With the school year less than a month away, many parents of young children in Dexter are anxious for their little ones, fresh out of pre-school, to enter through the gate to K-12 education that kindergarten represents.
Although registration for kindergarten and Young 5’s already happened earlier in the year, many parents won’t stop getting ready until the day before their child’s first day of kindergarten.
In fact, administrators in the Dexter school district have a list of things to do in preparation, many of which are best done during the summer and specifically during that final month of August leading up to the start of the new school year.
“Spend time talking with your child about young fives or kindergarten,” said Cornerstone Elementary School Principal Craig McCalla. “Talk about lunch, listening to the teacher, walking in the halls, and all of the great things your child will be learning about. You can always bring them to the playground during the summer.”
The more comfortable your child feels, the better the school year will start, he added.
Learning from experience
Melissa and Paul Grusche have had the experience of sending their two children to kindergarten in Dexter. Rocco, 6, just finished his kindergarten year, and Sophia, 7, has finished second grade.
For each child, adjusting to kindergarten was a different kind of experience. Paul says that with both children, letting go was a challenge.
“It’s hard to let go of your little buddy when you’ve had them with you all day,” said Paul Grusche. “We worry about them not developing a love for school, learning bad habits or maybe finding out their weaknesses.”
What has helped has been good communication from their teachers such as notes about the children’s progress. It also helped Paul Grusche to volunteer in their classrooms once a week.
“It’s a great way to pick up information about your child, their friends and the classroom environment,” said Paul Grusche. “I typically went into class once a week for an hour or more to help. You meet kids and you meet parents.”
Preparing for the next steps
How did the Grusches prepare their children for kindergarten ahead of time?
Sophia went to three and four-year-old preschool through Dexter Community Education for half days, three days a week.
“Sophia was excited to be in school with a second grade cousin in the same building,” said Melissa Grusche. “She really thrived in kindergarten. Her teacher, Ms. (Rebecca) Cudini, the special teachers, and the front office staff are all really friendly, and Sophia became very social with them all.”
Rocco went to half day preschool five days a week to get used to the routine of school everyday. His parents say that the consistency of the same friends through preschool into kindergarten helped with the transition as well as his sister being at the school.
The family read to him every night and worked a little with letters and numbers.
“We found Rocco took several weeks to acclimate to the long full day of kindergarten,” said Paul Grusche. “He was upset most mornings and didn’t want to go, yet at pick-up, he was always smiling and happy.”
Paul Grusche says they let Rocco walk into school with Sophia and were logical with him, giving him reasons for going to school and telling him it would help him make the decisions he needs as he grows up.
“It took a while for him to finally articulate why he didn’t like going to school since he was having fun,” said Paul Grusche. “After many talks before and after, we found he got hungry. He was used to a certain schedule with meals and it was a long time between breakfast at home and lunch at school.”
Focusing on snacks and giving Rocco a good breakfast every morning and giving him time to adapt to his new schedule were key.
“Although Rocco was very familiar with Bates from visiting his older sister, he was a bit nervous about starting school and not knowing all the kids in his class,” said Melissa Grusche. “So we reached out to the parents from pre-school and were lucky to discover that a few of his buddies were placed in his class. I also really appreciated that Mrs. (Joanne) West was really open and communicated a lot with us during those first few weeks. It really helped to hear her tell us he was very happy shortly after we left and joked and laughed with the other kids.”
The Grusches have heard from other families about their own children having difficulty breaking the bond at home and going to kindergarten.
Paul Grusche says, “We’ve found and heard it’s best to let your child be independent once they walk through the front door. For example, don’t walk them into the classroom if you don’t have to. Let them find a friend or sibling or walk on their own.”
McCalla highly recommends much of what the Grusche family did with Rocco, with many additional suggestions that focused on very minute elements to what will be the new kindergartener’s day throughout that first year of K-12.
“As you pick out your lunch boxes and containers for lunch have your child practice opening and closing them,” he said. “This builds confidence and independence at lunch.”
McCalla echoed what the Grusche’s did with Rocco, advising parents to “spend summer days reading with your child … it is important for students to see adults enjoying literature and the family time is priceless.”
At the end of the day, kindergarten is a new experience for a small child like any other, and thus exposing children to other smaller new experiences will help build up to what is one of the biggest new experiences that all children face.
“These experiences create a base of knowledge your students can pull from during class discussions,” McCalla said, adding that this practice will also help Dexter’s children in becoming what McCalla and all Dexter Community Schools staff want every kid to be — an intrepid learner who never shirks away from the exciting new things that they will come across during the first stage of their lifetime.
Dexter school district officials also recommend going to the National Association for the Education of Young Children for more tips, which include the following:
Visit the new school before your child’s first day. Point out ways the room is similar to his preschool room, but also discuss how it holds new materials to explore.
Plan play-dates with new classmates.
Read books about starting school, such as Look Out, Kindergarten, Here I Come! by Nancy Carlson; Will I Have a Friend? by Miriam Cohen, illustrated by Ronald Himler; and If You Take a Mouse to School, by Laura Numeroff, illustrated by Felicia Bond.
Describe the daily routines, including arrival, breakfast, snack, lunch, and bathroom practices.
After your child is well settled into kindergarten, plan playdates with old friends.
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Sean Dalton contributed to this report.