School's Out! Here's How to Keep Your Preschooler Busy Until Kindergarten Starts
With most school milestones, it's usually not the children who are freaking out. It's the parents. That's especially true of the journey from preschool to kindergarten and the uncharted waters of elementary school.
To ease that transition, the L.A. County Office of Education (LACOE) recently held their first-ever conference focused on just that.
There are a lot of changes for little ones to process during this time -- bigger class sizes, longer days, no more naptime and usually less communication between teachers and parents.
It's also the time when kids can see an initial boost in academic performance, but those benefits can fade out in later grades.
LACOE's Superintendent Debra Duardo hoped the conference would bring parents, educators and administrators together to extend those academic benefits.
"We do all this work to get them ready, and we realized we need to do a better job working with the districts that we're handing these students off to," Duardo said.
One of the workshops offered focused on what parents need to know about the summer before kindergarten. Below are a few tips LACOE offered to keep children stimulated to avoid the "summer slide."
1. TALK TO YOUR KID
Children are born scientists. Use day-to-day interactions, whether in the kitchen, playground or at the beach, to facilitate learning and observation. "Wow! Look at these tomatoes! What color are they?" "How does the sand feel to you?" "I wonder what the (insert animal) likes to eat?"
2. FOCUS ON EMOTION
Social and emotional skills are just as key as the ABCs. Practice expressing feelings in healthy ways, taking turns and expressing empathy with others.
3. MAKE A SUMMER READING LIST
Strive for 20 minutes of reading each day. It doesn't have to be all at once. Stretch it out during snack time, bed time and car time. At the end of story, ask questions like: What was your favorite part of the story? Does it remind you of any other stories? What are we going to read next time? Plus there are a lot of books you can read specifically about getting ready to go to kindergarten.
4. GET OUT OF THE HOUSE
Planning outings to museums is a great way to make learning fun and encourage physical development and play. It's also a great way to get out and explore this expansive county.
Parents, we realize you may not be on summer break and may be just as busy now as they rest of the year. So here are some ideas to get you started. (Maybe on weekends?)
- There are tons of libraries that offer regular storytimes! Los Angeles Public Library, L.A. County library, and libraries in the cities of Pasadena, Long Beach, Santa Monica and many more. Find your local library here. That way you can already check off half of the tips on this list in one go.
- The all-new Cayton Children's Museum (formerly the Zimmer Children's Museum) will open in downtown Santa Monica on June 29. The facility will feature hands-on exhibits and a calendar of arts and cultural opportunities for children ages 0-10, seven days a week.
- Kidspace Museum in Pasadena is designed for children under 10 and their caregivers, It has nearly 3.5 acres of interactive environments -- from climbing structures to water play.
- Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach has 11,000 animal exhibits and lots of opportunities for children to see (and sometimes touch!) them up close. Great opportunity to spark curiosity about the ocean we all live next to.
- California Science Center in Exposition Park is right off Metro's Expo line and has discovery rooms for children ages 7 and under to get them curious about science later in life.
WHY THE FOCUS ON THE TRANSITION FROM PRESCHOOL TO KINDERGARTEN?
"It's been a concern for as long as I've been in the field," said Steve Barnett, senior co-director of the National Institute for Early Education Research.
Research shows there's "a tendency for parents to think, 'Now that my child's in school, I turn the responsibility over to them,'" Barnett said.
So a big part of the solution is giving parents more agency in that adjustment -- creating a two-way street where teachers loop in parents and parents know they are still needed.
Elementary school teachers can help ease the process for parents by doing things like sending home updates and informing parents of ways they can get involved, like open houses, clubs and field trips.
The fact that L.A. County, which is larger than 42 other states, is starting this conversation is significant. This year's conference was the first of its kind for LACOE, and possibly any other large educational agency. More than 500 people attended.
The target audience was parents and teachers involved in Head Start. In addition to preschool learning, the federally-funded program offers developmental screenings, dental care, parent engagement programs and many other services that might disappear in kindergarten.
There are roughly 100,000 California children in Head Start and a quarter of them are in L.A. County. Next fall, thousands of them will feed out into kindergarten classrooms in 75 school districts in the county.
Ultimately, LACOE wants to move beyond just symposiums and workshops and continue to elevate the conversation. Administrators want to create toolkits preschool teachers, kindergarten teachers and parents.
In the meantime, here's an adorable video from the federal Office of Head Start on what the transition is like from the perspective of a child.
This story also ran on the radio. Listen here.