Educator offers tips to help first-time kindergarten parents
Kindergarten isn’t babysitting, but it isn’t about intense academics either. Kindergarten is a very special year that can set the tone for a lifetime of learning and so much more.
Susan Stevens, principal of A.J. Whittenberg Elementary School of Engineering and the former Early Childhood Principal for Greenville County Schools’ Child Development Centers, said kindergarten focuses on social-emotional competencies – those soft skills that help children learn to work with their peers and engage in a love of learning – like communication, active listening, collaboration, sharing, how to follow directions and how to give directions appropriately. A classroom full of 5-year-olds will have a wide range. Some will be learning to recognize letter sounds. Some might be reading.
“Teachers can modify what they’re doing to reach kids,” Stevens said. “It’s a fundamental foundational year for parents and students.”
But if this school year brings your oldest to the classroom for the first time, there are a few things you need to know. First, it’s going to be OK. Students need to become independent, and kindergarten can be the first step in that process.
“Sometimes parents have a hard time letting go,” Stevens said. “As a parent of three, I know how hard that is.”
What to expect on the first day
The first day of school can mean an intimidating amount of homework – for parents. First day packets can cover everything from questions about your child’s learning style to how to join the PTA.
“It can be an avalanche of information,” Stevens said.
Stevens said parents should be sure to return the information, but they should also spend time reviewing it and asking questions.
“Schools are sending that to begin developing that partnership,” she said.
That relationship runs both ways and can be critical to a child’s success. Part of that contact can be volunteering at school, after school and as needed by the teacher and allowed by the parent’s schedule.
“Look for opportunities to work with the teacher,” Stevens said. “It helps parents connect. It creates a school community network. It really does change the trajectory of that student’s experience.”
But it is important to find a balance.
“Some parents can’t leave,” Stevens said. “They can’t let go. Then we have some parents we never see. That’s a hard balance for a new parent to navigate.”
How to help your kids succeed
At home, parents can help by reading to and with their children, early and often.
“Literacy is a huge area of focus,” Stevens said. “We know early literacy exposure will set students up for future success. That 15 – 20 minutes a day is not a lot of time when you compare it to the student who will struggle academically for the rest of their academic career. Not only are they starting kindergarten, they are starting kindergarten behind.”
Security is high on the mind of parents and with good reason. Stevens said they should spend some time learning about their school’s safety measures and how to support teachers and administrators in those efforts.
“Parents need to understand that those plans are in place for a reason,” Stevens said. “If you aren’t used to it, it can feel a little like Fort Knox. Each school is different.”
Parents should also learn the school’s bus and car procedures, which can include extra measures for kindergarteners to ensure they get home safely.
“Every school has a different dismissal and arrival procedure,” Stevens said. “Be patient. In those first couple of weeks, everybody is a car rider.”
One of the most important steps to kicking off the school year is Meet the Teacher Night.
“I can’t recommend it enough,” Stevens said. “If parents can attend, they really should. It is so much easier for students if they’ve already had a positive experience at that school. It sets that positive tone for the rest of the school year.”