Next step: kindergarten

Starting kindergarten is an important milestone in a child’s life–and a parent’s as well! Whether your preschooler is starting kindergarten in two months or in two years, see how you can help get her excited, proud and happy about starting school!


A smooth transition to school life

It won’t be long before your preschooler starts kindergarten. In fact, she may even be starting this September. Is she ready for this big step?

By Nathalie Côté and Julie Leduc

It won’t be long before your preschooler starts kindergarten. In fact, she may even be starting this September. Is she ready for this big step?

Kindergarten is part of preschool and ensures a smooth transition from home or daycare to school. Kindergarten activities are based on play and aim to foster a child’s overall development. Dancing, puzzles and role-play are therefore part of the curriculum. Other, more academic activities may be included, but they too are presented as play. One of the goals of kindergarten is to prepare preschoolers for grade one. It’s only then that students formally learn to read, write and do arithmetic.

Many parents think that children need to know how to tie their shoelaces or write their name before they start kindergarten. Rest assured : it’s no big deal if your child is not there yet. Each child develops at their own pace. Between ages 4 and 5, your preschooler’s brain develops exponentially. Your child may suddenly develop great curiosity and a thirst for learning that wasn’t there a few weeks prior. “It’s not uncommon for a child to bridge the gap with other students in a few short months. It’s often a question of maturity,” explains Serge J. Larivée, Associate Dean in Research and Graduate Studies with the Faculty of Education at Université de Montréal.

Kindergarten teachers therefore observe where their young students are on their learning curve. “They then try to prepare them as much as possible for grade one,” he says. It’s a type of levelling so everyone can start grade one on the right foot.

In Quebec, according to the Quebec Survey of Child Development in Kindergarten conducted among 65,000 students, one kindergarten child in four faces some challenges in at least one aspect of their development. For example, a child may communicate orally with ease but find relations with others difficult. The teacher can help her improve this competency by organizing activities that include role-play. When teachers read stories to their students and teach them songs, they promote language development and pave the way for reading. In cases where teachers note more specific challenges, they may call in specialists such as speech therapists or resource teachers to help.

Getting ready for kindergarten

At home, it’s the little things you do every day that prepare your child for kindergarten. When you give her enough time to dress herself, your preschooler learns to be more independent; when she plays with her friends at the park on occasion, she learns to communicate with others; and when you measure ingredients for a recipe with her, you introduce her to math at the same time.

In kindergarten, learning occurs mostly through play.

It’s better to set aside time to have fun and talk with your child than to try to teach her specific things. “Get inspired by your child’s interests when she plays or when you do an activity together,” suggests Serge J. Larivée. For example, if your preschooler scribbles something and says she’s writing her name, use the moment to show her a few letters. But there’s no point in insisting if she refuses to do it or finds it too difficult. She simply may not be ready. Another opportunity will no doubt present itself later. Learning is a lot more effective when it’s fun.

School at 4 years old
In Quebec, there are two measures in place to promote the development of preschoolers to help them integrate school.
The Passe-Partout program. This program includes a series of 16 free sessions during the year preceding kindergarten. Usually, eight of these sessions are for both parents and children, and the other eight for children only. These meetings aim to provide a progressive and positive transition to school. If the program is not offered in your school, you can usually register in another. If you’re interested, contact your school or school board as the number of places may be limited.
Kindergarten at 4 years old. Some schools in disadvantaged neighbourhoods include full-time classes for 4-year-olds. The aim is to promote their overall development and prepare them for their first steps in learning. Registration priority may be given to children who live in a more disadvantaged sector, who have never been to daycare or who don’t speak French, for example.

Don’t do too much

As parents, it can be tempting to push our children to get a head start (e.g. knowing the whole alphabet) before entering kindergarten. However, if you insist too much on your preschooler learning certain things, she may get discouraged and lose motivation. She may even no longer want to go to school. Furthermore, stress may affect her sleep and give her headaches or stomach aches. If she’s too far ahead of the rest, she may also get bored in class or be less motivated in school.

Kindergarten and academic achievement
Children who like to learn and are enthusiastic about school from kindergarten have a higher chance of staying in school longer. It’s therefore important to encourage them! However, your preschooler’s skills in kindergarten do not indicate with any certainty how your child will perform later. Even if your child has learning disabilities, she can still succeed in school with the help of teachers and specialists.

A world to discover

Whether your child has attended daycare or not, starting kindergarten is an enormous change for her. She needs to get used to many new things. How can you prepare her for this experience?

Whether your child has attended daycare or not, starting kindergarten is an enormous change for her. She needs to get used to many new things. How can you prepare her for this experience?

When your child starts kindergarten, she has to adjust to a lot of new situations. For example, she needs to find her way around a large school, make new friends, get used to her teacher and figure out her lunch on her own. “But the hardest thing,” according to Maryse Courville, kindergarten teacher at École Saint-Eugène in Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, “is getting used to following the class rules within a group of 20 students. Even if some children have been in groups of 10 at daycare, the rules are stricter in kindergarten. Waiting times are also longer as there are more students. The children need to get used to waiting their turn to speak or be helped. I have to teach them to distinguish between what is urgent and what can wait.”

