The big march outside the backyard

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

ARMED with Peanuts pencil boxes, peanut butter sandwiches, and the usual off-to-school paraphernalia, more than 2.6 million youngsters will parade off to kindergarten for the first time this fall. Are they ready for that big march outside their own backyard? Much depends on parent preparation.

Naturally, you've taught your child his full name, your full name, and his address. Phone number, too, including the area code. What more? Consider these tips.

Since some small children are afraid of getting lost, make sure yours knows exactly how to get to school and back. If he will be walking, escort him through a trial run each day or evening for a week or two before classes start. Begin by taking him, and as time passes, let him ``take you.'' Call attention to street names and safety rules along the way, and if you know where a crossing guard will be posted, make sure your child knows that he can go to her for help, if necessary.

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If your youngster will be transported to school by carpool or bus, make similar preparations. Be sure he knows the time and location of his pickup point (and how he is to behave on board).

After school begins, continue to escort your child to the building or bus stop for a while, but hang back a little more each day. You'll know when his self-confidence has grown to meet the where-to-go challenge. He'll no longer need you then, so stay home.

If you can, visit the school before classes start. Call ahead and ask if you can stop by the main office, wander through a few halls, locate both bathrooms and exits. This gives your youngster a jump on acquiring that ``at home'' feeling.

Even if your child has already met his teacher, it's usually permissible to reintroduce them on the first day. Then leave! Staying around only promotes trembling lips and clinging. Make your exit with a bright ``See you in a little while.''

Let your child select his own supplies from the list that's often provided by the school in advance. Going to school with one's very own pencil case or a special box of crayons makes a youngster eager to get the learning process under way.

Listen to your child's comments about classmates and determine which ones he enjoys. As soon as possible, invite a friend to lunch or for playtime after school. At first, it's best to have one guest at a time. This one-to-one experience with a new friend helps to increase his sense of belonging in the classroom.

If your child seems unhappy about the school experience after the first few weeks have passed, take action. Don't wait for the scheduled parent-teacher conference; instead, make an appointment to talk with the teacher right away. By comparing notes, you can probably catch the problem and remedy it immediately.

It's important that your child be aware of ways to protect himself if he is ever threatened by an adult. Encourage him to stay in a group when traveling, playing, or on a field trip. Caution him against talking to or accepting anything from a stranger or getting into any car without your permission. Some families share a ``secret password'' which must be mentioned if messages or rides are sent; without this password, a youngster knows the bearer is suspicious, and a trusted adult should be

notified.

Finally, maintain a warm and supportive home environment so your child knows he may discuss anything that's troubling him.

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