No more baby steps

Preschools ready students for move up to kindergarten

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Every year at about this time, the calls start coming in for East Elementary kindergarten teacher Tiffany Trevenen.

"Parents want to know if their children will ready to attend school in the fall," Trevenen said.

The answer: Every child is different.

Children in the Moffat County School District usually start school at age 5 or 6.

Some children enter kindergarten with preschool experience already under their belts, but that isn't necessary, educators said.

There is no official checklist that parents need to follow to ensure a child's readiness for school.

However, parents can help children sail smoothly through kindergarten by initiating some activities and following some general guidelines.

Despite popular belief, children are not expected to have mastered the basics like writing their names, or knowing the alphabet.

"That's what we do," Trevenen said. "We just need parents to teach them life."

Teaching social skills and reading to children is the best way to grow great students, educators said.

Children develop motor skills through projects that involve crayons, paper and scissors. This also helps them feel more comfortable as they're expected to do these kinds of activities in the classroom.

"They don't have to be proficient," Trevenen said. "They just need to have some experiences before they come to school."

In the next two months, teachers from the district's Early Childhood Center are scheduled to make home visits to parents of the school's preschool children. The meetings offer time for teachers to speak with parents about expectations for the kindergarten students, said Sarah Hepworth, director of the Early Childhood Center.

"This is a time where we really encourage parents to address the level of their child's readiness," she said. "What we are looking for are kids that can be part of a group, be confident to do things and take risks. A lot of parents think kids have to have this vast amount of knowledge before they enter kindergarten but it's mostly about getting along with others."

The district offers a kindergarten roundup or registration day in late May. It's a chance for children and parents to get acquainted with the school and teachers to informally assess student's level of readiness.

By the time the first day of kindergarten rolls around next fall, children will have had three opportunities to visit with their respective schools. Children can usually locate their desks and have met other students and the teacher.

In the first few weeks of school, kindergarten teachers send home activities almost every day to include families in the learning process.

Involving families early takes a lot of pressure off young students, Trevenen said.

"By the time they get to the first day of school it's no big deal," she said. "I can't remember the last time I've had tears from students. Parents are a different story."

A common misconception among parents is that boys should have to wait until age 6 to enter kindergarten while girls can enter school at age 5.

That shouldn't be a measure of how parents assess their child's readiness, Trevenen said.

"Parents need to compare their child to other kids their age and see if they fit in socially," she said. "Parent should ask themselves, 'What is my child's maturity level?'"

Trevenen said she's noticed a general trend of parents holding back children until they are 6 years old to start kindergarten. The level of work expected out of kindergarteners today is work that was expected out of first-grade students a decade ago, she said.

"There's more curriculum requirements today than ever before," she said.

Still parents shouldn't feel overly burdened to teach students school skills upon entering kindergarten.

Children without preschool experience tend to catch up quickly, Trevenen said.

On the whole, children who have been introduced to books and rhyming techniques feel more confident in kindergarten.

"There's all this pressure to get children ready for school, but actually schools need to be ready for kids no matter where they're at," she said.

How to get your child ready for kindergarten
• Talk with your child: Talk about what you and your child are doing in everyday tasks and chores. For example, name body parts and describe your actions as you dress a young toddler, like "Now let's put your foot in your shoe," or, "I'm going to wash your ear." These simple descriptions help your child gain new words and concepts.
• Read to your child: With very young children "reading" may mean looking at the pictures and naming a few objects. Also, parents who read for their own pleasure tend to have children who are better readers themselves.
• Encourage problem-solving: Children ask a lot of questions. One of the most frequent is, "Why?" A good response is, "Why do you think?" This approach gives you information about what your child is thinking and can help you determine an appropriate answer. If possible, help your child figure out the answer.
• Have fun with your child: Take a walk together or play a game. Have a conversation and really listen to what he or she has to say. Create family rituals -- a bedtime story or a brief conversation at the end of the day to share special moments. In any of these activities take cue from your child. Don't drill your child with questions; keep it enjoyable.
From the National Association
for the Education of Young Children

Amy Hatten can be reached at 824-7031 or ahatten@craigdailypress.com.

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