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Letters, numbers, colors and sharing: Getting kids ready for kindergarten

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Catherine W. Idzerda
August 11, 2013

DELAVAN--Parents, take note: Kindergarten is no longer just about singing the ABC song and gluing macaroni noodles to construction paper—although both of those things still go on.

Future kindergarteners, take note: You might have to share your crayons and rap about the letter M.

In three weeks, 5-year-olds will be heading to school for the first time. In the Delavan-Darien School District, several dozen students got a head start on their classmates with a four-week, summer school Getting Ready for Kindergarten course.

We asked summer-school teachers what parents and kids should know before their first year in the educational big house.  Surprisingly, most of their tips weren't about academics but about social and lifestyle changes kids will experience as members of the school community.

1. Patterns help at school and at home.

By the last week of summer school, students in the Getting Ready for Kindergarten course understood many of  social basics:

-- How to play or work on their own while teacher is busy helping a classmate.

-- How to politely ask to go to the bathroom.

-- How to be forgiving of a classmate with special needs.

Teacher Stephanie Coby said kids get used to the daily patterns of school, and that makes it easier to cope.

Patterns at home can help, too. Teachers have long recommended getting kids out of bed at school time at least a week before the start of school to get them in the habit.  Knowing what happens next is reassuring, too, even if it seems obvious to parents.

School might mean riding a bus, eating lunch or snack away from home, going someplace different for day care after school or being picked up by a different parent at a different time.

2. The rules will be different at school.

Teacher Trish Kumlander said kids sometimes are surprised by school rules.

“The important thing to tell kids is to listen to what the teachers say,” Kumlander said. “The rules are going to be different than what Mom says.”

For example, when kids go to the playground with Mom or Dad, it might be OK to try to go up the slide backwards or make castles out of the wood chips surrounding the equipment.

“That's fine if you want to do that with Mom,” Kumlander said. “You can tell them that part of being a big boy or girl is learning that that rules are different.”

Behaviors that are acceptable in the relaxed atmosphere of home, such as spitting or making rude noises with your armpits, will be frowned on at school.

“We had a boy who spit, and I had to tell him, 'When you spit, people don't want to be your friend,'” Kumlander said.

Other, smaller differences might cause problems, too. For example, some teachers use school supplies such as crayons or glue sticks collectively, with a group of kids sharing a box supplies. 

“My” crayons inexplicably become “our” crayons.

“Some kids aren't used to people touching their stuff,” Kumlander said.

When kids know the rules will be different, it makes it easier to adapt to changes.

3. They might have to solve problems on their own.

Earlier on, Coby explains to kids the difference between tattling and reporting.  Tattling is telling on someone to get them in trouble. Reporting is sharing information about an unsafe situation or a problem students can't solve themselves.

Kumlander said part of kindergarten is building a sense of community with peers, and that means accepting someone who is different and learning to resolve differences through talk.

“We try to get them to verbalize their feelings, to say 'That hurts my feelings,'” Kumlander said.

Learning to ask nicely and waiting your turn--without throwing a fit--are part of the curriculum. Practicing at home will give students a leg up on their peers.

4. Get kids ready for academics.

Kumlander said kids are learning things in kindergarten she didn't learn until first grade.

And Coby described modern kindergarten as an academically-based program.

It's helpful if kids can identify lowercase letters before they get to kindergarten, Coby said. That means more than being able to sing the “Alphabet Song”—not that there's anything wrong with that.

Knowing the numbers from one to 20 helps, too, Coby said. It's even better if kids understand the concept of numbers, as in, “Show me three apples.”

Teachers have long agreed that reading to kids and talking about what you've read is the best possible way to get them ready for school. 

It's never too late to start.

5. Reassure your child.

And while you're at it, reassure yourself.

Your youngster will be just fine.

Kumlander said there aren't many things 5-year-olds absolutely must know before entering school. If they're ready to learn, they'll absorb the information, Kumlander said.

Besides, it's usually not letters or numbers that challenge or startle kids.

“They are always surprised by the kids-sized toilets and sinks at school,” Kumlander said. “They're also surprised by how much we wash our hands at school."



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