Basics are the keys for new kindergartners

Erin Wood

Parents, take a breath and relax.

There's no reason the first day of school should stir up a stream of tears.

And that's not just advice for the backpack-clad 5-year-olds. Mom and Dad often are more panicked about kicking off kindergarten than their carefree tots. But there are more important lessons to teach than counting to 100 or reciting the alphabet. So put away the flashcards.

"Children likely won't have a strong foundation if they only have specific skills," said Beth Bussan, principal at Valeska Hinton Early Childhood Education Center. "Of course, there are skills that are advantageous, but if you have the ability to learn and a willingness to achieve, you will be successful."

While drilling particular lessons isn't necessary, kindergartners should work on learning their phone numbers and addresses, as well as how to write and spell their names. They should also be able to identify most letters, numbers and shapes and have an understanding of the seasons, months and days of the week. But parents need not worry if their child hasn't mastered these things.

"What's more important is self-esteem, appropriate behavior, good listening skills and a love for reading," Bussan said. "This basic framework is what's essential."

Preschool isn't essential to success in kindergarten, Bussan said, but children must be able to take direction from adults and interact with other children before heading off to school.

"Whatever you are doing for your child's education, you can't negate the importance of being a learner in a social environment," she said. "You really need that opportunity of learning with other individuals."

Sharie Holzer, who has taught pre-kindergarten at PALS for 17 years, echoed Bussan, noting her class of mostly 4-year-olds gets two recesses and participates in plenty of group activities every day.

"It's important that they play and interact with each other," she said.

"Social skills and working together is vital to school and to life."

Other basics parents should work on with their children include using the bathroom on their own and dressing themselves, such as zipping zippers and tying shoes. And don't forget to buy school supplies and back-to-school clothes, as well as scheduling medical exams and immunizations.

While many kids will have experienced preschool, getting them used to a school setting, responsibility and a structured schedule is also important. Assigning them small tasks, taking a trip to the school they will be attending and going to bed on time are a few easy ways to help kids get in the swing of things.

But even if these goals seem unattainable, don't lose sleep over preparing for the perfect first day. Kindergarten, after all, is the beginning, and kids will develop a love for discovering new things.

"They absorb so much at this age," Holzer said. "They love to learn."

Erin Wood can be reached at (309) 686-3194