Kindergarten Information Night
By Tia Henteleff, Assistant Teacher
For the fourteenth consecutive year, the Bing community benefited from Kindergarten Information Night. This year, in a variation on the traditional format, a panel discussion gave parents the chance to express their concerns and to hear multiple responses from the panelists. The panel included two guests from previous years — Rick Lloyd, a pediatrician with the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, and Susan Charles, principal of Ohlone Elementary School — as well as three Bing staffers who are also former kindergarten teachers: Beth Wise, music specialist, Peckie Peters, head teacher, and Jeanne Lepper, director. Jennifer Winters, Bing assistant director, served as the moderator.
Rick Lloyd began the evening’s discussion with a portrait of the five-year-old, in most cases a delightful child, filled with enthusiasm for friends, family, and learning. Generally optimistic, five-year-olds look to please the adults in their lives. Though their mothers are still the center of their universe, the children begin to need more autonomy. They are also becoming increasingly aware that other people’s views differ from their own.
Most five-year-olds are fascinated by magic. This is the time in which children most enjoy the world of fantasy and imagination and do not yet distinguish clearly between what is reality and what is not. Almost anything is possible to them. While this attitude can feed their imagination and creative thinking, it also affects their response to video games, television, movies, and other media of the popular culture. No matter how fantastic they are, violent, aggressive, and scary images can be very real to children.
Rick Lloyd warned about two prevalent yet unnecessary pressures on children in our society: academic achievement and the miniaturization of adulthood. All the panelists concurred that academic achievement is stressed too much for young children. Some parents, for example, push their four-year-olds to read in the mistaken assumption that children should read on entering kindergarten. But reading is developmental — it is a skill acquired at different phases for different children — and children who read early are not more likely to be academically successful. At the same time, children are becoming more and more encumbered with adult concerns and worries, which can lead to psychosomatic conditions. “Let children be children” should be the guiding principle.
So how can parents support their five-year-old children? First, their physiological needs should be attended to. Toileting will no longer be an issue, although bedwetting may still occur, more often with boys than with girls. The importance of a good night’s sleep can’t be overestimated: the average five-year-old needs around eleven hours. To succeed in school, he or she also needs a healthy, well-balanced diet, even if that requires sticking to simple food choices and providing constant encouragement.
Children also need to feel loved and competent. Five-year-olds should have responsibilities at home so that they see themselves as part of a working community to which they can make a valuable contribution. They should also be exposed to various experiences and activities while being reminded that they do not need to be the best at everything. Parents should allow their children’s interests to unfold, not only accepting but also supporting them even if the interests differ from the parents’ ideals. Children will be healthier if given the opportunity to follow their own way.
Finally, parents must spend quality time with their five-year-olds. In our community, with a myriad of programs for children and parents, finding ways to enjoy children’s interests together is not difficult.
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Following Rick Lloyd’s talk, listeners asked questions about kindergarten readiness and “young fives” (children born later in the year). Many parents have received mixed messages about what children should be able to do on entering kindergarten and how old they should be in order to do well. Bing director Jeanne Lepper commented that worries about age and skill level used to not figure in kindergarten entry and may owe more to competitiveness in society today than to the reality of children. She believes that schools should accept and support all levels and learning styles, and she concurs with Deborah Stipeck, dean of the School of Education at Stanford, that the birthday cut-off for kindergarten should remain right where it is at December 2, not be pushed back to September.
Seconding Jeanne Lepper’s thoughts on the appropriate age for kindergarten, Susan Charles, the principal at Ohlone School, added that parents should “let teachers do their job.” Teachers will give children the appropriate skills for their appropriate age and will address any concerns about the level of a particular child. Rarely, though, will a teacher feel that a child can benefit from additional time in school. “Teachers are professionals,” Charles commented. “They know children very well.” They are parents’ best outside resources for determining what children need for success in school.
Beth Wise, Bing music specialist, brought laughter to the discussion with a tale from her former kindergarten classroom. She had sensed tension among the children when one child desperately asked aloud, “Can anyone here teach me how to read?” She brought the children together to explain that different doors in our minds open at different times, but this does not make one child smarter or better than another. The doors will open naturally when they are ready to open. Days later, one of the children exclaimed, “Teacher! Teacher! My reading door opened last night!”
But what if the interest in reading early comes from the child? Ms. Charles encouraged parents to support the child’s interests. “It is when the child is not particularly interested in reading and the parents put on the pressure that we are concerned about.” Bing head teacher Peckie Peters spoke up to remind listeners that children need to be regarded for who they are and not for what they achieve.
Some parents asked about choosing the right school for their children. How does one decide between a creative arts school and a more academic one? Are parents really able to see their children’s interests, strengths, and weaknesses at age four or five, or are they just projecting? Panelists urged parents to trust their own instincts but also to consult their children’s teachers.
So what is expected of children entering kindergarten? Although play and socialization are still emphasized, Peckie Peters and Beth Wise commented that most programs do have expectations for academic knowledge. For instance, children should be able to name the numerals 1 to 30, recognize the letters and their sounds, and understand concepts of print. The evening concluded with all the panelists stressing the value of unstructured learning, through which people of any age are most likely to create, invent, and generate new ideas.