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Parents’ advice on transitioning to Kindergarten

August 31, 2012

This is a collection of advice offered to a mom whose daughter is having trouble getting comfortable in her Mandarin immersion Kindergarten. It might be useful to other parents as well:

The original request:

I found your group in a desperate search for some advice of some kind.  My child just started Mandarin Immersion Kindergarten and is having a rough time with the transition.  We had a good first week but now are in the beginning of week 3 and it is getting harder instead of easier.  She does not want to go to school (and she absolutely loved preschool so this is hard on all of us).  She is VERY upset the night before she knows it is a school day and really resisting going in the mornings.  She doesn’t like the school, says the days are too long and school is really boring and she doesn’t like her teachers and is upset that she doesn’t understand what they are saying.  I have every intention of sticking this out but I did not anticipate such a tough transition.  Any advice to make it easier on her?  Anything I have done or said so far does not help.


Parent answers:

Remember that while immersion adds a layer of difficulty to the day, many Kindergarteners have a hard time the first few months. Of the four in the houses around me, three have had days of flat-out sobbing on the sidewalk on the way to school – and none of them are in immersion. It’s a difficult transition, Kindergarten is a lot harder and more structured than preschool, which is more like one long, fun playdate with friends. So don’t attribute all the angst to immersion, though your daughter may think everything would be better if she were just in an English classroom.



*An earlier bedtime – she may not seem tired but she is. I put my girls (twins) to bed one hour early the first couple of months – dinner at 5, bath at 6, than nearly at 7pm I would go into their room and read a story to each (their choosing) with them on my lap – they seemed to need extra comfort.

* More food – I fed my kids as soon as I picked them up from school – on the way home they would eat in the car.

*Lots of playmates with new schoolmates. When my girls were in kinder, I invited as many kids as possible for playdates, every chance I could. Once they had friends and played with them outside of the class/school they became more comfortable.

* I did the following for myself but it seemed to help my girls adjust: I hired a Mandarin tutor to come and help me learn a bit of Mandarin. The tutor incorporated the kids into the lessons and they really enjoyed me having a “teacher” as well.



My daughter was like that-I don’t know if you remember her kicking and hysterics for the first month of kindergarten?

I like to imagine it like an adult would feel at a new job, in a new location, where you don’t know anyone and the boss speaks an entirely different language and the work is much harder then you’ve had to do before. I would hate it too.

I really think for kids with zero exposure to the new language, it’s not unreasonable to expect things to be rough for a few months.  Playdates with new friends are a nice idea and might help.  I hate the rewards charts because I think they get so much of that in school too, but we are about to reinstate one for less grumpy morning behavior. 4 good days of getting ready for school gets something from the prize bucket. I found that with kinder and younger, it doesn’t even matter what the prize is–stuff from target in the dollar bin.

You don’t want your kids to be miserable, but you are asking them to do something new and tough.

Stick to it, it will get better.


This may not be useful right now, but I really enjoyed this article about someone in similar situation. Here a parent questioned throwing his children in a Russian private school for serious immersion, the short-term pain, and the long term happiness with their decision.


As for the near term, I would talk to the teacher and craft some strategies together that might help to ease the transition.  The teacher is an important ally in getting your child over the hump!  Meanwhile, if it makes you feel any better a good friend of mine is going through the same thing with her kid (big bold letters “Kindergarten is boring”)  and he’s not in immersion.



This will be hard but you need to allow her to hate it for a little bit without letting her see any frustration on your part. It is normal for her to be highly frustrated to begin with and may take till the end of the first year for her to become comfortable with such a drastic change. Your continual unwavering support is imperative.

Make use of google translate or any other when you can and find a downloadable Chinese dictionary app, many are free. I allowed my son to watch a movie every night in the target language to help him through the process and we did it together. I also took on the task of trying to learn the language so he could see how well he was doing compared to me. I go to him for help all the time and he loves the role of teacher, but be sure not to appear completely clueless and reverse that role at times when she needs help. She will advance much farther than you quickly.

I purchased books with the pinyin so we could read together after I learned the tones and downloaded animated stories on my phone for him. Also I got a couple of games in the target language to play with him. has a variety of things to choose from.  Pimsleur has the Little Pim series DVDs in Chinese as well.

Once he started getting homework, I copied it and we have a contest to see who could finish first, he always beats me. Now my son sings in Chinese while in the shower and prefers journaling with Chinese instead of English. Another important thing is to keep the lines of communication with her teachers open, with their cultural differences in mind. You can also get books about Chinese culture at the library. The days are long, so I try not to have too many activities scheduled during the week and reward him as much as possible for working hard. Patience is a must because the road is long haul, but worth every trying step.

