Kindergarten Information Night
By Lars Gustafson, Teacher
The transition from preschool to kindergarten can be a challenging process for families. Parents want to make sure their children attend the right school and children worry about the difficulties of making new friends. Indeed the stress of this time can be overwhelming for the whole family, so Bing holds an annual kindergarten information night to try to ease parents’ concerns.
At this past year’s event, held in January, we had the privilege of welcoming Palo Alto pediatrician Rick Lloyd, MD, as well as Susan Charles, the principal at Ohlone Elementary in the Palo Alto School District. Several Bing teachers and one parent were also present to answer questions regarding the shift from preschool to kindergarten.
Lloyd, a pediatrician for over 30 years, began the evening by explaining the common characteristics of the five-year-old child. “The five-year-old child wants to be good,” he explained. He added that school is where they primarily focus this intent. There they are gaining a better sense of themselves, their abilities and their relationships. They become more enthusiastic about life, as they can be heard saying things like, “I love my friends,” or “I love school.” Increased emotional warmth and more affection are typical at this time as playmates transform into more meaningful friends.
However this impulse to be good can lead to frustrations at home because they put so much energy into their school lives that they drop their guard within the familiar home setting. Discipline works well at home when negative behavior arises, and time-outs can be effective. Usually a five-minute time period is appropriate for a five-year-old, suggests Lloyd.
There is also a lot of excitement about learning during this time. The five-year-old wants to accumulate facts and show off what he knows to others. This is something that can actually help the child with the transition. By reciting this information they are calming their own fears by proving their intelligence.
In terms of cognitive development, the child is still developing his abstract thought. Since he doesn’t have a true understanding of the past or the future, time consists of here and now. Magic is very real in his mind, as it is understood as truth. His belief in God is akin to his belief in Santa Claus, both being abstract beings. Also, when someone close to him dies he will not truly understand what has happened. He may cry and be sad, but only if he sees his parents grieving.
Lloyd went on to talk about children’s physical development. Regarding sleep, he suggested 11 hours per day, an amount that should give them enough rest to carry sufficient energy through the day. He also mentioned that although children of this age are usually fully toilet-trained, about 15 percent of boys and 5 percent of girls continue to wet the bed. Also their play can become more competitive as they become more aware of their own physical abilities and competence.
Next was Charles, who stressed the quality of the public schools in Palo Alto: “Palo Alto has 13 elementary schools, and they’re all great,” she said. In saying this, she acknowledged the uneasiness that many parents feel regarding which school will best serve their children, and tried to reassure them.
After Charles and Lloyd finished, several teachers and one Bing parent joined them to answer questions from the audience. The panel included Karen Robinette, head teacher in West PM; Adrienne Lomangino, head teacher in East PM and lecturer in Stanford’s psychology department; Parul Chandra, head teacher in Center AM and lecturer in Stanford’s psychology department; Todd Erickson, teacher in Center PM and Bing parent, and Laurie Quinn, a Bing parent of three children.
What can we do as parents to ease our child’s concerns about kindergarten?
“Teachers see increased stress coming from the children this time of year,” said Robinette. She advised parents to talk to their children about kindergarten now, but to keep the discussion as low key as possible. Many children think that they will begin kindergarten immediately upon turning five, so to dispel this notion, tell them it will happen a long time from now. Be calm about it, she said, because whatever stress and uncertainty parents show will be mirrored in the behavior of their child. She suggested that parents give the child an orientation of the kindergarten they will be attending when the time comes. She also noted that it might take a month or so for the child to adapt to the new school setting come September. Charles added, “Please think about the way you convey the information, because when your children hear your concern, and they, too, will feel uneasy.”
How can I support my child socially in a new school?
Chandra thought it best to embrace new friends as well as to hold on to some old ones. Be flexible. Erickson agreed and spoke of the importance of creating free time in your child’s life. “There is a huge new social environment for your child in kindergarten, and while it is important to pursue new friendships, it’s just as important to clear time in your child’s schedule every day,” he said. Having time with your child at the end of the day can help them process all of the day’s events, allow them to take a breath and also keep you informed about what is happening in their lives. Lomangino added that giving children advice on navigating new friendships could ease their nervousness. Tell them how to start conversations and enter play sequences. Robinette reassured the parents that children will take the friendship skills they learn at Bing with them into kindergarten.
Should I keep my child in preschool another year, or will it be OK if they end up repeating kindergarten?
Lomangino stressed the idea that things won’t necessarily click into place if parents wait a year. Charles agreed, stating the term “holding back” is one that connotes negativity. Kindergarten age requirements are for adults’ convenience, not for the child’s. All children develop differently and at different paces, and that’s OK. She also said it’s important to trust the school to which parents are sending their child. “There is so much pressure on children. Stop being afraid and be open. Trust them,” she said.
How is kindergarten different today compared to when we were that age?
Chandra noted that there is much less playtime now than in previous generations. Children need unstructured playtime, but academics continue to be pushed upon younger and younger children. She urged the audience to help children by scheduling free time for them at home. Charles added, “Play is their work. They learn from their play. We’re tiring them. We want them to remain excited.”
Should my child attend a “young fives” program or a kindergarten program?
Charles said there are 30 spaces in the “young fives” program in the Palo Alto Unified School District, but that over 1,000 children apply each year. She reassured parents that most children are ready for kindergarten when they are five. All children have strengths and weaknesses, and kindergarten teachers take each child as he is. Most children end up moving on to first grade from kindergarten, meaning most of the time things end up working out for children who seem unready earlier in the year.
Quinn related her child’s experience in kindergarten. In November the teacher was concerned because the child didn’t know all the letters in the alphabet. Soon enough this problem cleared up. Then the teacher was concerned because the child wasn’t reading at an appropriate level. But that, too, came in its natural time and now the child is excelling in school. It is worth mentioning that the only kindergarten requirement of children is that they are five years old by December 2.