Joyce Childs has taught in the Twin Rivers Unified School District since 2009, in both general education and special education classrooms. In her youth dyslexia made school difficult, says Childs, and after high school she chose to join the U.S. Army. “But I wanted to be a teacher,” she says, and ultimately earned her master’s degree from California State University, Sacramento. In addition to her classroom duties, Childs is the president-elect of CARSplus, a nonprofit organization for special education educators.
It is not vital for a child know how to read or write before starting kindergarten, but there are other valuable non-academic abilities they will need on day one. For example, Childs says being able to color within the lines is not as important as knowing how to hold the crayon. Work with them in advance to learn how to use safety scissors, play games, kick and catch a ball, hold a book and turn the pages as you read to them, hold a stuffed animal with both hands and how to walk both backwards and sideways. Having these skills before kindergarten will kick start their confidence and success in school.
“Every kid needs their own backpack,” Childs notes, so pick up one that is age and size appropriate. Since paint-covered hands, bathroom accidents and mud-puddle splashing are common to kindergarteners, Childs suggests keeping a change of clothes in the backpack, along with a plastic bag for soiled items. It is also good to put together a tub of paper, crayons and other supplies for the child to use at home. And while classrooms start the year with some supplies, they run out quickly and teachers often end up buying more out of their own pockets. Everyone benefits when families donate or raise funds for more of the necessary school supplies.
“Create a communication system with the teacher,” says Childs, that includes sharing your cell number so they can text or call you directly if needed. She adds that some teachers are willing to write notes about the student’s day when a notebook for that purpose is kept in the backpack. Parents should also ask the teacher how they can help, both during class and outside of school hours. In addition to assistance on field trips and in the classroom, teachers appreciate it when, for example, a parent is willing to cut out 25 construction paper butterflies to be used in a project the next day.
Childs suggests that getting out of the house is one of the best things for a child’s development, and it doesn’t have to cost money. Go to the library for children’s story time or visit neighbors; interacting with a variety of people can help little ones learn about verbal cues like taking turns talking and listening. Build observation skills by taking a walk and having them point out things like birds, trees and bugs on the sidewalk. For the record, Childs says she is all for children learning to use smart phones, computers and other technology, “but not to the exclusion of going to a pond and catching polliwogs.” She urges adults to put away cell phones and headsets while they are spending time with the kids.
Before starting kindergarten, kids are used to being the center of their family’s universe. But that changes when they join a classroom full of other children, and it can be hard for them to adapt. Plan ahead and practice waiting in line, sharing toys, taking turns, listening to and following directions and waiting for their turn to talk. It is important that they know to be polite and respectful to teachers and other students, and the key is having the adults at home model the appropriate behaviors themselves. And since kids pay attention to what adults and siblings say about their own school experiences, make sure those messages are consistently positive.