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Preparing kids for kindergarten should be joyful, not stressful

Getting ready

Here's a look at what local school districts are doing beyond the standard registration and screening process to prepare incoming kindergartners — and their parents — for a smooth transition into school.

Allegheny Valley: Parents and students visit the building during a regular school day in April. Orientation will be in August, with a parent portion and a student portion. Students will rotate through four stations (bus, library, art, and physical education). Students will have a chance to meet classmates and teachers. There will also be a meet and greet in August, where students and parents can meet teachers and see their classrooms for the upcoming school year.

Apollo-Ridge: Kinder-Camp, to be held Aug. 19 and 20, will introduce incoming students to their teachers, classroom routines, school surroundings and bus safety. There will also be a parent session where administrators will explain rules and procedures.

Armstrong: Kindergarten Orientation will be held at each elementary building in August. Kindergarten teachers will review the curriculum with parents, and students will be able to ride a school bus and take a tour of the building. The district also has events specifically for Title I families, including a family fun night in the spring.

Burrell: Each winter, incoming kindergartners are invited to a literacy night where they listen to stories and do activities with kindergarten teachers. In April, the children attend the Spring Fling, where they rotate through stations with kindergarten readiness activities, such as sorting and counting. They make crafts and listen to a story. Kindergarten orientation will be in August, when they will ride a school bus and tour the building. Every child receives a free book at each event.

Fox Chapel Area: Some elementary buildings host story times in the spring before kindergartners start to provide an opportunity to meet teachers and see the kindergarten classrooms. Prior to registration, there is an orientation meeting for parents at each school. There is a family orientation for new students before the school year begins.

Franklin Regional: Orientation is held each spring for parents to meet administrators, teachers, counselors and kindergarten mentors and to learn about the full-day and half-day options. Area preschools visit the elementary buildings in the spring and students meet the teachers, make a craft and have a snack. In August, a meet and greet at each building enables students to meet their homeroom teacher, learn cafeteria procedure, learn bus safety and play on the playground with classmates. Staggered start days allow each kindergarten student to bring a parent on one of the first three days of school for an abbreviated school day with a small group of classmates.

Freeport Area: Rolling registration begins each February. Families are then provided an appointment to participate in a DIAL3 screening. On the first student day of school, parents will attend with their child, ride the bus and have an opportunity to spend half a day with their child's teacher, as well as question-and-answer time with the principal.

Highlands: An Early Childhood Fair is held each spring for incoming kindergarten families to become familiar with the teachers and school district. Kindergarten Orientation Days span the first three days of the school year. Parents and kindergarten students attend a half-day session on the first day of school. On the second and third days, kindergartners attend half-day sessions. Full-day school begins on the fourth day.

Kiski Area: Family Science Night, held in February, allows parents to learn about kindergarten registration, screening, kick-off and orientation while the students participate in The Carnegie Science Center's Hello Robo preschool program. Kindergarten Kick-Off is a one-hour session at each elementary building where students circulate through six activity stations collecting school supplies. Parents are given a calendar that provides them with a “getting ready for kindergarten activity” they can do with their child every day throughout the summer months. Orientation will be in August at each building.

Leechburg Area: New kindergarten students and their parents will have a chance to get to know teachers at the annual “Friendship Trails” event. The event is tentatively scheduled for Aug. 22 and 23.

New Kensington-Arnold: The Ready Freddy Summer Transition Program is planned to start in late July. The free, six-session program has activities for parents and students to do together. Each night, every student receives a book to take home. An open house is planned for Aug. 21, when students can visit their school and meet the teachers.

Plum: Pre-kindergarten classes and daycares visit several elementary schools in April each year. Parent orientation is held at each of the five elementary buildings in May. Students receive a summer literacy and math packet with practice suggestions at the kindergarten screening in May. In August, there will be an orientation for students and parents to meet the teachers and learn the routines of a school day. Parents accompany students for a half-day session on the first day of school, Aug. 26. The first full day of school for all kindergarten students is Aug. 27.

Riverview: Meetings for incoming kindergarten students and their parents will take place at each elementary building this spring. Students will visit with the kindergarten teachers and tour the school. Parents will meet the staff and attend a presentation to help their child have a successful first year of school. The Tenth Street Elementary event will be May 15. A date has not been set at Verner Elementary, but incoming students' families will be notified by mail when a date is determined.

South Butler: Each winter, the district hosts a Snow Ball where incoming kindergarten students have the opportunity to visit, participate and interact with kindergarten teachers for an hourlong, winter-themed lesson. The lessons incorporate basic math, literacy, listening, movement and fine motor skills. An informational meeting each February allows parents and students to meet the principal, guidance counselor, kindergarten teacher, school nurse and speech therapist. A building tour also is given. An orientation is scheduled for the week before school starts, when students meet their teachers, visit their classrooms and ride a school bus.

Source: School districts

NK-Arnold debate

Child preparedness for kindergarten — or the lack of it — has arisen in the New Kensington-Arnold School District.

Unprepared students is one of the reasons cited by the school board to consider going from a full day of kindergarten to half-day sessions.

NK-Arnold Superintendent John Pallone said last week there are conflicting opinions on whether keeping 5-year-olds in class for a full day is appropriate for their development.

Board member Regina Namey estimated that 80 percent of the district's kindergarten students haven't attended a preschool program — making full-day kindergarten a difficult adjustment.

Some parents have raised concerns that if the district goes to half-day sessions, it will hurt the educational progress of children who have attended preschool and are prepared for full-day classes.

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By Jill Henry Szish
Monday, May 6, 2013, 1:36 a.m.

