Kindergarten Information Night
By Lynne Varner, Bing parent and Knight Fellow at Stanford
Parents waving their kindergartners off to school can breathe a sigh of relief at having the arduous job of choosing the right school behind them. But parents of pre-school age children should take note: It’s never too early to start looking for the right kindergarten class.
At first, the process can seem as intimidating as selecting the right graduate school. (In fact, many parents deem their choice of kindergarten a strong indicator of whether their child will make it to graduate school!) School tours, teacher interviews and mounds of educational brochures can turn what should be a wonderful transition into a daunting process.
Kindergarten is a critical decision. The environment that launches our children’s school lives plays a major role in whether learning is a fun lifelong pursuit or torture.
But there’s hope. Armed with solid information about their child’s educational options, parents can get the most out of this transitional period.
To help parents navigate the kindergarten process, a panel of educators spent the evening of Jan. 21, 2004, at Bing Nursery School, addressing readiness and other relevant issues. Panel participants included Dr. Rick Lloyd, a professor of pediatrics at Stanford Medical School; Jeanne Lepper, director of Bing Nursery School; Susan Charles, principal of Ohlone Elementary School; Beth Wise, Bing music specialist, head teacher and a former kindergarten teacher; Svetlana Stanislavskaya, Bing enrollment administrator; Peckie Peters, head teacher in West AM and a former kindergarten teacher; and Tom Limbert, head teacher in West PM.
The first decision about kindergarten is whether your child is ready for it. It isn’t fair or helpful to place a child in an environment that is socially inappropriate, too difficult or too easy. One child may be ready for kindergarten at age five while another child needs an extra year to prepare. This isn’t a decision to be made casually.
“There are no good studies that show there’s any compelling reason to hold a child back if they are otherwise socially ready,” Dr. Lloyd said. The downside of holding a child back for a year is that they will sexually develop earlier than their peers, a socially awkward circumstance especially for boys.
Moreover, according to Bing director Jeanne Lepper, a mix of ages in kindergarten can be a plus. Yet, state-by-state age cutoffs — in California children must turn five by December 2 to be eligible for kindergarten — hinder more than help.
“The very students who need school the most are the ones being asked to wait,” Lepper said. “Some of this is tied to funding, those who are better developed and test better garner more money for the schools.”
Readiness tests can help evaluate a child. But the best measurement is preschool teachers. Talk to your child’s preschool teachers to get a sense of your child’s learning style, as well as the teaching techniques that serve him/her best.
Bing head teacher Limbert said in his experience working with children, the most important ingredient to kindergarten readiness is the parent’s belief that the child will succeed in kindergarten. “If you believe your child will be ready and convey that to your child, they’ll pick up on that,” he said.
The key to preparing for kindergarten does not lie just in academics. Peckie Peters recalled that her son entered kindergarten writing his name across the page the opposite way of the other children and his letters were barely legible. But Peters recalls the teacher reassuring her that her child would be just fine. And he was.
A child entering kindergarten need not know how to read.
“A three-year-old who can read is no smarter, in an IQ sense, than one who is unable to read,” Dr. Lloyd agreed. In addition, the things a child should know by kindergarten, such as knowing one’s colors, numbers, and have the ability to take simple directions, can be learned in preschool or other readiness programs.
A child’s emotional well-being is as important as their academic success. In searching for the best school, parents should be aware of the emotional and behavioral stages of kindergarteners. Dr. Lloyd spent a good part of the evening outlining the general emotional anatomy of five-year-olds. His words should serve as reassurance:
Five is the best age. Children want to be good. They want to please their mother most of all, next they want most to please their teacher. At five, there is a significant leap in speech maturity that allows children to communicate more effectively and feel more empowered.
While four-year-olds tend to be more mercurial, Dr. Lloyd says children develop a longer attention span at five and a more positive outlook. As they experience life at this age, they tend to see things on the good side. This optimistic outlook helps children gain resiliency and a positive sense of their place in our world.
A five-year-old doesn’t have much temporal sense. They know there’s a past and a future but they tend to live in the here and now. This sense of time needs to be respected and acknowledged. 5-year-olds also want their own possessions, their own space and their own friends.
To a five-year-old, everyone and everything is eternal. They don’t understand death as permanent and thus may not grieve if a relative dies.
Because five-year-olds want to be good, they are usually not worriers. They don’t obsess over things. If your child does seem unusually bothered by things, it might be a sign of something amiss.
Children at age five begin a love affair with words and facts. It isn’t so much what they learn that engages a five-year-old but the discoveries that make learning itself fun. This is the time children begin to develop a sense of pride and self-respect. Dr. Lloyd suggests this is the time to give children chores to do. Growing up in a Nova Scotia fishing village, Dr. Lloyd can attest personally and professionally to the importance of responsibilities.
“The child feels that they have some value in society which for them is family,” he points out.
Five-year-olds don’t want complex food. They want simple dishes. Don’t let a child dominate the family diet. They will eat a variety of things if presented to them and if there are no other unhealthy snacks to tempt them. Make sure eleven hours of sleep is available to your five-year-old every night. Since sleep is not attractive to a five-year-old, parents may need to create a settling down routine such as bath, story time and bed. If a child’s home life is stable and includes some or all of the above, success in school will be easier to achieve.
In the end, where is the best place for one’s child to begin his/her formal education? All of the panelists agreed that in most cases, a parent won’t go wrong in choosing a school as long as the home remains the primary source of stability and love.
“School is not nearly as important as being well fed and getting a good night’s sleep,” Dr. Lloyd cautions.
“People who go into education are people who have an affection for children,” says Ohlone principal Charles, herself a mother of four. “Be happy that they’re off to school and trust your teachers,” Charles sums up.
Beth Wise, a parent of a fifteen-year-old and a ten-year-old and a former kindergarten teacher herself, agrees: “When the classroom door closes, there is a special kind of love, bonding and nurturing that goes on,” she said.