Kids are ready for kindergarten … but are Mom and Dad ready?

Rachael Scarborough King
Star Staff Writer
Published: August 7, 2006

Maren Russell, 5, is excited to enter kindergarten, where she will learn to read and write and, most of all, have the chance to use as much glitter as she wants in her arts and crafts projects.

“They use lots of glitter in kindergarten,” her mother, Polly Russell, said.

Maren will attend The Donoho School, where classes begin Aug. 14. As schools around the county are gearing up for the beginning of the school year – which starts today for some local schools – parents and teachers are preparing for a milestone moment in the lives of their 5-year-olds.

Although children in Alabama aren’t required to attend school until age 7, educators say that kindergarten is a crucial year in getting students ready for the more vigorous academics of later grades.

“I think it sets the stage for the rest of their school experience, so I think that kindergarten is so important that they have that wonderful experience because I want them to enjoy the love of learning,” said Cyndi Whetstone, a kindergarten teacher at Donoho for the last 18 years.

Jenni Curvin, a kindergarten teacher at Alexandria Elementary School, agreed, saying she thinks kindergarten is the best grade.

“The most important thing is during the year to instill in the children a love for school and a love for learning and if it’s instilled at an early age I think they’ll carry it with them throughout their school years,” Curvin said.

The teachers and administrators interviewed had several recommendations of “dos and don’ts” for parents of incoming kindergartners. Do teach your child to tie her shoes. Do talk to her about what to expect from school. Don’t let your child see your own anxiety.

“Be excited about the kids starting school,” Curvin said. “The best thing is probably not to let your children see you cry ’cause that’s when it all goes downhill.”

She added that she finds parents are usually more nervous than their children about the first day of school.

“It’s very exciting for the teachers and the children but it’s a very emotional day for the parents,” she said.

Whetstone agreed, saying that a crying child usually calms down once his or her parents leave the room.

“The children act so differently without their parents,” she said. “I did have a parent one time check in my window to make sure that the child was OK.”

The principal of Donoho’s lower school, Laura Phillips, approaches this school year as both an educator and parent. Her daughter, Shelley Ann, is starting kindergarten.

“Part of me knows that we’ll never go back and she’ll never be my baby again, (but) it’s fun and it’s enjoyable,” Phillips said. “She’s extremely excited about school and she loves school and she’s very glad to be starting.”

Phillips said Shelley Ann at-tended the pre-kindergarten program at Donoho, which helped them both get used to being at school together.

“She was very independent last year – she rarely came to ask me for anything,” she said.

Russell, whose daughter Maren also attended Donoho’s pre-kindergarten program, said she thinks pre-school is important preparation, adding that her older son had an easy transition to kindergarten for that reason.

“We didn’t have any experience of anxiety or adjustment to the school setting,” she said. “I think children who’ve been to pre-school probably have an advantage in that they don’t have to adjust to a school setting, they’re already accustomed.”

Phillips agreed that pre-school can be a big help, but said that what’s important is to help the new students get excited about learning.

“I have a long background in public school and often I saw children who did not start kindergarten and kindergarten is important because they begin learning those social skills and … those pre-reading skills,” she said. “I think that’s a shame that the state of Alabama doesn’t require kindergarten. … It helps them love school at an early age.”

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