sweet.feet: The main goals are to learn how to function in a classroom setting, get along with other children, and follow directions. Children are expected to learn the sounds of most of the letters of the alphabet, and sound out basic three letter words by the END of kindergarten. They are also expected to understand basic math skills such as adding up to 10 and counting up to 30, among other things. Students are taught a great deal of art and science in kindergarten; we actually have time to do it at this age before the academic expectations increase.
Different schools have different grading systems. In my district, the curriculum is based on state delineated standards and is scored according to a rubric. We look at where we would expect a child to be at that age and if they are making progress toward those goals.
Jazzdoll: The kindergarten year started slowly with number and letter recognition as well as basic art and science crafts. There was also an hour each of P.E. and music and computer once a week. From September through November, it was mainly about getting all the students on the "same page" so to speak. After winter break, there was more focus on teaching kids to read, write, and do basic math.
sweet.feet: You should get a list from your school. The list might include crayons, pencils, Kleenex, watercolor paints, etc. Children will need a backpack that is not too large or too small and a lunchbox if they bring their lunch every day. It is important that they have good shoes for active play.
Jazzdoll: We provided classroom supplies rather than individual student supplies. Each parent was expected to donate to the class: baby wipes, glue sticks, pencils, and Kleenex. This stuff was all relatively cheap. I spent under $10.
In addition, each child personally needed one set of over-the-head headphones for computer lab and a standard size backpack with their name on it. Invest in a full-sized backpack. The small, kid-sized character backpacks don't hold the paperwork and books the kids bring home.
sweet.feet: This probably varies significantly among schools and teachers. In my room, students have an optional homework calendar or packet beginning in January. Parents are definitely expected to help; most can't do it on their own.
Jazzdoll: Early on, most of the kids had simple worksheets they brought home to work on letter and number recognition with their parents. Later the homework was very basic books to practice reading. My son started kindergarten reading and doing math, so the first half of the year his homework consisted of writing book reports to focus on his writing skills. Parents are expected to help with homework, but it's not overly time-consuming.
sweet.feet: Friendships are critical. The social life of kindergartners is the focus of their lives and a constant source of discussion in the classroom. In fact, forming and maintaining friendships, dealing with people we don't like, and coping with social issues takes up more time than academics and is really more important. For most kids, they will get to the academics in first grade just as easily.
Jazzdoll: Girls tend to stick with girls and boys to boys at recess. "Coolness" was already a factor, based a lot on television; if the kids weren't familiar with certain shows, they were teased. Having not allowed my son any programming other than than educational Discovery Channel shows before he started school made for an interesting dilemma, as he would come home talking about shows the kids were watching and ask if he could watch too. I found myself making some concessions (Clone Wars - yes, SpongeBob - no) so that he would have something in common with the other boys. Also, avoid buying character-related clothing until after school starts. What may seem cool to your child now may go unworn if deemed uncool by his peers.
There were a number of afterschool playdates as it's a great way to get to know the kids your child likes to play with at school. He was also invited to a good dozen birthday parties, but we didn't feel obligated to attend all — just the ones of the kids with whom he really liked to "hang out."
sweet.feet: We have very few kinders who take the bus in our district. They are guided carefully and watched out for.
Jazzdoll: My son rode the bus. We live a mile from the school, but the school is on a major street making walking dangerous. We had a fantastic bus driver who knew all the kids' names within the first week and really made the little ones comfortable. I had to drive him to school once and swore never to do that again — the cars clogging the parking lot and parents in a rush made that feel way too dangerous, especially when the bus was able to drop the kids off in front of the main doors so that they didn't have to be anywhere near the cars.
sweet.feet: Behavior management is the single biggest challenge for both teachers and students. Impulse control, listening, following directions, and sharing are probably the top issues. We work a great deal on learning how to solve problems with others with words as opposed to hands and feet!
Jazzdoll: This depends on the child. While volunteering at the school, it seems as though focusing for any amount of time is very difficult for little ones. I had the unique experience of having the only highly gifted boy in the classroom — in his case, he talked too much and didn't feel he needed to pay attention since he already "knew everything."
sweet.feet: I use positive discipline as much as possible, providing individual and group rewards. I find this most effective. Removal of a child from a difficult situation and redirection are my next tools. Really difficult behavior situations require a student to be sent to another classroom or the principal's office. Students in kindergarten like to see their names in the board, so I write up the names of the good kids when I can!
sweet.feet: I like having parents in the classroom. The more adults there are, the more stable the classroom is, and the more I can work with small groups and individuals. If your child's teacher doesn't get in touch with you, get in touch with her/him. Offer special skills you have. Also, kindergarten projects require a lot of preparation, and in this way, parents can be very useful.
Jazzdoll: Parents were encouraged to sign up to volunteer in the classroom whenever possible, but it was not a requirement. The school we attend has a huge parental involvement rate (close to 100%), so there was more pressure from other parents than from the teachers themselves. We also had an active PTA, and there were plenty of opportunities in the evening and outside of school hours to get involved.
What's the biggest concern from parents?
sweet.feet: Their primary concerns are: How will their child adjust? Will they get over their fears? Will they have friends? Will they learn what they need for 1st grade? Will they be happy?
What was the biggest challenge for your child?
Jazzdoll: In my case, my biggest issue was keeping my son challenged so that school would be an exciting place to be and not something he dreaded due to boredom.
Stay tuned for lots more "What to Expect" features in the Daily Buzz. Over the next several weeks, we'll be covering pre-K through the first year of college.
Thanks so much to the kindergarten teacher and mom who helped us present this valuable Back to School information. Schools and activities vary depending on the district and where you live, of course.
What was the kindergarten experience like for you and your big kid?
More "What to Expect" Back to School features: