When preparing for kindergarten, the focus is commonly getting the child ready. However, just as important yet often overlooked is getting the parent ready. Wait…what? Yes. It's 100% true and can often be the difference between having an “okay” kindergarten year and a stellar one – for BOTH the child and the parent. (And the teacher…but that's another blog for another day!)
If you are wanting a peek behind the curtain, er…classroom door to kindergarten – then you are in the right place! Get my free pdf that spills the tea and dishes the dirt from a kindergarten teacher that's had 10 years in the trenches! GET HERE!
Kindergarten today is not what kindergarten used to be. Period. I'm not saying I prefer it this way. In fact, my own personal experience included a busy half-day at the dress-up corner, a snack, and a nap.
Honestly, that sounds glorious. I mean – is there a job out there that fits this description? Are they hiring? All joking aside, like it or not – it is what it is. (Ugh. Sigh. Cue Debbie Downer's muah-muah-muahhhhh.)
Now that we got that cold, often harsh-sounding reality out of the way – I have WONDERFUL news for you. Kindergarten is STILL a magical, thrilling, one-of-a-kind year that can set your child up for success for the school-age years to come.
Kindergarten: How Would You Rate Your Experience?
I usually get questions from parents either in May at kindergarten screening, or during our meet-the-teacher afternoon. There are always a handful of consistently asked questions from parents that you can read more about here. There are also more than a handful of questions most kindergarten teachers find themselves wishing parents would ask. For those, you can read more here.
The other day I was filling out one of those “how would you rate your experience” surveys for – I don't know – Amazon? McDonald's? The Post office? Almost EVERYWHERE these days people are asking for a rating, a review, please “like” and give me “5 stars”.
However, I have never given out an “End-Of-Year” survey to parents. Why not? Possibly (probably) because the end-of-year hustle leaves just enough room for wrapping up grades, sending home used-up supplies, and collapsing into a heap.
Can Parents “Teach” the Teacher?
But it hit me as I was answering a question on a required PD day. I was saying something along the lines of, “My kindergarten parents think that….” and then I stopped. Three things crossed my mind:
- I am not a parent. (Well, of humans. However, I have two bird dogs and…many 5-year-olds I “borrow“.)
- I was speaking for parents – and assuming I knew their thoughts – without asking.
- I answer their questions all year long – but do I ask them about their experience after?
The answer is….no. I don't believe I have.
So, I reached out to several parents who have recently had the kindergarten experience, now heading to 1st and 2nd grade. They were gracious enough to answer transparently and honestly. Quite frankly I can't believe I haven't thought about doing this sooner.
Let's get to the good stuff. And there's so much good stuff I will break it up into 2 parts – like a Twix. Or a Kit Kat bar. (Wait – those have 4 parts. Ahh, gimme a break…my brain is in summer mode.)
What follows is part 1. Here we go.
Question #1: What is one thing (or things) that you DID NOT know before your child went to kindergarten that you WISH YOU HAD KNOWN?
- Sight word and math expectations
- SEL focuses (Social Emotional Learning)
- Ways teacher and school push communication (I wish someone had suggested to my husband and me to create a separate email account that was strictly for school and sports communication)
- Structure of the day/core subject lessons (I think it is always neat for a parent to know the daily ins and outs of their child's day)
I would have worked more on sight words and letter writing before kindergarten – there is a lot of reading at night – marathons and things of that nature.
I didn't realize how overwhelmed my child would feel with some of the things I would consider simple, such as going to the bathroom on his own, and eating lunch with peers that maybe were more distracting than he was used to. The expectations of starting to keep things in order and managed like library books, and meeting so many new teachers that he would need to become comfortable speaking with and asking for help. I found my child was afraid to ask for help because he didn't want to seem like he didn't know and didn't want to get in trouble, once I figured this out and could communicate this with his teachers he was able to flourish so much better.
Question #2: Did you feel like your child was prepared to go to kindergarten? If YES – in what way? If NOT – what would you have done differently?
Yes. She was beyond ready. She was academically and socially ready. Her in-home daycare and family prepared her well.
If I had known about the other MNPS (our school district) PreK programs I would have looked at those more. It is my understanding they better prepare kids for what is expected for actual MNPS kindergarten than the program I had mine in.
I do think he was overall prepared for kindergarten. He spent his life in a daycare setting which prepared him for the education piece. He was always excited to learn and was ready to be challenged. I think the only thing I wish I would have done more is help with meeting new peers. He was surrounded by the same group of children for so many years meeting new friends wasn't something he had to do. I think the interactions were something I wish I could have helped him to grow and gain.
Question #3: Was your child excited to go? Nervous? Some other feeling?
They were excited to be “big kids” but nervous to be “big kids” as well. We took them by school SEVERAL times before they actually started so they knew exactly where they were going and were familiar with the school before the first day.
