I’m so excited to be talking with my dear kindergarten teacher friend Emily today. Emily and I met in the first week of our Master of Teaching Course at Sydney University and it was love at first sight. I heard her talking across the room to a group of people and I knew instantly that I had to be friends with her. Emily’s energy and passion for teaching is so incredible and she has worked with so many students and families starting out Kindergarten and has developed wonderful educational bonds with these families. With the start of the new school year here in Australia, I wanted to pick her brain and get her top tips for starting Kindergarten and ways to have a smooth transition into what is a huge change for your whole family.
Hi Emily, Thanks so much for taking the time to create this article on starting kindy. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and about your journey to becoming a teacher?
Thanks Teri for asking me to talk to you and of course for that gorgeous intro. I am excited to be a part of your Starting Kindergarten article. One of my great passions as an educator is the first year of school. This is the year when a hunger and thirst for learning begins and with a solid foundation year it can greatly help children with ongoing educational success. With a decade in advertising behind me I became aware of my own passions for teaching and realized that my ideas around job satisfaction had changed. With fear and intrepidation I embarked on a Masters of Primary Education and the rest as they say is history. Of course it wasn’t that smooth and I had to jump through some hoops to get onto the University of Sydney course whilst consulting, but once I was on the course, and with a few breaks for beautiful babies, I have never looked back.
What’s your favourite thing about teaching Kindergarten?
I think it is a really hard question. I know many people think I am completely mad for wanting to work with the newbies but there is something truly special about watching these incredible beings blossom into independent thinkers. For me, I think, what is there not to love about watching these young children turn into inquisitive, knowledge thirsty, articulate students. However, if I had to narrow it down to one thing I would say it is the idea of creating a sense of belonging in my classroom. It fills me with pride to know that we work to make a classroom community, where lifelong friendships and understandings are formed. There is a special bond I share with my students being a Kindy teacher and I feel it is a privilege to be able to help my students build the foundations to grow and develop educationally, socially and with appropriate school behaviour.
Your son is starting kindergarten this year, how are you feeling being on the parent side of the experience? How can parents manage their overwhelming feelings of letting their child enter the world as an independent person?
It is a strange feeling to think that you are relinquishing the rights for your child from 9-3, however I think being a teacher allows me to be less afraid of letting go. I feel safe and excited to know that my son will learn from those around him, and the bright minds of the educators he meets. As parents “letting go” especially to strangers (which is what the teachers are in the beginning) is the hardest part of our job. I guess all I can say is that generations have done this, and we see the real and incredible benefits school has on our kids in allowing them to carve out their own path and ways in the world. Always remember parents you’re still there to guide them, and as their main confident there is no harm in them being able to look to others for extra support, all of this guidance will allow them to become independent thinkers and reach their full potential.
I will be the parent hiding behind a tree crying! If you feel like this too know that you are not alone there. Breath and take a walk around the block, have a coffee with a friend, exercise or just take a bit of time alone and remember this feeling of sadness will pass. Just wait for the moment your little darling meets you at the end of the day with excitement (and exhaustion) in their eyes and all your fears will melt away.
What happens in kindergarten? What can parents expect to see their child learning in the first term of kindergarten?
Term One of Kindergarten is all about settling the children into daily school life. Here we take the time to allow kids to establish their place in the classroom, in their year and in the school as a whole. An important part of this term is teaching appropriate school behaviour, in the form of teacher expectations, peer expectations and of course the school rules. Here routines are learnt, the physical surroundings become more familiar and time is taken to help the students foster positive social relationships and of course educationally set the students up for success in their future learning. A large focus of the Kindergarten Year (and of course the Primary Years as a whole) is on literacy and numeracy.
Term One of the first year of school can be exhausting and overwhelming for the students. It is important to listen to your child whilst also trying to guide them to having positive associations with and behaviours at school. Your classroom teacher is there to help you, so any worries, however silly they might seem, make sure you talk to the teacher, it will make you and in turn your child feel more at ease.
Can you tell us a little about reading groups? What are some ways parents can get involved and know what’s happening in the classroom?
A reading group is a literacy focused activity, usually done in the morning session, where students are put into set groups to work on all things to do with literacy. I guess this is really up to the school and the teacher. However, in my class I would always say if a parent has the time to do reading groups, it is so helpful to assist with the the running of small productive learning groups. Any activities around reading, increasing letter knowledge, comprehension, playing with sounds etc. will aid in the process of learning to read and write.
Reading groups are a great way to promote social and educational progress; one on one guided reading time with the teacher also occurs in these sessions. Any parent involvement is gratefully received to allow the teacher more one on one time with the students. However this must fit into your already busy day so please don’t worry if the times don’t suit this will in no way harm your child’s progress.
