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Talking With Other Parents

Happy women holding coffee cup while looking at each other in cafe

Photo credit: PhotoDune

Whether you’re pursuing a public, private, or alternative education, you’ve probably had at least one of the following thoughts: How do I go about finding a school with which I am comfortable? Where do I find a place I can leave my child each day knowing that he or she is in capable, caring hands? Will he be happy? Will she make friends? Where can I go to get answers to my questions?

When you finally do begin to search for a school, your child’s play group is an excellent place to start. Another great resource is religious or other community groups. Many of the moms in these groups will have school-age children or know of friends who do. Ask them which school their child attends. Has their experience been a positive one? Are they pleased with the education they are receiving? Does their school provide a loving, caring environment? Is the school actively involved in parent education? Is it affordable?

Like many of today’s young parents, I began thinking about my girls’ education while they were still in diapers. Five years would pass before my children would even enter school, but the process of thinking about their education had already begun. I remember attending an educational conference where someone asked me how many children I had and what grades they were in.

They’re not in school yet, I admitted sheepishly. They’re still babies. 

Good for you, the woman replied. You can never start too early.

That’s true whether you’re teaching your own children or sending them away each day to be taught by someone else.

Maybe you’re an advocate of public education. Or prefer the slightly more creative approach of a charter school. Whatever you decide to do, don’t second guess yourself. This may not be as easy as it sounds, especially if your closest friends have strong, and differing, opinions about the choices they’re making. Do your homework and then stick to your plan. Have confidence that you’ve made a wise decision, one that works best for your family.

In addition to talking with your peers, you can also benefit from the wisdom and experience of parents whose children are older or have already left home. I’ve always sought out friends who are a step or two ahead of me in the parenting process. Why? It helps me gain perspective, keep my sense of humor, and, basically, get a grip, especially now that all three of my daughters are entering their adult years. Older friends remind me that every stage of childhood is fleeting, and that as much as possible, I need to relax and enjoy my kids.

Next week I will begin taking a look at how to choose the right school for your child. Until then, happy parenting.

– excerpted from How to Prepare for Kindergarten: Getting Your Child and Yourself Ready for Day One. All rights reserved.

Letting Go

Silhouette, group of happy children playing on meadow, sunset, summertime

Photo credit: PhotoDune

If you’ve ever been part of an infant or toddler play group, you know that one of the first topics of conversations among moms is preschool and kindergarten. It’s right up there with breast feeding, toilet training, and a child’s first steps. After walking, school represents the next big step toward independence.

For a new parent, the idea of school is an exciting, but frightening, prospect. What? I’m going to let my child spend three to five mornings a week with a group of strange children and a teacher I don’t know anything about? No way! The very thought just makes you want to hold them close and never let go.

I remember looking at each of my daughters when they were babies, knowing that they were totally dependent on me for their every need. Ever have that feeling? We all know there’s something wonderfully rewarding about being needed so completely. Being loved unconditionally satisfies a deep psychological need that exists in each of us.

That’s the up side, of course. The down side is that they’re totally dependent on you for their every need—when they’re sick, thirsty—even if it’s in the middle of the night. It can be exhausting. And exasperating. But let’s face it—that’s what parenting is all about.

Because the urge to protect our children is so strong, we have to be on guard not to become overprotective. Parenting is about caring for, nurturing, and providing for our children. But it’s also about letting go. The process begins the day they’re born and continues throughout your life and theirs. Some of us have to work at it harder than others. I know, because letting go has been a real issue for me. I like being in control and having everything go according to plan. But that’s not real life. Especially not life with children.

My friend Kaye and I raised our six children together. She has three boys and I have three girls, all about the same age. When her boys were little I watched them wrestle on the living room floor, run through mud puddles, and do wheelies on their bikes.  None of this seemed to bother Kaye. If my girls had been doing those things, I would have had heart failure. I know, girls are different. Yes, most are, though I’ve taught several little girls who could hold their own. But the difference wasn’t so much about our children; it was about the way we parented. Kaye had learned to let go. I hadn’t. More than once she told me that I needed to “let out the rope” and let them be kids. She was right.

Instead of seeing my children as possessions to control—often so I can appear competent to outsiders—I have learned to see my children as gifts entrusted to my care for a season. From day one, it’s been up to me to begin the process of letting go and preparing them to be healthy, autonomous individuals. That’s not easy, of course, but, as a parent, it’s my job. And preparing them for school is just one step in that long, arduous journey.