My child had all the emotions – nervous about the new challenges and new interactions he had ahead, excited for a new school and a new teacher, anxious about what his day was going to look like and how a school day looked compared to what he was used to at daycare. He was very overwhelmed by all the rules once school started, and he didn't love it when friends didn't follow the rules and teachers would raise their voices or seem upset with a peer. He wanted everyone to fall in line and this was something he had to learn as a part of kindergarten.
Question #4: Was kindergarten what you had expected for them?
Absolutely. The academics were there, social experiences were there, and the “fun”/magic of kindergarten was consistently present.
NOT AT ALL! But that's a totally good thing. I just assumed it had not changed much in 36 years 😉 – but they are learning so much more and earlier than I did growing up. I do feel like I learned to tie my shoes in kindergarten, and I've talked to a few parents who actually think it would be cool if that was still taught in kindergarten but ya know — velcro. 😉 But I seriously had no idea how much reading there would be.
It was one of the weirdest and strangest years but Mrs. Scott made it memorable. Spending more than half the year over zoom and in our home, I was able to get a closer and more intricate look at what they do in kindergarten and found all that Declan learned and what was presented to him so amazing. Declan entered kindergarten with very little interest in reading and made some amazing progress. He absolutely loved the special stories and having his own pet that he could buy food and playdates for during his day. He grew so much in confidence, he adored her and I don't think we could have asked for a better teacher. (If you want to know more about ‘having his own pet' – read about it here.)
Question #5: what is the BEST advice you would give NEW kindergarten parents if they were seeking out information on what to expect?
Even though you are leaving your child in EXCELLENT patient hands, know you will 100% cry the first day of drop-off and subsequent days to follow. Feed your child breakfast. The key components of snack ideas are dry, quick, and anything your child will eat that won't make the teacher's day more difficult. Kindergarten is TOTALLY about learning, but it's also about making sure your child's teacher has all of their hair at the end of each day. (Special note: I did not pay her to say this…but oh my goodness I love it! ha! If that snack comment shocked you – read more here.)
This is such a tough question because I am sure every parent and child is so different and has so many different personalities. I think something I would say is that having a relationship with your child's teacher can be so helpful if you have an anxious or nervous child – if that teacher is willing to take the time out of their busy day. But also I understand that every teacher may not have this bandwidth. I think I would also tell them their child may struggle in areas that completely surprise them but also excel in other areas. Continuing to provide your child with positive feedback while working toward increased independence is so important.
Question #6: Are there any words of encouragement or advice you'd like to offer new or future kindergarten parents?
Kindergarten is soooo many firsts and it flies by and when it's done you look back at the first day of school pic and the last day of school pic and say to yourself, “WOW! They really ARE growing right before our eyes!” Don't stress too much about expected milestones, the teachers KNOW what they are doing and will make sure your child gets there. But, LISTEN to the teachers. They know ALL of the secrets to get your child over the finish line. ALL OF THE SECRETS.
Find academics in the world around them…letters and numbers, sing to them, read to them, keep in communication with the teacher, talk about school with their child, connect with kids and families (playdates), invest in the school, practice skills at home, always remain positive about education…keep the magic/fire burning bright.
Know that there may be some challenges and there may be some increased fatigue in your child but your child will flourish in kindergarten and grow into the most awesome little human. They will learn more than you can imagine and every day will be a new adventure. Your child may not love everything they are being asked to do but there are life lessons in that as well. Declan grew in more ways than I could have ever imagined during his kindergarten year. He gained new confidence I was so happy to see, but also needed help in areas to foster this confidence. I also loved the community I as a parent was able to form during our kindergarten year and I met some amazing moms that I am thankful to call friends now and it has been so fun to enjoy these years with them.
Special Thanks to these wonderful parents for sharing their experiences with YOU!
There you have it. Tips for kindergarten parents – BY kindergarten parents. I know that some of the references made referred to the effects of virtual school due to the pandemic, but I think that's a super point to keep in consideration. Everything we knew about kindergarten up until 2020 has shifted in a lot of ways.
If your child was not able to have a traditional PreK year, I highly suggest working on routines and fostering independence at home, thinking of ways that they can have some peer-to-peer interaction before they start their kindergarten year.
Now…I want to leave you with 2 helpful resources I have for parents that are FREE – all you have to do is download them!
And the best news is…there's more great advice from parents on the way! Part 2 will include more helpful tips for kindergarten parents – by parents – so check back in and gather some more awesome perspectives from folks who have very recently walked in your shoes!
I know I found their insight extremely helpful, and I hope you did too. Drop a comment and let me know any “aha” moments you had while reading or any tips or advice you think could really help a future kindergarten parent or kindergartener have the best year possible.
Before you go – if you found me by way of kindergarten info…I'd love to share the other side of what I do with you – Kids Music for Kids! Get ready for an impromptu kitchen dance party!