The developmental pediatrics and rehabilitation team at Ron Joyce Children’s Health Centre led a virtual workshop that helped ease the nerves of parents whose children are starting kindergarten this fall. Now, Holden and his mom, Rachel (left), are ready to bring on the new school year.

Ready for kindergarten?

Like many parents of kindergarten-aged kids, Rachel was feeling anxious about her child’s first day of school this fall.

“Holden is excited for junior kindergarten, but I’m not sure he fully understands that he’ll no longer be going to daycare,” says Rachel. “Even though he’s been enjoying books about getting ready for big-kid school, he’s always been a bit nervous with change.”

After receiving information from their daycare provider about the McMaster Children’s Hospital Kindergarten Prep Workshop, Rachel decided to register for the virtual workshop held at the Ron Joyce Children’s Health Centre (RJCHC). The workshop is offered several times throughout the summer months. Both McMaster Children’s Hospital and RJCHC are part of Hamilton Health Sciences.

“Recognizing that this is a big transition that occurs every year, we decided that an interactive workshop would be a helpful way to share information and build capacity.”

HHS occupational therapists Victoria DiGiovanni (left) and Ali Rawling (right).

Launched in 2021, the workshop provides tips and tricks for parents needing help with children transitioning to kindergarten.

Victoria DiGiovanni, an occupational therapist with the Special Needs Resourcing team within Developmental Pediatrics and Rehabilitation at RJCHC, is part of the team that runs the workshops.

“We focus on skills and practical strategies that are important for the move to kindergarten, including dressing independence, toileting, self-feeding and fine motor skills,” she says.

Parent participants were also welcome to share their experiences with the group and offer strategies that were working for them.

Smoothing the way

Children sometimes struggle with the idea of leaving daycare and parents worry about how their child will transition into a new routine, in a new location with new friends.

Resource consultants from Community Living Hamilton got in touch with the RJCHC team to let them know that many parents and caregivers were asking for resources to support their child’s transition to kindergarten in the fall. “Recognizing that this is a big transition that occurs every year, we decided that an interactive workshop would be a helpful way to share information and build capacity,” says Ali Rawling, one of the occupational therapists at RJCHC who helped lead the workshop alongside DiGiovanni.

Rachel says that Holden loves his daycare, but even after being there since he was 12 months old, he still has days where he’s very upset at drop-off about being separated from his mom. “That’s also one of the reasons we signed up for the workshop, so we could try any ideas for getting him used to the routine before actually starting school,” she says.

Gearing up for independence

One of the challenges Holden faced was doing things on his own, like getting ready for the day. “He refused to try getting dressed on his own and just stated that he couldn’t do it and needed help every time,” says Rachel. “We wanted some ideas since we know kindergarten teachers don’t have time to dress 25 kids.”

Starting school can be nerve-wracking for both children and parents. Attending the workshop helped Holden and Rachel prepare for their kindergarten start.

The RJCHC team offered insights on how to build Holden’s independence, and essentially get him ready for school. One of the strategies suggested was backward chaining, which means breaking down the task into smaller steps, giving the child a chance to try first, and then working from that step until the child is able to complete the task independently.

“Now, Holden attempts to dress himself all on his own,” says Rachel. “In the last week, he has successfully dressed himself three times. It’s a great step in the right direction.”

What do you really need to know before your child goes into JK?

Rachel was curious about what else Holden needed to know in preparation for the transition, particularly in terms of using the bathroom and writing. “As Holden is our first child, I was curious about what he needed to know and not know,” says Rachel. “Things like his comfort in using the bathroom, and his writing skills were things I worried about. I wanted to learn more on how to prepare him the best we could.”

“The team helped us set our minds at ease about a lot of things.”

Instead of writing on paper, the team suggested other fun activities that use small muscles of the hands and fingers such as opening a container to access a favourite food, water play with scoops, finger painting, and beading since such activities are building blocks for writing skills.

“The team helped us set our minds at ease about a lot of things,” says Rachel. “They helped us ease the pressure felt by our son too. I think because of the more relaxed tone developed through the workshop, he’s now predominantly using the washroom alone from start to finish with only a little help required, and he’s proud of being able to do more things on his own.”

Finding the fun and preparing where you can

The team offered ways to make building independence fun for Holden. “We encourage parents and caregivers to let their children try first and then build off of what they are already doing and provide lots of positive feedback,” says Rawling.

Holden is all set as he begins his first year of kindergarten.

Meanwhile, a piece of advice Rachel offers to other families is practice, practice, practice. “I’ve had my son eating out of his lunch boxes and snack containers as often as we can so he learns how to open and close them on his own,” she says. “These last couple of weeks we’ve also been driving past his school every morning before daycare so he gets more familiar with the new route. Things like this will hopefully ease him into the transition.”

It’s also important to get the right information because lots of conflicting advice is out there.

“This workshop breaks down some of the misconceptions about kindergarten readiness and gives families a sense of confidence, as well as some practical strategies to try before the September start,” says DiGiovanni.

Rachel experienced misinformation first-hand before taking part in the workshop.  “Some of the information we were given via word of mouth or read online about JK was not true, and the team made sure we had all the right information which made us much more relaxed.”

Milestones worth celebrating, not stressing

As busy as the first day of school can be, it’s also an exciting milestone to celebrate with your children. “Kindergarten is a great place to develop many of your child’s life skills,” says Rawling. “These will develop over time and with regular practice.”

To learn more about other upcoming workshops, visit our Family Resources section on the HHS website.