I will never forget when we sent our first child off to college. As parents, this is one of the most exciting, and frightening, things we have ever done. While we missed Hannah’s face at the dinner table, it did help knowing that she was just eight miles down the road.  As it turned out, Hannah’s freshman year couldn’t have been better—she made new friends, engaged in campus life, and excelled academically. When faced with difficult choices, she made wise decisions and did so with maturity and grace.

Then one day it occurred to me: We’ve launched a successful adult. I can’t tell you how great it feels to know that you’ve equipped your child, however imperfectly, for life on her own. While I realize this new journey with Hannah is just beginning, we feel she’s gotten off to an impressive start.

Letting go necessarily requires a level of comfort and trust. That’s especially true when you begin thinking about sending your child to school. In my next post I’ll discuss some of the things you’ll want to consider as you begin thinking about choosing a school for your child. Until then, happy parenting.

– excerpted from How to Prepare for Kindergarten: Getting Your Child and Yourself Ready for Day One. All rights reserved.

 

Intro: A garden of children

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Photo credit: Laura Whitfield

I am a kindergarten teacher. Every year, as I look across the room at my new charges, I see the following: Worry. Fear. Anxiety.  Excitement. Delight. I see these same emotions in the faces of their children. One of the most rewarding things I do as a teacher is to help parents parent their children well. That, along with my passion for teaching, is why I’ve written this book.

Teaching has forced me to take an honest look at the role of schools and teachers in preparing parents and their children for their first introduction to formal education. And, to ask the question that finally led me to write this book: What essential tools do parents need to prepare their child for kindergarten?

As I’ve outlined and researched this book, I believe I’ve become a better teacher. One that is more aware of the great desire parents have to make the kindergarten experience a positive one for their children. But what exactly is kindergarten and how did the whole idea come about?

The first kindergarten, or “garden of children,” was founded in 1840 by Friedrich Froebel, a German schoolmaster who, unlike DSCN3918the skeptics of his time, felt that young children were cognitively and developmentally ready to learn. Place children in pleasant surroundings, give them ample opportunities for play, and expose them to nature. Learning will come naturally. The best kindergartens today still follow this approach, though schools are increasingly abandoning this model for a more rigorous, academic one.

Why is kindergarten so important? As I discuss in Chapter Nine, it is your child’s first step out of the home and into the world. I believe that a child’s kindergarten year is the cornerstone of his or her entire school career. That’s right. Does it mean that your child won’t go on to be successful if his or her experience is less than perfect? Of course not. It simply means that a good, strong start will lay the foundation for years of learning.

While this book is about kindergarten, it is first and foremost a book about parenting. Parenting is the most important—and difficult—job you will ever do. And yet statistics show that parents of young children increasingly parent in a vacuum, without the support and experience of their parents and other relatives. The Carnegie Corporation of America describes this phenomenon in their article, “The Quiet Crisis”1:

Only a few decades ago, America’s families lived in neighborhoods of extended family and friends. Most of today’s families seem far more isolated from friends, kin, and community life. Because people move more often, young families are less likely to live near extended family networks. Greater numbers of working mothers and varied work schedules have interrupted the old rhythms of neighborhood life, making it more difficult for parents to connect with other parents, to support each other, and to build friendships.

In addition to these geographic and economic changes, other factors have contributed as well. As most of us know, half of all marriages end in divorce. The U.S. Census Bureau reported that in 2007, twenty-six percent of households with children under twenty-one are headed by single parents. And there are now 13.6 million single mothers—a more than three-fold increase since 1970.2

This cultural shift has had a dramatic impact on young parents who look to their culture with greater regularity for advice on how to be the perfect parent and raise the perfect child. This quest for answers continues throughout their child’s early years and culminates as children enter school. Today, more and more parents turn to their child’s pre-school and kindergarten teacher for help and reassurance in child rearing. I can tell you from experience that it is a great privilege, and responsibility, to partner with parents in this way. As I have increasingly taken on this mentoring role, I’ve grown as a teacher. And as a parent.

DSCN2718Friedrich Froebel put it this way: Children are like tiny flowers; they are varied and need care, but each is beautiful alone and glorious when seen in the community of peers. From my own experience, each new student has to be tended, watered, nurtured, weeded, and loved. With the possible exception of weeding, parents need the same careful attention. It is for this special “garden of parents” that this book has been written.


1  “The Quiet Crisis”, The Carnegie Corporation of New York, 1994.  Website: http://www.carnegie.org/

2 “Custodial Mothers and Fathers and Their Child Support: 2005,” Current Population Reports by Timothy S. Grall, U.S. Census Bureau, issued 2007.

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