What Kindergarten Teachers Wish Parents Knew

Teacher coloring with girls.

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Starting kindergarten can be stressful for both parents and students. But would you believe it's also stressful for teachers? A new crop of students means a new group of parents for kindergarten teachers to meet and communicate with. There are always things they wished you knew right off the bat. 

It's been a while since you were in kindergarten, so you may need to adjust your expectations. Before your child's first day, understand these truths about today's kindy classroom.

Kindergarten Is Not What It Used to Be

Many parents remember kindergarten as a time of finger-painting, playing with blocks, and eating graham crackers. While these activities still have a place in the kindergarten classroom, a lot has changed over the years. With increasing numbers of children attending preschool and schools across the nation instituting pre-K and full-day kindergarten programs, students are not only entering kindergarten more prepared to learn but also have more time in which to do so.

It's More Academically Rigorous Than You Might Think

Your kindergartner will be learning much more than how to share and use classroom materials. Be prepared to see your child's reading skills blossom and their mathematical mind challenged. In addition to learning the alphabet and the sounds of the letters, your child will learn to recognize core ("sight") words, read books with repetitive themes, and even write down their own thoughts. They'll also learn basic math skills, including numeral and number recognition and sorting, which serve as building blocks for later, more complex math skills.

Delaying Kindergarten by a Year Isn't Always a Good Idea

In most states, as long as your child turns five somewhere between June 1 and December 1, they are age-eligible for kindergarten. Sometimes parents of children—frequently boys—whose birthdays are at the latter end of the deadline think about starting their child a year later to give them an opportunity to mature and increase their readiness skills. This practice, sometimes known as "academic redshirting," is not always the best move.

A kindergarten teacher is likely to ask you one question if you're thinking about delaying kindergarten by a year: What will your child be doing in that year to help them be more prepared for school? Simply giving your child another year isn't enough—it's important to have a plan as to how you are going to get them more ready.

A child who is hanging out at home may be better off in the structure of the classroom. However, if your child will be going to preschool or playgroups to interact with other children, practicing gross and fine motor skills daily, and playing games to improve letter recognition and the ability to follow directions, a delayed entry may be the way to go.

If your child receives early intervention services, they will end when your child becomes kindergarten eligible. In order to continue receiving educational services for a disability, they will have to be enrolled in school.

Academic Skills Are Only Part of Kindergarten Readiness

Sure, it's great that your child knows the entire alphabet, recognizes all the numbers up to 20, and can even read a little bit, but these skills are of secondary importance in the eyes of many kindergarten teachers. There are a number of other readiness skills that will give your child a leg up in the classroom. Ask yourself the following questions to get a better sense of your child's readiness:

  • Does my child have the oral communication skills to make their needs/wants clearly understood?
  • Can my child separate from me for hours at a time without distress?
  • Is my child able to follow one- and two-step directions and adhere to rules?
  • Can my child sit still and pay attention for at least 10 minutes?
  • Does my child get along well with other children? (e.g., Are they able to cooperate? Do they hit, kick, or bite?)
  • Is my child able to complete personal need tasks independently or are they willing to try? (e.g., Can they button or snap their pants? Zip their coat? Use the toilet without help? Wash their hands?)
  • Does my child know how to use crayons? A pencil? Scissors?
  • Can my child state their full name, address, and phone number?

Volunteering in the Classroom Isn't the Only Way to Help Out

Many parents think the only way to help in their child's classroom is to actually be in the classroom volunteering. Kindergarten teachers know that many parents work and aren't able to be there during the day. Luckily it's not the only way you can offer assistance. There are a number of behind-the-scenes things that you can do, too.

Kindergartners do a number of hands-on learning and projects, meaning teachers often have a lot of prep work and non-budgeted expenses. Offering to provide the materials for a project or sending in staples like reclosable plastic bags, paper cups, napkins, or tissues can save a teacher on huge out-of-pocket expenses. Or, if you're crafty, your child's teacher would probably love to have you cut out or assemble project pieces at home. Using your lunch hour once a week to photocopy for the teacher can give her the chance to make much-needed phone calls to other parents or to create lesson plans.

Learning Isn't Just for School

Learning doesn't begin at 8:00 a.m. and end at 3:00 p.m. Your child is going to learn a lot and be exposed to new ideas in school, but at the end of the day, it's up to you to keep that learning going. In fact, teachers rely on parents to reinforce newly learned skills as a way to promote ongoing scholastic success. Ask your child to share what they're learning with you and find ways to extend that learning. It can be as simple as finding books at the local library to explore a topic deeper, playing a game of "Sorry" to help them practice their counting skills, or reading with them daily.