Life After Bing: Kindergarten Information Night
By Amanda Otte, Assistant Teacher
On the evening of January 22, 2009, Bing Nursery School’s parents and staff gathered in West Room for Kinder-garten Information Night. At about 7 p.m., the event’s panelists took their seats in the front of an audience of more than 70. There, Bing head teachers Peckie Peters, Karen Robinette, teacher Nandini Bhatta-charjya, assistant director Beth Wise and director Jennifer Winters were joined by event veterans Rick Lloyd, MD, a Palo Alto pediatrician, and Susan Charles, recently retired principal of Ohlone Elementary School. The panel also included two kindergarten teachers from Nixon Elementary School: Stephanie Han and Jody Turner Harrier. All in the room were gathered for the purpose of discuss-ing Bing students’ transition to the next stage in their education: kindergarten.
Lloyd began the evening with a definition of “the typical 5-year-old.” Understanding the unease that a generalization like this might incite in parents, Lloyd calmed the audience by acknowledging that age distinction as it relates to development is indeed a crude science. Lloyd was joined by all the panelists of the evening in his sentiment that “kindergarten ready” is a term that can describe a wide variety of children, from different developmental levels and backgrounds.
The common transformation of the 4-year-old to the 5-year-old child, as described by Lloyd, is one of self-realization and discovery. The 5-year-old, he explained, demonstrates an “increased enthusiasm for learning” fueled by a heightened sense of self and self worth. Lloyd said that the 5-year-old will portray an attitude of wanting to please, “to be good” and might be more amenable to rules and structure. However, that desire to please, he noted, might lead a child to be less than truthful at times. Limits are important at this age, when children often seek independence and strive to have some control over their surroundings. These concerns aside, Lloyd emphasized how the child’s increased self-awareness and focus will allow him or her to transform into a more curious student and active learner.
Lloyd went on to discuss some typical concerns that arise among parents of 5-year-olds. He noted that outlets for anxiety like nail-biting and thumb-sucking should not worry parents. He advised that while children should no longer need diapers at night when they are ready for kindergarten, accidents may still happen. He also explained that it is normal for children to begin having more vivid nightmares as their imagination develops. He clarified that as children gain a greater understanding of the world around them, their imagination is enriched with an enhanced capacity for creating detailed worlds of their own. Lloyd ended his speech with a depiction of the 5-year-old as being privileged to a magical sense of the world, and urged parents and teachers to capitalize on that sense of wonder and enjoy their creativity and imagination.When Lloyd took his seat again, the audience was invited to question the nine-person panel.
How can I best prepare my child for the first day at a new school?
Kindergarten teacher Harrier answered with a description of how students are introduced to the classroom at Nixon Elementary School. She explained that the first day of school is not the first time that the children can see and explore the classroom. She invites her students to come together three times for teas or popsicle socials before that first day in September, which gives them the opportunity to get acquainted with the new environment, which will feel very much like nursery school. Separation might be a bigger problem for parents than children, she added.
How do kindergarten teachers assess readiness?
Harrier recommended considering readiness on a child-by-child basis. The eight other panelists all nodded in agreement on this point. Harrier said that the first step in determining a child’s readiness is for parents to talk to their nursery school teachers. She observed that the Bing teachers see children function within a school environment on a daily basis and are great resources for anecdotes and advice. Harrier was joined by her colleague at Nixon, Han, who vouched for the importance of maintaining open communication between parents and teachers throughout the year to track the child’s development. Both teachers agreed that even in kindergarten the range of readiness is wide and kindergarten teachers are prepared to provide differentiated instruction.
The panel also addressed particular concerns about what to do about active boys who are close to the cut-off date for kindergarten when a parent reported having noticed a trend to hold them back. Harrier agreed that boys tend to be developmentally younger than girls of the same age and that this could be a challenge for them in the beginning. Susan Charles, Ohlone Elementary School’s principal, noted that good teachers recognize the need for all children to be active and know how to engage boys in school. For example, some allow “run breaks” or as Harrier and Han both suggested, “dancing time” at the beginning of each day.
How can I tell if my child is enjoying school?
Charles urged parents to think about how they frame the questions they ask their children about school and to be careful not to lead children in their answers. If there is real doubt, she advised seeking information from adults, such as their teacher. She described the Palo Alto School District as having an open-door policy where parents’ questions are invited and encouraged.
Nandini Bhattacharjya, a teacher in West AM and a Bing alumni parent herself, shared a technique that she used with her daughter when she wanted to get a better sense of what her kindergarten class was like. She would engage her daughter in dramatic play activities; she would say, “You be the teacher, I’ll be the student,” and her daughter would recreate her experiences for Bhattacharjya to see.
What sort of after-school programs or activities do you recommend for kindergarteners?
Han asserted that parents should not try to over-schedule their children with activities outside of school. She recommended helping them focus their interests to one or two activities. Harrier and Lloyd joined her in encouraging parents to allow children to focus on school, especially at the beginning. Lloyd noted that over-scheduling children so young can induce stress.
Recognizing that some families require after-school childcare, Peters, head teacher in West AM, advised these families to choose play-based programs to allow children to have choices in their activities. Charles urged parents to relieve the pressure on their children to achieve so young in their student careers. She said, “They grow up fast enough, don’t push.” Robinette, head teacher in East AM, built on this thought by explaining that children live in the moment, and parents and teachers need to let them be 4 and 5. She insisted that what they do now at Bing is an important developmental time in and of itself and should not be confused with “preparation for kindergarten.”
How can I alleviate my child’s stress due to comparisons with other children?
Harrier advised parents to do what she does as a teacher: point to the positives. Notice that each child excels at different things in different ways and at varying stages of the year based on their development. Point these things out and celebrate them, she urged. Charles explained that comparison stress is taught or projected by adults and rarely comes from the children on their own.
What are the particular challenges in kindergarten for children coming from a play-based program?
Robinette explained that kindergarten classrooms are generally more structured, and while this transition takes time for children to make, it is a logical step in their education. She described how Bing exposes children to the appropriate tools and materials so that they are prepared to use them as they enter a new classroom. Even more important, she emphasized, Bing instills the foundational social skills needed to excel in kindergarten. Assistant director Beth Wise, who was Friday Two’s head teacher and former music specialist, shared her prior experiences as a kindergarten teacher and described how Bing children often displayed the ability to engage in social problem solving that benefitted all of the other children in her classroom.
The evening came to a close with Harrier describing the role of early-childhood education as teaching children to love school. If children take away one major lesson from these early years, she insisted, this is the most important.