In today’s transition to kindergarten, we parents have had to make big decisions about our children’s educational paths based on very little information. You have done all the possible research, read the websites, visited and toured the schools, signed up for the lotteries, fallen in love with some of the schools, waited for the results, and gotten the news. Maybe you love your neighborhood school, or maybe you got in to the charter or magnet school of your dreams. Perhaps you moved into the district of your choice and are getting to know a new neighborhood. It’s possible the results are not what you were hoping for and you are disappointed and worried about what will come. Regardless of the process or the results, what matters now is that you know where your precious child will be going. Now is the time to lay the ground work for a positive outlook toward your child’s elementary debut!
I am a preschool teacher, and through my years of spending time with three- and four-year-olds, I have become convinced that children do their very best when they feel comfortable with their environment and the expectations of those charged with their care and teaching. As my own children progressed through preschool and elementary school, I received some really good advice from some of their teachers on how to help them to succeed. I have used this advice with my kids repeatedly as they have progressed through their school experiences. I also discovered a few valuable kindergarten tricks that helped my children a lot. I will share these tidbits with you now.
At my first ever preschool conference, I asked Teacher Helene if there was anything I could do to help my daughter to do her very best in preschool. What she told me was so very simple but I have emphasized it with my kids so often that I believe it to be the most fundamental principle of success in school. She said, “Just tell her to listen to her teachers.” This turned out to be the perfect advice for my children’s elementary education, which was at a Chinese immersion elementary school. Of course, that is what you want kids to do! But they get distracted, bored, tired, frustrated…. So I also told them that if they are having trouble listening, they should just pretend to listen. Point your face at the teacher and don’t look away. Ignore the people who are trying to talk to you on the carpet! Watch what the teacher is showing you. Try to understand what she is doing, as well as what her words are.
When my kids got to kindergarten, they knew the alphabet, but they weren’t reading English yet and they didn’t know any Chinese. They both learned to read by the end of the first quarter, and they had learned a lot of Chinese, too. The main support I gave them was constant encouragement to listen to the teachers and try their best.
The next teacher gem of advice I received was from Teacher Maureen. My younger daughter was very much attached to me and did not want to separate at school. I asked Maureen what I could do to help my daughter with this, and her answer was also very simple and also has become a fundamental part of my and my husband’s parenting approach. She told me that I should reassure my daughter that I knew that she could do it. We did this in preschool, and it worked. We did this when we left her for the first day of kindergarten, and it worked. And we do this now for every challenge that comes to us. We tell our children that we know that they can do whatever they set out to achieve; then we help them set a goal and make a plan.
The third piece of advice I appreciated was from my daughters’ kindergarten English teacher, Katie Jiang. My kids are two years apart, and in this program, they spent kindergarten and first grade with Ms. Jiang, so we spent four years in her classrooms and got to know her systems really well. At some point she said, “If you don’t believe everything they tell you about school, I won’t believe everything they tell me about home.” I gave this one a lot of thought. I tend to believe what my children tell me, but sometimes, they draw incorrect conclusions or misunderstand situations at school and at home. This statement by this teacher really brought home to me how important it is to have good communication with your child’s teacher. As soon as possible, find out the teacher's preferred communication method and use it! Offer to help and really follow through. Be a room parent if you can. Helping your child’s teacher helps your child! And if or when your child tells you something about school that is troubling her or you, trust it, but verify and clarify it in a respectful way with the teacher.
Here is a list of things that we did and said to help our kids as they progressed throughout their kindergarten year:
1. Before the school year started, we went to play on the playground so it was a familiar place.
2. I brought them breakfast in bed, but there was no TV during the school week.
3. We took our daughters on a tour of the school and looked at the bathrooms and the cafeteria.
4. I got the lunch and snack schedule and started feeding them at those times in the summer.
5. I bought them water bottles with a shoulder strap so they would stay hydrated all day because I learned that there was not time to stop at water fountains, and unless they were wearing the water bottle, it would not be used.
6. I packed a home lunch each day but let them choose school lunch if they wanted.
7. We really studied the classroom behavior strategy.
8. We were always excited about homework and used it as a way to talk about what happened at school each day.
9. We tried to arrive early at school so we could play a little outside before the day began.
10. We talk positively about tests. We say, “Tests are a chance to show what you know. Just do your best.”
Well, that’s the way we did kindergarten. A lot of these things we have kept doing all through middle school, and we are getting ready to see what works for high school. I’m going to start out with, “Listen to your teachers, even the ones you don’t like the most”and "I know you can do it; let’s make a plan!”
Good luck on your new journey!