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Off to School They Go

As the youngest of four children, I couldn’t wait to go to school. I wanted to be like my older siblings, of course, and jump into the fun and adventures I heard them discuss. But my mother said I had to wait until I was 5. So I waited.

On the morning of my fifth birthday, in February, I got all dressed up and headed into the kitchen for breakfast, bright and early. I was ready for school. Although there were gifts on the table for me, I was disappointed to be told I had to wait until a new school term started in the fall. No one had mentioned that before. I was finally 5 and wanted to go to school! So I waited seven more months until I could finally go to kindergarten.

I love the beginning of fall, of a new school year, of getting back-to-school clothes, and now of walking my kids to the bus. (“Only on the first day, Mom!”) But I realize some kindergartners—and their parents—may have a few concerns.

Ask teachers what advice they have for new kindergartners and they reply in unison: “Sleep!” I didn’t expect that to be at the top of the list.

“(Kindergartners) are very tired at the beginning of the year,” says Elizabeth Smith, who taught for more than 20 years at the Oswego Community Christian School. “They need a lot of sleep.”

Like newborns, schoolchildren do well with a schedule—at night and in the morning. Smith advises, “Whatever you can do the night before is helpful for the kids.”

Start the school bedtime routine at least a week in advance, so the new kindergartner can be plenty rested for the first, second and third days of school. That’s easier said than done when the sun hasn’t set yet and neighborhood kids may still be playing outside. But it will help the young ones. Older kids who are tired may be whiny or quiet in school. But the kindergartners cry, Smith says.

The second unanimous reminder teachers give parents: “Read what the teacher writes.” Parents of kindergartners may be unprepared for the piles of papers that will come home, seemingly every day. But the teacher expects and needs parents to read any messages, event announcements, and so forth that the teacher sends home. (Guilty as charged, but with my fifth-grader, who somehow made notices in his backpack disintegrate.)

Jacqueline Wallace, whose son Quinten Denkenberger finished kindergarten this year at Kingsford Park Elementary in Oswego, also encourages parents to get involved with school activities. It’s easier to communicate with the teacher when you are in the school even just for meetings. “A lot of the parents weren’t attending,” she notes. “The more that you attend, the more you know what’s going on at the school.”

There was homework for the children and the parents, she says. For example, her son had to work on “sight words” for homework. Those are the words the teacher wanted students to know on sight—without having to sound them out—such as “the” and “and.”

“Communicate with the teacher if your kid is getting frustrated,” she advises. Her son mastered the first round of sight words and she asked for more so he wouldn’t get bored.

The math homework often consisted of counting items in the house or finding objects with numbers on them. “I would ask him if he wanted to do (more),” she says. And they’d count not just how many steps from the front door to the kitchen, but how many hops and how many steps backward.

Be creative and have fun, she encourages. And “let them experiment. It’s hard to let them make mistakes and do it their way,” Wallace says. Sometimes it’s easier to just do the homework for your child. But that’s not the point.

One lesson her son learned in kindergarten was that it was OK to make mistakes. It took him several months to feel totally relaxed in class because he worried about not being able to follow the rules. When he finally broke a rule, his mom told him, “We all make mistakes.” It’s a big year for the little tykes, Wallace says. “When they start, they are such babies … When they are done, they are such grownups.”

Aside from concerns about the demands of school work, parents often worry about their children getting hungry. Don’t fret about the full-day kindergartners eating their lunch, Smith advises. “Actually the first few days, they just watch each other. They don’t eat at lunchtime. They show each other their stuff.” Parents should send in a well-balanced lunch—“that the children like,” she adds—with not too much food and not all candy.

In addition to a lunch, parents should pack an extra set of clothes which may stay in the classroom. “In case there’s a mishap of some sort,” Smith says, “because they get very upset if they get dirty or have an accident.”

Finally, just because their child is going to school now, parents shouldn’t stop reading to them. “Read to your kindergartner, to prepare them to read themselves and have an interest in reading,” says Smith, now the assistant advisement coordinator for curriculum and instruction in SUNY Oswego’s School of Education. It also helps children develop the pre-reading skills they need to learn, such as moving their eyes from the left side of the page to the right side. And for parents who miss the extra time at home with their child, Smith notes, “It’s good together time. It shows reading is important.”

And remember, summer vacation is only 180 days away, give or take.             ■          

Eileen Gilligan, a mother of two, lives in Baldwinsville.


(Photo above: Michael Davis Photo)

© Family Times: The Parenting Guide of Central New York