THE BLOG
08/12/2014 05:53 pm ET Updated Oct 12, 2014

Starting Kindergarten -- Answers to Six Not-So-Easy Questions

I have been meeting for over 20 years with parents whose children are about to start kindergarten. While there was always some level of anxiety at these meetings, it was nothing compared with recent years. When did "I will miss my baby so much" turn into "How will my child survive?"

Remember when kids played, got used to being in school and learned their ABCs in kindergarten? That's not what's happening these days. In my community, kindergarten is full day and looks more like what first or second grade were for the parents of these new students. Yes, there may be activity stations, tables instead of individual desks and a few puzzles and games. But make no mistake about it -- this is not your momma's kindergarten.

Thus, the parents have asked me really tough questions in recent years. Here are six typical ones, complete with my attempts to give honest answers:

  1. How is separation from parents/guardians handled at the start of school? It generally isn't. Be prepared to leave your child at the door. This is not meant to be cruel to you or your child. It is a reflection of the realities of family life these days. Most kids' parents/guardians can't be there that first day. Many kindergarteners will arrive by bus. If you are lucky enough to be able to deliver your child in person, make your farewell loving but brief.
  2. What if my child won't give answers on the early tests because she is slow to warm up? Will she be underestimated all year because of that? Maybe. It's your job to respectfully question things and advocate for your child. You know her best.
  3. What about my son who is so full of energy? Do boys like him have a hard time with all of the sitting and worksheet tasks? Will he get enough breaks in his day to burn off some of that energy? Boys like your son do have a hard time with the longer periods of sitting and fewer opportunities for recess and play. Again, you know your child best. Don't let the school label him for what may be a problem with how kindergarten is currently structured.
  4. What should I do about my child whose birthday is in August (school cut-off age is September 1)? Do I want him to be the smallest boy? He won't be as mature or academically ready as the children who start kindergarten a year or more older, so should I hold him back? There is no actual evidence that red-shirting a child leads to better school performance down the road. There are good arguments either way. My rule of thumb is to consider it if there is a second factor along with young age. Some examples include special needs (but not if it means delaying getting help for the child), extreme shyness, short attention span...asking your child's early childhood program is very helpful in making this decision. In the end, go with your instincts about your child.
  5. How much information should I share about my child at the start of school? I want to help the teacher to understand my child, but should I burden her with this or influence her view of my child? Given the teacher's time constraints and the number of kids she has to manage, do I want to add to her load by telling her special things my child might need? YES! Share all you can. And if the teacher seems to forget what is unique about your child's behavior and learning style, share again. Waiting for the teacher to figure it out or hoping she won't notice is a recipe for disaster. It will significantly delay getting the help your child needs.
  6. What happens to children like mine who still nap? How do I prepare him for 6½ hours of school? Do children still get to rest in kindergarten? If you have a child who still naps, I would wean him off the nap over the summer. Even kindergartens that still have literal rest times with mats stop doing it by January. Most just plan a period of quieter activities after lunch. Your son may need to go to bed much earlier during this transition to full day kindergarten. And don't load him up with after school activities. He will be tired when school ends and needs some down time as well as time to play.

It was hard to answer these, and many other, really good questions. I never want to frighten parents, as they are already worried enough. But they were asking about their precious 5-year-olds who are still vulnerable little guys. So I tried to answer each question with empathy for the very legitimate concern expressed.

My bottom line message is what my blog is all about - Still Advocating. Parents need to advocate for their children respectfully, but they still must advocate. Ask questions. Get as involved in your child's school as possible. Learn about the curriculum your child is being taught. Be aware of the assessment and testing and the consequences of your child's performance.

Rhonda Cohen, Cherry Preschool's Inclusion Director, often tells parents who worry about being *that* parent, "But your child needs you to be *that* parent." Sage advice. Listen to your child and let her know that you believe in her. And never forget that, as your child's first and best teacher, no one knows your child as well as you.

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