The founder and a founding teacher of a new Denver charter school give parents some tips on preparing their children for kindergarten.
Does anyone sleep the night before the first day of school? Parents, children, and teachers are all nervous and excited for the changes the next day will bring. The first day of kindergarten is a major transition point for children and parents, marking our children’s invitation into a new school community. Parents take pictures of their little ones all dressed up and ready for school, carefully braiding their hair, pack backpacks full of fresh supplies, filled with excitement and some anxiety for their children. Many of us remember our first days of school for the rest of our lives.
There is major work to be done in kindergarten. This is the foundation, and we want it to be strong. While early years of elementary school are a time of social growth and academic exploration, they are also critical in shaping students’ later successes. As the founder and lead teacher of Rocky Mountain Prep, we’ve been having wonderful conversations with our new scholars’ parents about how we can all support our students during this time. We’ve condensed these into our top three “Secrets for Success.” Use this summer to prepare your student for success!
1. Don’t just tell children that they are smart. Praise effort and process as well.
We become what we think we are. Children who are told just that they’re smart tend to give up on problems earlier than those who think they are hard workers, persistent, and creative. Effort is what helps us learn new things and tackle new problems. When your child writes her name for the first time, don’t just say, “Wow, you’re so smart!” Tell her what she did and praise her effort: “You tried so hard to write your name, and you did it!”
If we’re always looking to others to determine our self-worth, we never learn to really value our own accomplishments. Instead of saying, “I’m so proud of you,” try saying, “Wow! You must be so proud of yourself!” Let your child own her actions.
2. Read, read, read!
Books are wonderful gateways to other worlds and ideas. But, they are not the only things people read! Think about everything you read in one morning: your alarm clock, the toothpaste tube, the coffee pot buttons, the microwave, the TV Guide channel, the texts on your cell phone, your email or Facebook page, maybe a magazine or a book.
Your child has been “reading” since birth– as he learns to understand the world around him, he reads your face, the layout of your home, the box of cereal he likes, the street outside. This is the beginning of literacy: as the educator Paulo Freire wrote, we read the world first, then we learn to read the word. Point out the things, even pictures, your child already reads at home, and then show him some of the letters that make the words: “Stop,” “Safeway,” “Dora,” “Lightning McQueen.” In school, we build on this knowledge and help children use symbols to read.
Repetition also helps children understand the rhythm and patterns of written language. Singing that same song over and over, or reading the same book before bed for two weeks, isn’t just what kids do to drive parents crazy. It helps children internalize language, so eventually they can make up their own songs and read new books with confidence. We want them to love language in all its forms: reading, writing, singing, talking, communicating.
3. Teach your child to label her emotions. What adults see as frustration is often an inability to communicate.
When your child is happy, excited, nervous, frustrated, or angry, point it out! “You’re really angry right now,” might seem like an obvious thing to say, but children aren’t born knowing how to express what they feel in words.
Giving emotions a name does two things. First, it helps the child recognize feelings and know how to deal with them. “I am angry, I should tell my mom and calm down,” is much better than “I have no idea why my body is tensing up when I just want my brother to give me back my toys,” and then having a tantrum or hitting.
Second, it helps the adult recognize feelings and gives you an opportunity to teach your child what to do, rather than just reacting in the moment. Saying, “You are angry, you should come tell me and then take a deep breath before we talk about it,” also gives you time to not react angrily. It also shows your child that adults have tools we use for self-control. It’s hard, but imagine how different the world would be if we could all explain how we’re feeling and take time to think about what to do next!
Ultimately, parents are the experts on their children. You’ve known them the longest and have taught them so much at home. You have a lot of information to teach your children’s school teachers about how they learn and what they love to do. These are our secrets for success, and we’d love to hear yours to keep the conversation going. As educators, we want to be your partners in helping your child grow academically, socially, and emotionally. We hope these tips make the transition to kindergarten smooth for your students, and are so excited to welcome them to the world of school.