Most parents eventually earn a new and fleeting title: Kindergarten Parent. During my time in this crucial, but quick, stage, I realized that a handful of poignant lessons dwarf those about colors and shapes. So If you happen to be in Kindergarten this year (or rather, your child), hopefully the lessons I learned will help you make it through the first year of school.
THE VALUE OF A TEACHER/PRINCIPAL RELATIONSHIP
With both our children, it was vital to be in contact with their teacher. In the case of our daughter, by teaming up, it became painstakingly obvious that neither the teacher nor the district saw education the same way we did. On the opposite spectrum, this partnership allowed us to keep tabs on our highly energetic son, as well as find the resources to give him the best shot at education. Without communicating to the level we did with both teachers, we would have either been stuck in a district that did not match our expectations or we would have continued to walk into a wall with our youngest.
MAY WILL BE HOMEWORK
“Your child has homework” means YOU have homework. This was a huge shock to me – it is KINDERGARTEN, after all! For our daughter, this meant eight pages of worksheets a night. With our son, homework was basically practicing writing, reading and rhyming. Although homework looked different at the two schools, the similarity was clear. Since the little sprouts are not fully self-sufficient, homework is highly hands on for the parent.
Unsolicited advice for other busy parents: figure out what can be done in car trips, during waiting periods (sibling’s sports practice), and as a filler between places to go. We keep a book in the car so required reading is done during travel time. Plenty of crayons and paperwork accompany us to basketball practices. You could also combine an older sibling’s homework to read, with a younger one’s homework of being read to.
Also, get a box.
I was ill-prepared for the vast amount of paperwork coming home. One Amazon box became the “homework box” – a place our son could put his paperwork. If you have a creative flair, this box could be decorated to make it a personal expression of your child.
YOU MAY BE HORRIBLE AT THE HOMEWORK
There is new lingo, especially with math and common core. Below are four quick tips that helped when I went through this with my own kiddos.
Tip 1: Math Trains. If the worksheet says “show your work using a train,” this does not mean Thomas the Train. A “train” is basically blocks in a row. So if the question was 5+5=____, you would show five blocks of one color and five blocks of the other. Much emphasis seems to fall on creating tens. While I struggled with this early on, I now see how quickly our daughter is adding in her head and am starting to buy in to the idea.
Tip 2: Reading and phonics. Reading and forming words did not at all interest our son until he realized you could take words and just like a puzzle, rearrange them to make a sentence. Although this helped some, the formation of words still frustrated him. Old school Hooked on Phonics (the same one that just inspired the “hooked on phonics worked for me” commercial memory) can typically be rented from the library. Within days, he understood how to put together the words.
Tip 3: Usborne Math Books. Although I just recently purchased the set of three, multiple parents have told me that these saved them with the new lingo. We also frequented education stores and found games that secretly were teaching phonics, math, history and other concepts.
Tip 4: YouTube and Google. Use them. There is no shame.
REAL LIFE LESSONS
You won’t like everyone and everyone won’t like you.
Trying to navigate when someone does not want to talk/play with your kids is tough. Both of our kids seemed to gravitate to the kids who seemed a bit rude and/or gave them the cold shoulder. We often asked, “Is that how we want our friends to treat us?”
When the “I don’t like so and so” came up, we had to make sure to reverse this dialogue to conversations of “why” and “you still have to be a good classmate even if you don’t want to hang out with them after school.” Of course, we would remind them of how it felt when they were treated the same. Normally we would find out more about what was really happening at school through these chats.
Our son’s kindergarten teacher told us if she had a dollar for every time a child said “no one will play with me,” she would be rich and that it often was not the case.
Words not actions.
My daughter had a classmate who literally took her book bag and hit my daughter in the head because my daughter informed the classmate that she was not a vampire. The classmate insisted she was. Our daughter used five-year-old logic. “If you were, you wouldn’t be able to be in the sun.” Her classmate’s reply was to use her book bag as a fist. That was a pleasant call to her mother.
“So, well, your daughter hit mine in the head with her book bag because she thinks she is a vampire and my daughter informed her she was not.”