In kindergarten, children must face several challenges: learning to wait their turn, following group rules and becoming more independent.

Respecting others, sharing toys, taking their seat without pushing and asking for things nicely are other skills that preschoolers have to develop. “Just like learning class routines and understanding how a typical day unfolds,” adds the teacher. “At the beginning of the year, some children think it’s already time for lunch when it’s snack time.”

A typical day in kindergarten
Your child may find it reassuring to know how a typical day unfolds in kindergarten. If your child will attend the school daycare, it’s up to you to take her there in the mornings. Fifteen minutes before classes begin, the children in daycare usually go outside in the schoolyard to play with the other students arriving on foot or by bus. When the bell rings, all the students enter the school and head for their classrooms. They place their belongings in their lockers and put their lunch boxes in the assigned location. The teacher then takes attendance.
The day continues with various activities lasting 20 to 30 minutes each and usually unfolds as follows:
  • short discussion time
  • calendar and weather time (one or several students indicate the day of the week and today’s weather on a board)
  • group activity (e.g. rhyming game, playing with sounds found in words)
  • workshop (e.g. cutting, gluing, painting, playing with playdough, role-play, mathematical games)
  • recess
  • snack
  • story time
  • play time (e.g. an activity to get students moving)
  • lunch
  • relaxation
  • group activity (e.g. song, dance, miming game)
  • free play or workshops
  • departure for home or daycare

How to help your child

Here are a few tips to prepare your child for a positive first experience at school a few weeks before the school year begins.

Reassure your child.

“Take your child to the schoolyard to play,” says Anne-Marie Picard, director of the Comité régional pour la valorisation de l’éducation (Regional committee for the promotion of education). “That way he’ll get to know the location. The idea is to turn the unknown into something more familiar.” You can also describe to him what a typical day at kindergarten is like (see above table). “To reassure him, it’s important to tell him what time you’ll pick him up after school,” adds Maryse Courville. “And if he comes home by bus, tell him that there will always be someone there to meet him at his stop.”

Let your child play with other children.

Take your child to the park to socialize. “This will prepare him for group life,” says Maryse Courville. “He’ll get used to sharing and waiting his turn. He may even meet other children who’ll be in his class.” You can also go to the municipal pool or library, or participate in neighbourhood get-togethers. “By playing with other children, your preschooler will learn to take his place, respect others and settle small conflicts,” notes Anne-Marie Picard.

Set up a routine with rules to follow.

“Setting routines for your child, for example at bedtime, gets him used to following rules and instructions,” says Anne-Marie Picard. “Knowing what to expect also calms and reassures him.” A child who is used to a routine is more confident and collaborates better when the time comes to complete a task at school.

Encourage your child’s independence.

It’s a good idea to get your child used to doing things on his own, like getting dressed or going to the toilet, even if it takes a little longer. You’ll also benefit from giving him small responsibilities, like hanging up his coat and putting his toys away.

Teaching your child how to do certain things rather than doing them for him is also good. “Showing him how to close and open a zipper may take some time,” notes Maryse Courville. “Sometimes it can take up to 10 tries before he gets it. But you should encourage your child to practice until he can do it and most importantly, congratulate him on his effort.”

These little acts can help your child feel more at ease in kindergarten. If he can do several things on his own, he won’t always be waiting for his teacher’s help. He’ll be more confident and proud of himself. Plus, if he’s used to sharing and waiting his turn, he’ll have fewer frustrating moments. He’ll also be more open to learning new things if he’s not stressed.

Children adjust to kindergarten at their own speed, depending on their personality. “Some are comfortable after a few days, whereas for others it takes a few weeks,” says Maryse Courville. “But generally speaking they all end up adapting after two months.” You can tell if your child is happy at school if he wants to go and if he talks to you about his friends, his teacher and what he does in class.

Enjoying school

You have a role to play in helping your child enjoy school. You can instil in him a thirst for learning every day.

You have a role to play in helping your child enjoy school. You can instil in him a thirst for learning every day.

Kindergarten marks the start of your child’s grand adventure at school. It’s therefore important that this first experience be a positive one. “If your child feels comfortable in kindergarten, he’ll have a better impression of school and feel more confident about his ability to succeed there,” says Anne-Marie Picard, director of the Comité régional pour la valorisation de l’éducation (Regional committee for the promotion of education). “If the transition to kindergarten goes smoothly, the child has greater chances of staying motivated and performing well throughout elementary and even high school.”

Your actions and words have a huge influence on your child. See what you can do every day to nurture his thirst for learning and help him enjoy going to school:

Be loving and attentive. Quickly responding to your preschooler’s needs and questions, taking the time to listen to him and showing an interest in what he’s doing are all actions that build confidence. They instil in him a desire to explore and learn more.

