Resources

Bend-La Pine School District offers a kindergarten handbook, a reading guide and immunization information at http://bit.ly/2bbYHLm

Christina Brown and her husband tried to hit all the bases in preparing their son for kindergarten.

They enrolled Cohen, 5, in a learning center. They taught him to sound out words from the books they read to him at bedtime. Cohen’s social skills seemed appropriate for the small kindergarten class he has been enrolled in.

Despite all that, Brown and her husband are still anxious.

“I feel like we’re on the end of the spectrum of parents who haven’t done enough,” Brown, 37, said with a laugh.

Cohen is among nearly 1,300 children entering kindergarten in Bend-La Pine Schools. This is the second school year Oregon has funded all-day kindergarten.

A child’s jump into formal schooling is a milestone that can seem hard to navigate, creating a whirlwind of anxiety for the children and parents.

Coping with a little one leaving the nest for the first time can be overwhelming for mothers and fathers. Experts tell parents to seek advice from friends and other parents to help with the transition.

Academic rigor has increased for the youngest students along with higher expectations for academic, social, emotional and physical skills. A 5- or 6-year-old starting kindergarten with no preschool education or an otherwise leg up is destined to struggle.

Numerous sources offer advice for parents about to send a child to their first year of school.

Lora Nordquist, the Bend-La Pine assistant superintendent, tells parents not to fret. Preparing a child for school is an ongoing process — one that is a matter of making the child ready to learn rather than having the child arrive at school with information crammed in their heads.

“We use the term ready to learn a lot,” Nordquist said. “Some kids have not had any preschool, and some haven’t picked up a crayon. Others have learned how to read or are ready to learn. We try to make it a warm and loving environment that makes it easy for the kids and the parents.”

Exposure to learning experiences, such as preschool, visiting museums and joining summer day camps, helps children not only with the learning process but also the daily social interactions they will have with children their age.

“In the first several weeks of kindergarten, our teachers spend a lot of time teaching kids how to do school,” Nordquist said. “So much of their work is about taking turns, listening to each other and following directions. Teachers do not make the false assumption that every student will come with high levels of skills in any area.”

More academic

While kindergarten places much emphasis on a child’s socialization, there has been a noted emphasis on academic achievement.

During the 2015-2016 school year, students entering kindergarten in Oregon showed a slight improvement in early literacy, early math and interpersonal/self-regulation skills, according to the Oregon Department of Education’s third annual kindergarten assessment.

“Kindergarten is more academic than it was a decade ago,” Nordqist said. While there is more emphasis on numeracy and literacy, that doesn’t mean these things can’t be fun. When it’s done really well, it feels like play; students don’t sit and work on worksheets all day long.”

Laci Fisher, a kindergarten teacher at Buckingham Elementary, said by the end of the year, children graduating kindergarten will know how to read, write a story and perform simple mathematics like addition and subtraction. “We also want them to be good problem-solvers, good citizens,” she said. “We teach them social skills together to make learning fun for them.”

Separation anxiety

Kevin Cooper’s daughter Kailyn is entering Bear Creek’s dual immersion program as a kindergartner. The father of three said his daughter is already reading so she can keep up with her book-loving brother, who’s two years her senior.

“Kailyn is the competitive one; she doesn’t want her brother to get an upper hand. She’s been reading for the past six months,” he said.

Both Cooper and his wife are teachers at Bend High School; their children are enthusiastic about school. That said, it doesn’t save these parents a bit of separation anxiety of their own.

“Like so many parents, I just love being around my kids,” he said. “You hope you have instilled in them the ability to make the right choices when you’re not around and to deal with peer pressure.”

To help, Fisher said at her school and many others, teachers try to make the school accessible to parents who may want to linger.

“We’re here to talk to you, meet your needs, if you want to come in and stay a little bit, you can” — so long as it doesn’t cause issues with kid getting acclimated, she said. “What parents don’t know is if their child is having anxiety about school, almost always, as soon as they walk out the door, the kid stops crying, and they’re happy and have forgotten they’re supposed to be upset about leaving their mom.”

A primary concern among parents whose children are entering school is whether the teacher will know how to care for their child. Lawrence Cohen, Ph.D., author of “Playful Parenting,” told PBS Parents: “… they feel loss because this may be the first time their child is away from home this long. They may also feel loss because they work full time and can’t be there — at school — to help their child adjust in person.”

Cohen said parents who feel guilt or anxiety can work things through by talking with a friend, their partner and the school guidance counselor, if needed. Another option is joining a local parenting group. In Central Oregon, there are several Meetup.com groups, two on Facebook.

Christina Wallace-Woo, of Redmond, co-administers the Central Oregon Mommies Facebook group, which features 539 members. She said about 60 members have children who are preschool or kindergarten age. For this reason, her group organizes events like mommy meetups and play dates to help ease the separation anxiety parents and children feel — something she said is common among her members. Wallace-Woo, whose daughter is 2, said through the social activities she hopes she and her daughter will have built-in social network among parents and students when it comes time for her to enter preschool.

Everyday preparation

Much of bettering a child’s success at school begins at home.

The National Education Association has an extensive list of suggestions, among them are taking a child to the library to engage in reading and listening activities, exploring word play with rhyming songs and creating vocabulary building games. It’s also important to teach children basic behavior skills, such as following rules or facing the consequences; helping themselves in the bathroom and engaging in productive conversations.

The Mayo Clinic advises parents to establish at-home routines that will mirror those the children will encounter at school. These include eating, playing and sleeping at regular times each day. Nordquist also said one of the best things a parent can do is to encourage a children’s language development.

“That’s a matter of asking open-ended questions, encouraging your child to explain, elaborate, make up stories, sing songs. It really doesn’t matter if a child knows all the letters of the alphabet; what is important is that he is comfortable using language — that will definitely help a child thrive in school,” Nordquist said.

She emphasized another point: let children know doing well in school is important.

“It’s a matter of telling the child that school is their job now. We want it to be joyful and fun, but this is important,” she said.

Fisher, who is 39 and has taught kindergarten for 13 years, also has a child entering kindergarten. She echoed Nord­quist’s sentiment, suggesting parents present school as an adventure.

“You want to make it fun and exciting,” Fisher said. “Let children be children, and they’ll probably amaze you with all the things they know and learn and will teach you.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7816, pmadsen@bendbulletin.com

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