Intro: A garden of children
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 the 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.
Friedrich 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.