Kindergarten Information Night
By Karen Robinette, Teacher
Kindergarten Information Night took place on January 31 at Bing Nursery School. Local pediatrician Dr. Rick Lloyd, Ohlone School principal Mrs. Susan Charles, and Escondido School principal Mr. Gary Prehn presented information and answered questions pertaining to kindergarten children and kindergarten programs.
Rick Lloyd began by stating that the reasons for not sending a kindergarten-age child to kindergarten are few. As long as children can coordinate their large and small muscles, speak clearly, and take care of their bodily needs, they are ready for kindergarten. Although the popular wisdom has it that older children do better, any advantages to withholding children from kindergarten disappear by third grade. At the same time, children who are held back may face problems later on, such as early sexual maturation relative to others in their grade.
Developmental changes occur rapidly among children aged four to six, so kindergarten-age children vary widely in their development. Preschool children may be immature in their speech, exhibit separation anxiety, and be more demanding than kindergarten-age children. In just the short transition to kindergarten, the same children develop longer attention spans, have little or no difficulty in separation, learn to follow directions, and develop their listening skills. Kinder-garten-age children generally want to please, are positive and accepting, and enjoy life. They live in the here and now, not in the past or future. They haven’t yet developed an idea of permanency and so do not understand concepts such as death. They are becoming aware of their own competencies and may begin to compare themselves to others. Parents can support their kindergarten children in various ways—for example, by reading to them, helping them learn colors, and allowing them to take on simple responsibilities such as taking out the garbage or setting the table. Being expected to do chores not only gives children a sense of responsibility within the family but also, studies indicate, helps children cope with stress.
Kindergarten children are in the stage of development that Piaget called pre-operational. They begin to realize that actions have causes and effects and that words represent objects and ideas. Kindergarteners still don’t differentiate fantasy from reality, and they engage in magical thinking. For example, Santa Claus is still very real to the kindergarten-age child. Children at this age do not think abstractly and have a rudimentary sense of humor, finding funny what is incongruous or ridiculous.
Kindergarteners typically eat and sleep better than they have before. Eleven hours of sleep at night is optimal for this age child. Bedwetting occurs among 40% of boys and 15% of girls and is rarely treated medically until a few years later. Kindergarten-age children will begin to develop specific interests, and this is a good time for parents to begin supporting their child’s desires. For example, a child who takes an interest in sports may be given plenty of chances to play catch or run or swim until it’s time to play team sports a little later. Kindergarteners may engage in some sexual play and may begin discrimination against the opposite sex. They may express curiosity about where babies come from and how they are born from a mother’s body. There is no value at this stage of development in telling them about the realities of sex, as they cannot yet understand the complexities. Children in this stage of development may continue to have tension outlets such as thumbsucking, rocking, transitional objects, nail biting, and nose picking. They may stutter because their minds are going faster than their speech.
Some of the most important things parents can do to support their children are to feed them properly and ensure that they get a good night’s sleep. Rick Lloyd cautioned that children within our own community often undergo “psychosocial stress,” which is parental pressure for intellectual attainment. This pressure says to a child, “You are a good person for what you accomplish and not for who you are.” Another disturbing trend in our society is the view that childhood is a miniaturization of adulthood. Children are faced with more and more inappropriate adult material, particularly of a sexual nature. Finally, we need to guard against undue separation, or absentee parenting, which can occur when parents are overworked.
Susan Charles and Gary Prehn answered the following questions from the audience:
How would you describe the expectations for what a child should know before entering kindergarten?
Kindergartens in the Palo Alto district do not expect children to know anything. What is expected is that children will be ready to separate from their parents and that they will come ready to listen, share, and participate in the program. The school is responsible for teaching them to read, write, and do math. Children are accepted wherever they are on the developmental continuum. Children should come to school believing that learning is fun and exciting, which can’t occur if they are put under stress too early.
How do you put this philosophy into practice with current California state standards?
Fortunately, the Palo Alto district is already ahead of most of the state standards, which have been embedded into the curriculum all along. Thus, the state standards have not impacted the district.
If you don’t live within the Palo Alto district, how can you tell if a school is good?
You should not rely on test scores. One of the best ways to assess a school is to ask parents who have children attending there. They should be able to report that their child is learning, has developed social relationships, and is enjoying the school experience.
How do you get the right balance of activities for children this age?
Children will be exposed to many things in kindergarten. If they develop a particular interest, try to find ways to support that interest. Don’t overschedule children; instead, offer opportunities without requiring participation. Children need to engage in play and have down time. They need to learn to think for themselves and entertain themselves. The phrase “I’m bored” often indicates that children are waiting for what is scheduled for them rather than by them.