Although I could expand on this, we know that the appropriate response to most situations is to tell the teacher…until it isn’t. That is where it gets tough. What about when they tell the teacher and nothing happens? Or when the teacher doesn’t see it? What happens when the child is being sneaky (bus, for example)? How about when the topic is such that you know no five-year-old has the words to rationalize out what they are thinking and that is why they hit? Then, what?
Some kids will be better than you at certain things and you will be better than others.
Our daughter insisted she was not a good reader because one gifted child was reading chapter books in kindergarten or as my son quickly found out, carpet time was something he struggled with while others seemed to sit effortlessly “criss cross applesauce.” Despite the topic, it will become clear that some will naturally excel, while others need a bit more help. It helps to remember that while academics are important, they are not the whole picture.
With our kiddos, we focused a lot on who they were as people – did they take care of their classmates? Did they help others? Did they try their best? Who were they nice to? Who did they see that needed help and they helped them? Then we always had that to focus on in a deeper context, rather than just the letter grade. Remember, there are many ways to measure success – they may need to see this also.
Good Days / Bad Days:
Welcome to color charts, clips, points, and other methods of keeping behaviors in check to mold kids into well-rounded students. For most, these serve as an attainable goal meant to drive them to giving their best. Our daughter pushes daily to get to the highest level and even her “off days” are right on par.
For the other kids, especially if you have one like our son, even on the best weeks, he will still probably hit 50% – maybe 75%. At about 3/4 of the way through the year, I looked at him and said, “Even if you have a hard day, it doesn’t make you a bad kid.” As he hugged me, tears filled his eyes – it was not that he was not trying, but because he couldn’t ever get high on the chart, he felt as if he was failing.
So take the behavior method your school uses and team up with the administration. Figure out what the expectations are and if your child is struggling, start real and open dialogues. Do not be surprised if you have to hold back some Mama Bear moments. Thanks to pairing up with his teachers/principal, we finally figured out what was going on. It was not until we stopped thinking that our son was just not listening and teamed up with the teacher, did we get to the real “why” of the matter.
Our daughter had backpack girl. Our son had a frienemy who was sneaky in behavior – snickering behind the teacher’s back, pushing kids into others to get hurt, saying rude phrases. When it seemed to be getting out of hand, we set up a meeting with his teacher. Unknowingly to my son, his teacher and I discussed ahead of time what happened and how the meeting would go. I felt it was important for him to learn he could talk to his teacher and she would listen, but wanted to make sure I was not setting him up for a negative experience. This was the start of teaching him to take ownership of his issues, but in a way which I could be involved with the outcome.
Of course, if your child is being hurt by another and the teachers are not seeing it or taking action after you address the situation, it is time for parental intervention. Hopefully by this time you have a good relationship with the teachers and administration so that you can talk to them about what is really going on. If not, I would seek advice from a higher authority.
This was our shocker. Our son came home one day proclaiming “boys are better than girls.” Another day, our son hit another child (not normal behavior if unprovoked). After a very long night of digging, we found out the child told him they couldn’t be friends because our son didn’t have the right skin or hair color. During that same year, a parent of our children’s friends passed away, as did their childhood pet. Beyond ABC’s and 123’s, we had very real issues and having to come up with explanations for “why did they say that?” and how our beliefs may differ from another’s and how that is okay. Real topics. This was the biggest surprise.
FIND YOUR VILLAGE
If I could put flashing stars around this topic, I would. The members of the village may change each year. Find those that understand, support, and question you when something seems rash or off; that will stand behind you when others make startling comments that are unwarranted or welcomed. After 7 months of attempting to figure out what was causing our child to not fall in line, a parent made an off-handed comment that she would tell him, “I want to hear you were good today.” After experiments, research and tests, it took a lot to not give her an earful that day.
Here, I was able to vent; I was able to sigh out the frustration and not be seen as making an excuse. Why? Because they know my child and they knew he wasn’t just being a punk. There was something more. To have to explain from the start to someone would have been a point of energy I just did not have in that moment. You will need a village and they will need you. Lean on them; kindergarten is hard and you will need it.
TRUST YOUR GUT
If something feels off – figure out why. Never stop trying. You will mess up, your kid won’t be perfect, but in the end, so long as you keep on trying to do the best you possibly can for your child, you both will figure it out.
Good luck in Kindergarten! If you are a Kindergarten Parent Survivor, post your tips below for the new K.P.’s in the comments.