The first day of kindergarten often brings with it sweaty palms and lumps in throats — and that's just the parents.

The backpack, crayons and glue sticks are bought, but is your child really ready for school?

Questions of “What will the teacher be like?”, “Will my child get lost in the building?” and “Does he know what he needs to know?” haunt many parents.

But local educators encourage anxious parents to take a deep breath and relax.

The most important thing parents can do to prepare their children for kindergarten between registration and that first bus ride is to read to them and talk with them.

Parents register their children for kindergarten in the winter or spring before children start school. Children typically need to be at least 5 years old by the first day of school to be eligible to attend kindergarten.

Once a child is registered for kindergarten, he or she goes through a screening process, where certain skills are assessed by the school staff.

The screening sessions vary greatly from school to school, but some common tasks children are asked to perform include:

• identifying colors and shapes.

• counting to 30.

• recognizing numbers and upper- and lower-case letters.

• knowing their first and last names, address and phone number.

While some schools informally screen children on these criteria and more, others merely read a story to the child individually and ask a few questions about the book.

The important thing to remember is that no child “flunks” screening.

“Screening gives us a broad scope of the child as a learner,” says Amy Lenart, principal of Bon Air Elementary School in Burrell School District. “It's a one-day indication of some skills.”

Bon Air staff members will meet with parents individually during the school's screening days next week to talk about how their child did in the session.

If parents want to work on one or two skills with their child during the summer, they can. But if not much progress is made, it's not a concern, Lenart says.

“Our teachers are prepared to work with students at all levels,” she says.

Keep the basics simple, fun

The summer leading up to kindergarten provides an opportunity for parents to casually build on the language skills that are such an important part of the first years of schooling.

Reading to your child — both fiction and nonfiction books — exposes the child to their world and broadens their vocabulary.

“With a solid vocabulary in place, learning to read is so much easier for children,” says Cheryl Soloski, Armstrong School District's Coordinator of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment for grades K-6.

“Get your child involved in the basic, everyday things,” Soloski says. “Plant a garden with them, take a walk with them and engage them in good, rich conversation.”

South Butler Primary School principal Greg Hajek recommends reading to your child about an outdoor topic, then making up an explorer's club-type of activity to go along with it.

“Take a mini-hike, dressed like you're on safari. Talk about what animals, bugs and trees you see,” Hajek says. “Then get your child journaling about what they've seen. Kids can draw pictures or pretend to write,” and those activities are the beginning steps to literacy.

Learning activities for young children should be fun and informal so don't aim for rigorous sessions with flashcards.

For practical math activities, Soloski recommends activities as simple as counting the steps with your child as you climb the stairs.

Soloski also recommends labeling paper plates with numbers and asking your child to put that number of items, such as Cheerios, on the plate.

“You can do the same thing with putting a certain number of objects in different paper bags,” she says. “Do things that are fun and developmentally appropriate,” Soloski says. “We're not talking about sitting and doing paper and pencil activities here.”

Another kindergarten skill parents can work on with their young children is following multi-step directions, Hajek says.

Telling a child to take an object, such as a Frisbee, hide it in a certain place, and then report back to the parent for the next set of instructions builds a child's ability to remember steps and will serve her well in school.

Ian Miller, principal of Fawn and Fairmount primary centers in Highlands School District, says children learn best through play.

“Don't be continually drilling your child,” he says.

Something as simple as drawing pictures on a sidewalk with chalk can be a great learning opportunity.

While your child is doodling, start a conversation about what he or she is drawing, and talk about what letter that particular item starts with. Then ask them to name another item that begins with the same letter, Miller says.

Lenart suggests encouraging your child to look for specific letters on street signs and on cereal boxes to reinforce letter recognition and to let your child see the pages as you read to him.

“Reading together teaches children a lot of the fundamentals, like letters make up words, and words make up sentences,” she says.

Ready to be away from home

Parents can help their children prepare emotionally for kindergarten, too.

Whether half-day or full-day kindergarten, the idea of being away from home every day can be frightening for a young child.

Educators recommend having an older neighbor child or friend share their positive school experiences with kindergarten students before the school year begins. Peers often carry more weight than adults in convincing a wary child that school isn't anything to be afraid of.

Parents can also bring their children to the orientations and school events that elementary schools plan to introduce new kindergarten students to the kindergarten teachers and familiarize them with the classrooms.

“These events are important because they help ease children's anxieties and give them the opportunity to see the building where they'll be spending a lot of time,” Lenart says. “It also introduces them to the people — their kindergarten teachers — who will become very important to them.”

She says some schools, such as Bon Air, invite preschool teachers to these events so that some children will see a familiar face.

South Butler County School District's Primary School has a half-day kindergarten program in place. While half-day students are only spending roughly 2½ hours away from home each day, it can still cause some anxiety in the young children. Hajek suggests that parents talk to their kindergartners about the amount of time they will be at school in terms they'll understand. “Tell them that kindergarten is the length of a movie,” he says.

“Start talking to your child over the summer about going to kindergarten,” Miller says. “Go past the school building, play on the school playground.”

He also recommends taking advantage of the free summer reading programs that many community libraries offer. These programs offer a taste of what kindergarten will be like and begin to socialize children who have not been to preschool or daycare.

Even after meeting with teachers and taking tours, some students still will be upset on the first day of school but that's okay.

“Some children will be anxious, some will be sad and crying, but the teachers don't mind and they are prepared to handle it,” Miller says. “It's OK to hug and kiss your child, say ‘I love you' and walk away. The teacher will get the child engaged to have fun that day.”

Jill Henry Szish is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.


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