Preparing for Kindergarten by Building Fearlessness
Kalamazoo Public Schools will hold kindergarten and pre-kindergarten orientation at each of its 17 elementary schools on Wednesday, March 9. The virtual orientation begins at 9:30 a.m. Links to each school’s virtual orientation can be found at www.kalamazoopublicschools.com/ kindergarten. Families can also begin the enrollment process using the kindergarten enrollment portal at www. kalamazoopublicschools.com/ kindergarten. The online enrollment portal will open March 9.
An in-person orientation will be held at 5:30 p.m. Because of COVID, all in-person guests must wear masks and the event will be limited to only adults.
Is your child ready for kindergarten?
The skills they need are sometimes obvious — sometimes they’re not, but they are obviously adorable.
For instance, children need to know and be able to say their first name clearly. That may seem obvious, but not necessarily for the child who uses a nickname at home.
“One year, I had a student who was convinced that his name was Pancake,” said Renay Williams-Whitson, a kindergarten teacher at Parkwood-Upjohn Elementary School.
We asked three Kalamazoo Public Schools’ kindergarten teachers for their suggestions on skills that families can work on to ensure their children have a smooth transition to kindergarten. Williams-Whitson’s other suggestions include:
- Listening to and following two-step directions. Students practice this in kindergarten, but it would be great if families could help students refine that skill.
- Practice keeping hands/ feet to themselves and practice respecting the space of others.
- Practice holding a pencil and other art tools.
- Writing their first name.
- Ability to say when they need to use the restroom or have other needs.
- Sing the ABCs.
- Count to 10 out loud. Students practice this in school, but the goal is to be able to count to 100 by the end of the school year.
Lincoln International Studies School kindergarten teacher Courtney Horn said kindergarten is hard. It’s your first time in school, there’s a lot to do, and there are so many things and people.
“I tell children to listen to what their bodies need,” Horn said. “Like, if you’re tired, ask if you can lay your head down. If we’re in tune with our bodies, then we’re in tune with the feelings inside, and then we can head off some of those feelings of frustration.”
Her other tips include:
- Have children work with writing tools and develop their fine motor skills while drawing lines, zigzags, curves and coloring.
- Write their names — or at least some of the letters in their names.
- Practice counting small groups of objects such as pennies or rocks.
- Read to your children and talk about things like the parts of the book, the role of the author and the illustrator, show them where you start reading.
- Talk about social skills such as being patient and taking turns.
- Turn off the electronic devices and practice spending short periods of time — 10 or 20 minutes — on activities like listening to someone read a story or coloring.
“And talk to them about what they are learning, and that it's okay to make mistakes. Mistakes help us learn. It’s not okay to give up,” Horn said.
El Sol Elementary kindergarten teacher Jennifer Greenman agrees with that wholeheartedly.
“What we say every day, in English and Spanish is, ‘We’re kindergarteners. We never give up, we just keep trying.’”
Greenman said that it’s an advantage for children to know their alphabet and how to count, but rather than focus on teaching children specific skills, she encourages parents to think about how to make learning fun. “Doing more worksheets and workbooks is not the best way to prepare children to become lifelong learners. It should always be enjoyable and about instilling and nurturing a positive learning posture.”
Her tips include:
- Bolster their independent work skills so they can sit down and work by themselves.
- Read to them, enjoy stories together and talk about the stories and connect them to other stories. “Reading should be important because it’s an amazing part of your life, rather than because it’s a skill you have to practice.”
- Provide rich life experiences and talk about those experiences to help develop high-level vocabulary. • Encourage them to express themselves, to be inquisitive and to ask questions.
- Encourage them to play in as many ways as possible — outdoors and indoors.
“Parents are a child’s ‘first educators’ and will always be their most important educators. Help them to enjoy learning,” Greenman said. “Parents can help prepare their children by supporting them and encouraging them to be fearless learners.”