Dear Dr. Fournier:
My daughter started kindergarten this year, and she is doing fine. However, in looking down the road at the workload the school is expecting of the first and second graders, I cannot help but worry. I’ve heard parents talk about hours of homework, tutoring, and having their children tested. Already I hear the children called lazy and careless. Many parents of these first and second graders feel that neither they nor their children were prepared for the amount of work or the high expectations placed on their children.
I don’t want to go through what I hear the other parents talking about. Is there anything I need to be doing this year to help my daughter prepare for next year?
For many years, parents have heard a rallying cry from the educational system; “We must get to our children sooner!” There is an emphasis that has been placed on hurried education, and more education sooner for children. Unfortunately, this has become the rule over the exception, and is systemic.
For children in the early grades, there are two issues to consider:
1. The accelerated content of the curriculum
2. The child’s ability to carry out school-related tasks
No matter how much schools (or parents) would like for children to wear a size three shoe instead of a size one, there is no way your child can grow these two sizes overnight! The same is true of developmental readiness. Just because a curriculum asks children to learn to read, write and do arithmetic does not mean that every child will able to perform at the same pace, because they will develop at different paces through the early grades.
Rather than trying to force-feed higher grade level content to a young child, parents should focus their efforts on an area where they can have a greater impact, namely helping the young student learn how to carry out the tasks that schools will increasingly ask of them as they go from grade to grade. These skills are not innate; they must be taught, and students can learn to execute these new strategies with independence and responsibility.
WHAT TO DO:
In talks to parents and teachers, I usually stress that kindergarten is a wonderful time for parents to introduce their children to the skills of self-organization, planning and self-assessment by using the homework they receive.
When you define “homework” as anything a teacher asks you to do after school that must be completed by another day, it is clear that kindergarten students do have “homework.” Here are a few examples:
Daily homework: “Bring something for show-and-tell tomorrow.” Or, “Cut out pictures of things that start with the letter K.”
Long-term assignments: “Have your parents read this paper and sign it. Bring it back by Friday. It is the permission slip for our zoo trip next Wednesday.” Or, “Read your letter book to your parents and bring it back by the next library day on Monday.”
If your child’s teacher has not already done so, create an organizational system to help your daughter cope with these responsibilities. For example, buy a two-pocket folder and designate the left-hand pocket as “From School to Home,” and the right-hand pocket as “From Home to School.” Have your daughter decorate the pockets so she can remember their functions. When she receives a permission slip that must be signed, it goes in the left-hand pocket. After you have signed the slip, it goes in the right-hand pocket to be returned to school. Help her develop the behavioral pattern of checking her folder at home and at school each day.
Parents can help kindergarten children develop the organizational process to help deal with school responsibilities and to prepare them for grades that will be even more demanding. To cope with today’s curriculum, the first “R” of schooling should be called “Responsibility.”
CONTACT DR. FOURNIER