Starting Kindergarten the Right Way
Hiding behind his big sister
Published in ChicagoNow, August 22, 2014
My grandson, his face so young and sweet and innocent and a little frightened, started his formal education in kindergarten at the end of July. He had recently celebrated his fifth birthday. He was a bit worried and had three important questions:
Will my teacher be nice?
Can I get cookies?
Do they have a tiger robot in their toys?
I hoped school would bring him many happy moments to fill the Star Wars backpack he proudly carried. At the same time, I worried about our current educational climate and the demands it would make on this free-spirited and rather young kindergartener.
Of course, he soon discovered that cookies were not served for snack (unhealthy) and that there were no tiger robots (or any toys for that matter). But I can say a resounding “yes” to his first question. Yes, his teacher is very nice. In fact, she does an awesome job of being the stereotypical kindergarten teacher with whom every child falls in love. And she does this while balancing the demands of a standards-driven curriculum that is more like first grade of years gone by.
Magic confetti reduces worry
Before school started, she gave all of her students magic confetti to help them fall asleep the night before the big day. She let the kids know that she was also excited and nervous about starting school. She taught my grandson what is currently the highlight of his kindergarten day, the Ants in Your Pants song. Of course, she has them do this to relieve the restless tension they all feel from so much sitting and so many worksheets. But he loves it, so it does the trick.
Most important of all, my grandson’s teacher has made his introduction to formal schooling a happy experience. Here’s how he sees himself sitting at his table. I am amused by his numerous fingers (perhaps this explains how busy he is) and wonder if he is wielding a light saber, but check out that happy smile.
I feel blessed that this educator possesses some of the essential qualities of a kindergarten teacher:
Patience with developing skills. Zipping, shoe-tying, nose-wiping, opening lunch foods, and even toileting independently can challenge a five-year-old. She both expects and don’t mind these challenges. So far, she has found my grandson’s lost lunch box and thermos a few times. She has never seemed annoyed by his lack of interest in putting these things where they belong. It’s a developing skill, I guess.
Acceptance of occasional squirrelly behavior. She understands it’s really hard for these little guys to sit all day doing work. Valerie Strauss recently posted an important piece on this issue by a pediatric occupational therapist, Angela Hanscom, entitled, Why so many kids can’t sit still in school today. I also wrote about this in an earlier blog post. I think my grandson’s teacher agrees with Hanscom’s answer to that question, as she provides opportunities during the long school day for kids to move. Thus, my grandson’s obsession with Ants in Your Pants.
An understanding of child development. I always think of kindergarten as the year of sorting out everything. My grandson’s classmates span over a year age wise, from my grandson who just turned five to the child who is already six and was held back. Add to that the huge range of skills and social/emotional ability for children that age. Mix in the fact that there are kids with special needs and learning challenges yet to be identified. And factor in that, for some children, this is their first exposure to any kind of formal group learning. My grandson’s kindergarten teacher gets this. So far, her expectations of him are totally appropriate. And while she has to remind him about his tendency to LOL and talk to his friends, she does it kindly. He tries his best to comply because he loves her and knows intuitively that she understands, cares about, and values him.
I feel grateful that my grandson has a kindergarten teacher who honors his energy, curiosity, zest for life, and unique interests. I don’t worry about how much “stuff” he learns. In fact, I’m sure he will learn enough, even if he doesn’t master reading by the end of the year. He is blessed to have an educator who will teach him something far more important: to love learning and to be happy as he begins his formal education.
I hope the school’s principal appreciates what a gem she is, regardless of how her students score on standardized tests.