For parents of children who will head off to Kindergarten in August, stepping into elementary school feels like a symbolic part of “growing up.” And, the transition from Preschool to Kindergarten tends to come with a full handbag of emotions: we feel joyful, bittersweet, nostalgic, and perhaps conflicted. We want to keep a wing around our child and at the same time, help them to spread their wings. We may wonder what to expect and how we can best support our child – but not know what to do… The sense of uncertainty is common for many parents and with good reason; Kindergarten today often looks and feels very different than what we may have experienced. The disconnect in familiarity leaves us wondering what we can do to support our child as they make the leap from preschool to elementary school.
Let’s pause for a moment here and acknowledge the nature of education in today’s world. Education is complex and ever-changing. In fact, the role of Kindergarten has been evolving since its origin in 1840 as a “garden of children” – a place for learning to socialize, play, and share. The first 100 years of Kindergarten stayed fairly true to Froebel’s original vision. However, Sputnik changed that when the Soviet Union set in motion more than a space race. Sputnik also launched a shift in our approach to school and academic expectations. In the book K Today – Teaching and Learning in the Kindergarten Year, Elizabeth Graue creates a pointed comparison of Kindergarten views using Robert Fulghum’s warm and fuzzy notion of cookies, milk, and afternoon naps contrasted with Arnold Schwartzeneger’s demise as a undercover cop who – despite his huge muscles – crumbles under the grinding demands of being in a Kindergarten classroom.
Graue’s imagery captures the essence of the flux in Kindergarten education today. Caught between early learning experiences in a social sandbox and more rigorous elementary school academics, it’s no wonder that parents question how to support their child’s transition into Kindergarten. Below are a few tips to help guide the process:
1. Focus on building strong school – home partnerships.
Forming proactive partnerships that begin at the start of your child’s elementary school experience help to ensure that positive relationships and parent involvement continue throughout the elementary school years. Taking the time to build a home-school partnership also creates a trusted feedback loop within which parents and teachers can share information back and forth with each other often and as needed.
2. Build bridges to make transitions easier.
Look for a school that invests time and energy into building a strong bridge between a child’s preschool experience and transition to Kindergarten. Ideally, teachers should be in communication with each other as children move from preschool to Kindergarten. Strong bridges are often in place within schools that offer preschool on the same campus as their elementary programs. However, for children who will attend an elementary school that is not on the same campus as their preschool, bridges will need to be intentionally formed. Ask for permission to connect your child’s preschool teacher with their Kindergarten teacher.
3. Look for a “whole child” approach.
A developmental / ecological approach looks beyond what a child can “do” and instead takes a holistic view of a child’s development. Yes, information such as the number of letters a child can recognize or write are important. However, focusing on just the ABCs and 123s provides a limited view of a child. It is critical that teachers take into account a child’s social and emotional development as well as their academic skills. Ask any school what their social and emotional curriculum is, how teachers are trained, and what the program will look like for your child.
4. Choose a Kindergarten program that aligns with your child’s learning style, strengths, challenges, and needs and your personal leanings as a parent.
Factors such as the Kindergarten or school’s overarching philosophy / approach to education make a difference in your child’s Kindergarten success as well as how you will feel as a parent in the school. It is important that parents consider elements such as the school’s curriculum as well as your child’s learning style. Does your child thrive on academics or structure? Do they seem to come alive when engaged in experiential learning, arts, or STEM? Ask any school about the amount of seatwork that is expected, recess / movement breaks, and opportunities for hands-on learning.
As a final thought…
The preschool to Kindergarten transition is a critical moment in a child’s life and one that deserves intentional thought, care and support. Ensure that your child’s step into the elementary world is supported by proactive, collaborative, and communicative relationships from teacher to teacher, teacher to parent, and family to school connections. Look for a school that focuses on the importance of viewing each child through a holistic lens while joining you in celebrating your child for their strengths – and supporting your child’s challenges.
Children are our future. When parents and teachers work together to ensure that the transition to Kindergarten is proactive and thoughtful we create a pathway to school success. Let’s all do our part to help children step into elementary school with a sense of “I am and I can” that will propel them through their academic years.