Read stories to your child. This develops his vocabulary and gets him to look forward to learning to read. This is important since reading will serve him well in all subjects taught in school.

Encourage your child to ask questions. This sparks his curiosity. You should also encourage your child to look for the answers with you on the Internet or at the library. The desire to understand things fosters academic motivation.

Get your child to speak often. You can ask your preschooler what he did at daycare, if he has any ideas about how to settle a little problem, or what he would do if he were the character in a story. This will get him used to reflecting on things and saying what he thinks about them.

Talk positively about the school. You can tell him that he’ll have fun at school, that he’ll make new friends and learn all sorts of things, so that he looks forward to going.

When you read stories to your child, encourage him to ask questions and look for answers with you to foster his interest in learning.

If you don’t have happy memories of school, it may be difficult for you to speak positively about it. “But you shouldn’t imagine that your child’s experience will be the same as yours,” insists kindergarten teacher Maryse Courville. “You need to believe in your child’s ability to succeed.” It’s best not to share your unhappy memories with your child. Without even having set foot in the classroom, he might start thinking that school is not a nice place and that he won’t like it there. Instead, you can tell your child that you’re proud to see him all grown up and ready to start school. By going to parent-teacher meetings and activities, you’ll see how things are run. “This may help you reconcile with school,” the teacher adds.

My child doesn’t want to go to school
It’s important that the child understands he has to go to school–now that he’s reached this step, it’s non-negotiable. “The cause for this refusal is often stress and fear of the unknown,” explains Maryse Courville. “Ask your child questions to try to understand what’s worrying him in order to reassure him. During the first few days, it’s often possible to accompany your child directly to the classroom. The teacher can help you reassure him.” If your child no longer wants to go to school after a few days or weeks, you need to try to understand the cause. “Don’t delay in talking to his teacher about it. She can help you find a solution.” 

Tips from the pros

What can you do to make the first few days of school a positive experience for your child? How can you get organized at home to set up good habits? Parents and kindergarten teachers share their tips.

What can you do to make the first few days of school a positive experience for your child? How can you get organized at home to set up good habits? Parents and kindergarten teachers share their tips.

To prepare them. . .

“Your child can bring a stuffed animal, blanket or picture of you to class for reassurance. Most teachers let the children do this for the first few weeks.”

Annie Lamontagne, teacher, École de la Passerelle, Chambly

“Before school started, we read Luca stories that took place at school because he was worried. We also got in the habit of talking about his days when he got home from school to see what was going well and what wasn’t.”

Carolina Da Fonte, mother to Luca (5 years old), Longueuil

“On the first day of school, even if you’re feeling emotional, try not to cry in front of your child so as not to worry her. If your child cries because she doesn’t want you to leave, you need to let her go with her teacher just the same. The tears never last long.”

Patrick Simard, teacher, École Monseigneur-Forget, Longueuil

“Rafaëlle was afraid of not making friends in kindergarten, but everything turned out fine. I think it’s because we put more effort into showing him how to get along with others rather than teaching him how to write and count.”

Billy Riendeau, father to Rafaëlle (5 years old), Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu

“Remember to put your child to bed early. There’s no naptime in kindergarten, so she’ll be tired at night.”

Micheline Leclerc, teacher, École La Présentation, La Présentation

To get organized. . .

“In the mornings, we put bread, cereal, and pre-washed or cut fruit on the table. Our four children then prepare their own breakfast. We’re there if they need us, but they usually manage on their own.”

Martin Morissette, father to Thierry (8 years old), Yoann (7 years old), Éloïse (5 years old) and Clara (4 years old), Lévis

“To make things go faster in the mornings, we put out what our daughter will wear the night before. If at the last minute, she decides she wants to wear something else, I let her. As long as it’s comfortable and suitable for the season, I don’t mind.”

Alain Saint-Jacques, father to Sandrine (5 years old), Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu

“I put my daughter to bed early enough for her to wake up naturally on her own and stress-free around 6 a.m.”

Fedwa Lahlou, mother to Mayssa (5 years old), Longueuil

“I have two containers in the fridge: one for snacks and desserts, and the other for ready-made meals like sandwiches. The goal is for my son to put his meal, yogurt, snack and drink in his lunch box on his own.”

Dominique Bernèche, mother to Louis (5 years old), Saint-Gabriel-de-Brandon

Comments collected by Nathalie Côté and Catherine Mainville-M.

  • The things you do every day with your child are an excellent way to prepare her for school.
  • Giving your child opportunities to play with others and encouraging her to do some things on her own prepares her for kindergarten.
  • In kindergarten, learning occurs mainly through play. The year serves to level students so everyone can start grade one on the right foot.
  • Talking positively about the school makes your child want to go and promotes academic achievement.


Naître et grandir

Source : Naître et grandir magazine, July-August 2016
Research and copywriting : Nathalie Côté and Julie Leduc
Scientific Review : Maryse Rondeau, Kindergarten Teacher and Chair of the Association d’éducation préscolaire du Québec Board of Directors


Photos : Nicolas St-Germain