What are the objectives of Kindergarten?
The word Kindergarten has a really beautiful history, meaning a garden of children. So when I think about the objectives of Kindergarten, I naturally think of growth. In NSW, schools teach from a curriculum which outlines specific outcomes that we tailor our teaching to, in order to see these outcomes when assessing – however, we are privilidged in Kindy to also focus on how a child is developing socially & emotionally as they transition into school life. There are outcomes across key subjects, English, Mathematics, History/Georgraphy, Science PDHPE & Creative Arts. These outcomes progress each year your child is in school, all the way until they finish! There are lots of specific things we focus on in Kindy, such as building core & foundational Literacy & Number skills, social skills, working in a team & attending to tasks with more & more independence.
How does meeting those objectives look in the classroom?
Every school & every teacher will have distinct differences in the ways they approach the curriculum, but in my experience, a wise teacher will meet outcomes in such a manner that suits the children under their care. There is the possibility to integret units of work across subject areas in Kindy, meaning that we can be working on a task that incorporates English, Creative Arts & Science outcomes all at once. Some schools are played-based, some inquiry-based, some a combination of both. This means that no two Kindy rooms ever really look the same.
What is achieved by the Best start Interviews?
It’s helpful to note that not all schools conduct Best Start interviews, as these are part of the public school system – if your child is enroled in an independent/private school, they will likely have their own way of assessing your child prior to starting. These interviews, however they are conducted, are a way for teachers to ascertain helpful information prior to commencing the term. This information helps with class placement & identifying any diverse learning needs that may be present within the cohort. For lack of a better example, it’s a bit like an academic speed dating mechanism! It typically involves some 1:1 Literacy & Maths questions, as well as having a look at your child’s fine motor skills (holding a pencil, cutting with scissors). These interviews are not a test, it is not a pass/fail system. Parents need not be anxious about making sure their child can do anything in particular before their interview – teachers just want to see your child & start to get to know them.
If a parent has a child that is struggling to keep up, or a child that is already fairly advanced, should they do anything extra? How do teachers manage these children in the classroom?
My favourite advice to parents who have children starting school, is to enjoy your time together at home, reading stories, playing board games, encouraging them to be outside. Whether you’ve noticed your child can already read books themselves or you haven’t seen your child show any interest in picking up a pencil, one of the biggest transitions for them is approaching – the learning will take place in the classroom, they still need a safe space when they come home & need to rest.
Teachers have an obligation to ensure all their students have access to the curriculum. This actually means that when we are supported to do our job well, we plan for & set work that is appropriate for each child. Some children will naturally devour content & happily continue working when they get home, others will find school exhausting & they won’t have the capacity to talk about it or even try to show you some of their learning at home. Neither is bad. Your child’s teacher should speak with you should they have concerns, however, it’s helpful to note that the first term of Kindy particularly, can be an exhausting time for students & teachers alike.
What can I do to help my child transition when they are anxious about starting?
Encourage your child to talk through their perceptions of school – the unknown can understandably be quite scary, so by talking through the logistics, some of that fear can be alleviated. Ask the school whether they have created a social story, with pictures & text of what a day might look like. There are some beautiful children’s story books about starting school as well. If you have their uniform ready, encourage them to try it on, pack them a lunchbox to have at home.. you could play ‘schools’ for the day & take the opportunity to create a positive connection for your child before they start.
What is the best way for me to respond if my child is crying when I drop them off?
Take a deep breath. We know this is hard for you & for your child – many teachers themselves have had to drop their own child off whilst crying..
It can be helpful to minimise the time you spent saying goodbye once at school. Make a plan, involve the class teacher if you can. Start a goodbye routine in the car or on your walk to school – when you get to school, take your child somewhere they can be looked after such as a parent/teacher meeting point. Keep smiling, remind them you will be back in the afternoon, remind them that you love them & then leave as smoothly as you can. Building a connection & relationship with the class teacher really helps here – help the teacher by telling them something special about your child, such as how much they love dogs. Sometimes a well-thought comment on an area of interest can be the perfect distraction, as well as something that builds trust. Things typically get better after time, each child is different. During times of Covid-19, your child’s school will likely have a different system for drop off, although this feels strange & not ideal, it will be what your child knows, so talking about it in a positive way will be beneficial.