Can you talk a little bit about reading levels and explain what they mean and why they are used in the classroom?
Firstly, I would urge all parents not to panic if their child cannot read, that is what Kindergarten is for. Reading levels are merely a tool teachers use to be able to see progression in students reading. We look at a child’s understanding of a text (comprehension), their fluency when reading (timing and pace), and accuracy (do they take time to get it right), and all factors contribute to children making progress in reading. Make sure to remind your child that it is a learning process and that they will progress. Remember each child works at their own pace and will move up when they are ready; your investment of time and patience will be invaluable to them.
Reading levels do not always progress sequentially, sometimes a child will jump from a 1 to a 5 in a few weeks, and sometimes they will stay on a level for a prolonged period of time. All these are perfectly normal and reading will come when it should as it is an individual journey for all.
How can reading with your kids at home help in the classroom?
Reading at home is imperative to helping your child develop a passion for literature. I find in my home this is our time to share with the boys and the perfect setting for the calm of bedtime. We try to let the kids pick the books we read and tend to go with the flow for what interests them that night, or week. The repetition can get frustrating as an adult, but rest assured you’re teaching your child the value of sight words, repetition can lead to rote learning which often means soon your child is reading you the words, even when they cannot read. We try to constantly ask questions to ensure the boys comprehend what they are reading. First and foremost, for me, I want my Kindy students to want to read, as such be mindful of how tired they can get, so some nights this may just be one story read by you with minimal questions involved.
Do ALWAYS read when your child demonstrates an interest but please DON’T worry if one night they are simply too tired, just save it for another night, reading must never become a chore.
TOP 10 TIPS TO KEEP IN MIND WHEN STARTING KINDERGARTEN
- PACK A HEALTHY LUNCH. Children need healthy food options to keep their brains active and to learn. A balanced diet is incredibly important for their developing minds and bodies. Did you know children have to try a new food at least 15 times before they can tell if they like it or not? Continue to put chopped veggie pieces in their lunch even if they’re not eating it (I know so irritating having them return home uneaten but it’s a about forming healthy habits for later in life…it will pay off down the road!). This way they learn that this is what a balanced diet includes.
- Keep WAKE UP AND BED TIME CONSISTENT as in the same time every day. Of course some days you’ll have to be a bit flexible depending on special occasions however these should be few and far between during school term. Sleep is integral to children’s minds resting to consolidate all the information they’re learning and is critical to proper brain development.
- Have a CONSISTENT MORNING ROUTINE and keep the order the same every day. This will help your mornings run a little more smoothly as expectations are set and children understand the flow of the morning prep. This may include something like wake up at the same time everyday, brush teeth and hair, get dressed (have clothes laid out the night before), eat breakfast, pack bag and head out to the car.
- Keep OUTSIDE SCHOOL ACTIVITIES TO A MINIMUM. We all want our children to experience the most out of extra curricular activities but starting school is tiring and adding more to a child’s plate will only leave them feeling exhausted and fatigued. One activity per term is more than enough.
- KEEP YOUR CHILD INFORMED of what’s to come in their day and week. Good communication is key to developing a good relationship with your little ones and allows them to become more flexible when things change. Children like predictability and routine.
- Teach your child to CARE FOR THEIR BELONGINGS. Have them carry their own bag, show them where their bag goes, explain to them where they should place their lunch box after they’ve finished eating, what to do with their sweater if they get hot and need to take it off etc. You will undoubtedly have to explain these things 100 times over again but it is super important for them to develop their independence.
- ASK OPEN ENDED QUESTIONS about their day. As questions such as: What made you laugh today? What was your favourite part of (insert their favorite subject)? What games did you play at recess? Etc.
- ROLE PLAY SOCIAL SITUATIONS so your child is prepared for different scenarios that may arise with friends and teachers. This will armour them with strategies on how to behave and react when situations arise that may upset them.
- Let children SOLVE THEIR OWN PROBLEMS. It’s very tempting to sort things out for your child and immediately take action. A scenario may be something such as they’ve asked someone to play a game with them and the person has said no. Have your child practice their response by saying something like ‘that’s alright, sounds like you want to play something else so I’ll go ask another friend. Thanks anyways.’
- Read EVERY SINGLE NIGHT (exhaustion permitting) before bed. This is a time to connect and unwind. This is where the important conversations happen and something children need at the end of a busy day of learning.
Has your little one started school yet? If so, how did you feel in the lead up? How did the transition go?
Teri and Emily xo