If the child is trying very hard understand what is going on around her (versus the usual strategy of tuning it all out), it could be extremely exhausting and frustrating. For our daughter last year (at age 3.5), we were allowed to cut back from 5 afternoons a week (10 hours total) to 4 afternoons (M/T/Th/Fr) which helped a bit. The backlash involved not wanting to play with the language at home as we had done since she turned 2. Things started to improve after maybe a month and I attribute it to warm/nurturing teachers who never gave up trying to find a way “in” via my daughter’s interests, and to a regular Mandarin speaking babysitter who started at about the same time (every day after the Chinese program for 2.5 hours; child-directed play). These days she loves her Chinese program more than her English preschool program even though she seems to have more friends in the English program. The Chinese program, full immersion, does allow the children to use English but they are always careful to provide the necessary new vocabulary in Chinese in response.

Advice: back off and be patient?


Hopefully my experience will provide some glimmer of hope to this parent.

My son just started kindergarten in an immersion program and is LOVING it. That said, it was not an easy road. He is attending a school where he has been attending an (immersion) summer camp for 3 years. He has previous Mandarin exposure at home from me and my side of the family. We thought this summer transition into ‘kindergarten’ would be a piece of cake, being transitions have never been a problem before and he had been looking forward to kinder for months now. IT WAS AWFUL – and I thought for sure that we had taken the wrong path.

As with your daughter, the first week was fine and I think this is pretty typical. The first week is a bit overwhelming and I don’t think children are able to process the permanence of the transition. It was straight downhill from weeks 2-6. Kicking, crying, protesting and sitting in the corner and refusing to speak with teachers. He didn’t know the names of the children and didn’t make any effort to make friends. It was very heartbreaking – even his summer school teacher suggested that he was not right for the program. We continued to support him, emphasizing and asking about the most positive parts of the day.

One day, out of the blue, he woke up early, dressed himself and just said – “I’m ready for kindergarten. Let’s go. I get it now.” And it happened just like that. Every child is different, but in reflection – and also watching/comparing my preK child’s transition into immersion at the same time – I think a few things are worth noting.

1. Kindergarten is a BIG deal. For one, I think most parents make it a big deal. Not a bad thing, but natural and that passes on to the children the importance of their adaptation and transition smoothly and quickly

2. Content/structure change. While my children went to a fairly structured Montessori school, kindergarten rules and schedules are very different! There are no naps or quiet time (another parent mentioned earlier bed time). There is a lot more material to process and more work done at a more independent level that they may not be used to.

3. You mentioned your daughter LOVED her preschool. So did my kids. And I think just the hard realization of saying goodbye to something very familiar/loved is very hard – in any type of immersion or non-immersion program. That could very well be making it even harder as she misses the old turf.

Really, I think it’s a matter of time and not necessarily anything wrong with the fit (although that *could* be the case). The children are 5 and it’s a big transition – in summary, I think it took my kids 4 – 6 weeks to adjust. Now he LOVES it, simply loves it. He understands the structure and schedule of the school, knows the classmates’ names. Really finds pleasure in what he is learning as it becomes familiar to him. It’s been a joy dropping him off at school knowing he is learning so much and succeeding.

Anyway, I just wanted to share our experience – remind everyone to be patient for this big transition which is hard in one language but likely doubly hard in an immersion environment (speaking from personal experience migrating from Taipei in 1st grade). Emphasize the positives, encourage progress like always. Have conversations with teachers and staff often to check in. Have your daughter give you a tour of school one day – allow her to own her own kinder experience. I think this is going to be ok in time – hang in there and I wish you well!!


3 Comments leave one →
  1. MomOfTwo permalink
    August 31, 2012 1:56 pm

    I posted the original request. Thanks for all the advice and support. We implemented an earlier bedtime in the first week because we knew she was tired and that was a good thing. Things got worse after my first post but it is quite complicated. This is a brand new school and there are many kinks to be worked out with procedures, expectations, etc. and some of that was becoming clear. Also there were many disruptive behavior problems within the class in general (this is more of your inner city school (a new charter) in a failing school district than what many immersion schools might be). Finally, the lead teacher quit after two weeks and there were days of not knowing who was in the classroom. Hard to know what is going on and how quickly things will be resolved and it is unfortunate that the kids are unhappy in the process.

    • DaddyO permalink
      September 9, 2012 8:20 pm

      You wouldn’t happen to be in the SLLIS/TCS by any chance would you? Like you, we’ve had a rough go of things. Our daughter loved preschool and now hates going to school. But we’ve made some adjustments and things are okay.

  2. September 1, 2012 8:25 pm

    I’d like to help. All I can do is offer you a chance to read Chinese stories. I guarentee your kid would like them. Look my kingdergarten kid reading “Turtle and the Hare” and having fun:

    If you like to try it, write me.

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