I have heard that starting school can take a lot of their energy, is there anyway I can help them manage this?
Yes, I’ve had lots of parents contact me, concerned that their child isn’t coping because they fall a part when they get home. This can feel really awful when you’re in the midst of it.. I don’t like to throw the word ‘normal’ around, so instead, I’d prefer to say that it is very much expected, that all children starting Kindy will be exhausted for a while. Be prepared for small fuses, changes in appetite, out of character refusals & general fatigue. Your child is working so hard during the day, 5 days a week, learning new places, new things, navigating foreign social contexts, to name a few things. It really is an exhausting milestone.
Simplify afternoons. Encourage your child to go to the toilet when they get home, have some nutritious snacks ready for them & a topped-up water bottle. Lower your expectations for conversations until they are ready, sometimes that means sitting next to them in bed & checking in how their day was. Don’t be alarmed if they can’t remember anything they did that day.. remember all those new things they are processing? They’ve reached their safe space & it’s easier to just be who they were before starting school when they get home. Weekends at home are a great way to recover during the first term.
For parents anxious about COVID management, is there anything you could say around safety measures?
Each school should inform parents of what practices they have in place to manage the safety of their community. I would highly recommend that if there is something concerning you, to call & make an appointment to speak with the principal. This truly is such a unique & daunting time – schools were receiving new recommendations weekly last year, but my experience was that everyone was willing to do what was necessary to ensure that safe practice was done to the best of their ability.
Should I communicate my concerns with the teacher? How would I go about this?
In short, yes, it’s always better to communicate than not to. My heartfelt request is to be patient with your child’s teacher, in waiting for their response – if it is urgent, call the school reception & get a message to them. Some schools prefer parents only make contact via email, some have online platforms such as class Dojo, Google Classroom, SeaSaw, etc. Your child’s teacher may personally prefer you call them.. they will let you know what will work best & when is the best time to contact them, usually they will issue a start-of-term letter to families, outlining communication processes.
Anything else you think parents should know?
It may feel like a relief to have your child finally getting to start school, you might be excited & eager to see them embark on this adventure. You might be feeling crippled by worries, some that you can’t even explain. You could be feeling pretty emotional at the thought of your baby heading to school – how can it be?! In a cohort of children, I can guarantee that you’re not alone, wherever you are sitting. It can be hard to reach out & make new adult friends, with the other parents in your child’s grade/class – I personally have experienced a lot of social anxiety in this setting. Be gentle with yourself, this is a new milestone for you too! After the tears stop, you’ll likely be overwhelmed by a sense of pride in seeing your little person adapt & grow. Each family needs to ‘do’ school differently, don’t feel pressured or guilt if you don’t get to pick-up early every day, or if you can’t do pick-up at all; don’t feel like your child’s lunchbox needs to be gourmet everyday or that you need to volunteer for every event. Loving your child means doing things how you need to, not how anyone else does necessarily. Kindergarten really is a beautiful & special year.. take lots of photos if you can!
One last thing.. there seems to be a misconception out there, that children need to be able to do a specific list of things before they start kindy, such as write their name, identify letters & sounds, read basic sight words, etc. Teachers are there to guide your child through these things, whilst some children are naturally curious about this prior to starting Kindy, most will happily continue engaging in their preferred mode of play. Encourage them to engage in what interests them, but don’t feel you need to have taught them the ‘kindy basics’ before they start, they won’t be disadvantaged for having spent that precious time exploring & playing.
Now don’t you all wish that Sarah was going to be teaching your children. What a beautiful heart she has for young children.
I do think most kindergarten teachers I have come into contact with also have a beautiful heart for this age group and I take heart in that.
Thankyou Sarah for your beautiful words of support.
I hope that helps some of you parents out there.