Set small goals for your little one, and reward him when he makes you proud. Behavioral success in school usually goes hand-in-hand with academic success, so it's a hugely important skill. But at this age, appropriate behavior really depends on the steps that you’ve taken to keep your child's body healthy and her mind sound, as well as to prepare her by setting your own behavioral expectations. It all comes down to helping your child achieve a balance of “mind, body, and heart,” Mani says. And you can help.