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Posts from the ‘parenting’ Category

Make the Most of Your School Visit

Parents at school with their child

Photo credit: PhotoDune

Once you’ve settled on the type of education you want your child to receive, you’ll want to begin checking out potential schools. A school’s website is an excellent place to start. A great web site will not only provide the information you’re looking for, but it will tell you a lot about the school itself. My school’s website features our mission statement, educational philosophy, copies of our school newsletter, the school calendar, upcoming events, teacher home pages, and even some of our students’ artwork. If you like what you see when browsing a school’s website, chances are you’ll want to contact the school and find out more.

If you choose public education, call your local public school office and ask for an information packet. Find out which school district you are in and ask about registration deadlines. Public schools often hold open houses so that parents and children can visit individual schools before registering. Each year, our local public schools host “Kindergarten Welcome Sessions,” which give parents an overview of kindergarten and a typical kindergarten day and includes a panel discussion with kindergarten teachers.

Most private schools have an admissions office. Give them a call.  Ask about their process for admitting new students. Is there information on their website or a packet for new families? Once you have the materials in hand, read them carefully. Do you agree with their mission statement? Does their educational philosophy mesh with your own?

Ask whether they have an open house for prospective parents, then plan a visit. As a kindergarten teacher, I have dozens of prospective parents visit my classroom each year. I love watching these parents as they sit in the back of my room. Some of them are happy and relaxed. Others look nervous or worried. Some are just beginning the process of choosing a school. Others need to make an immediate decision. In every face I see the desire to do what’s best for their child. Bravo! They’re already doing something right.

Many public and private schools have informational meetings once or twice a year. If at all possible, attend one of these meetings. Depending on the type of school, you will have the opportunity to meet one or more of the following people who will be instrumental in your child’s education: principal or headmaster, admissions director, financial aid officer, classroom teachers, and resource teachers for children with special needs.

Come prepared to ask questions, not only about the school’s philosophy and mission, but about practical issues as well: How long is the school day? What is the average class size? What is the student-to-teacher ratio? Will my child’s teacher have an aide? How are discipline issues handled? What curriculum is being used? Do they understand the importance of free play?

Of course, if your child has special needs, you’ll want to inquire about available resources both in and outside the classroom. It is vital to ask questions as well as provide the school with as much information as you can about your child. Can the school accommodate a physically challenged child?  What about a child who has been diagnosed with a learning or attention deficit disorder? A child with acute medical needs?

Another good way to get to know the inner workings of a school is to attend public events scheduled throughout the year. See if the school has Christmas, Hanukkah, or other special programs. Ask about sports.  Attend a basketball game or soccer match and meet some of the parents.  Does the school have a science fair or a family fun day?

At the school where I teach, we have all-school assemblies which are open to the public. These assemblies are a wonderful way for potential parents to see what our school is all about. The students sing songs, recite poetry, and give dramatic presentations. They even say the Pledge of Allegiance in Latin! I know several parents who made the decision to enroll their child in our school after attending one of these assemblies. That’s saying a lot.

I know right now you’re probably thinking, It’s going to take time to do all this. Exactly. That’s why it’s important to start early. Don’t be afraid to begin thinking about your child’s education even if you’re two or three years away from enrolling your child in school. Believe me, the time will pass quickly. By getting an early start, you’ll be able to relax and enjoy the process.

Some of you, however, are reading this and thinking, That’s great, but I should have made a decision yesterday. Well, it’s not too late.  You’re on an accelerated path, that’s all. Do what’s essential. Settle on an educational philosophy. Then find a school that’s a good fit. See that your practical needs are met. Trust your instincts and make a decision. And remember, if for some reason you’re not satisfied with your decision, there’s always next year. Until next time, happy parenting

Choosing the Right School


Choosing the right school is a lot like choosing a business partner. You wouldn’t enter into a contractual agreement with someone who didn’t share your basic beliefs about how a business should be run. So why would you register your child in a public school kindergarten before scheduling a visit? Or enroll your child in a private school whose core beliefs about education conflict with your own?

You may be asking: “How much choice do I really have?” While most parents make their decision based on practical issues such as finances, there are an increasing number of available choices that serve families with varying needs, preferences, and socio-economic backgrounds. Parents can choose the more affordable public or charter school option.  They can send their children to a private school. Or they can educate them at home.

While some parents have the financial means to choose private education for their children, public school remains the most viable alternative for young families. Fifty million children in the United States are now enrolled in public schools, compared to six million in private school, the one-and-a-half million who are home schooled, and the almost two million children who attend public charter schools.*

When I was a child, there was no question as to whether my brothers and I would attend public school. After all, our mother taught in a local public school, and she was as passionate and dedicated a teacher as I’ve ever known. Public school just made sense for our family.

There are a number of reasons parents choose to send their children to public school. The first is affordability. Public education is free and transportation is provided. Secondly, public schools are required by law to educate all children. This is especially important for parents who have a child with special needs. Most public schools provide special education programs and teachers trained to work with these children.  Finally, public schools tend to be more diverse, reflecting the community they serve. While classroom size tends to be larger and curriculum standardized, public schools remain an excellent choice for many families.

If you are considering a private school, find out if there is a waiting list, and, if so, how soon you will need to sign up. Ask about the admissions process. Does the school screen applicants for developmental readiness? Does it determine whether a child has reached certain developmental milestones–performing certain tasks and sustaining them with ease?

Is tuition prohibitive? If so, is financial aid available? A great resource to help in choosing a school is (click on “Find a School”). While one question will certainly lead to another, starting with these basics will give you an idea of whether a particular school is one you want to pursue.

Next week, we will begin taking a look at school visits. Until then, happy parenting.

* Statistics from Statistic Brain and 2011-12 National Charter School & Enrollment Statistics (PDF)

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


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:

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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