Starting kindergarten is a huge milestone in a child's life, and it's a big event for kindergarten parents too. As your little one heads off to school with the “big kids,” you may wonder what your role as the mom or dad of a new elementary schooler will be. Here's the lowdown on what to expect and how to help your child achieve school success.
How Day Care Differs
If your child attended day care or preschool, you may be used to a certain level of interaction with the caregivers. Many programs, for example, send home a detailed daily report outlining what your child ate, when he napped, and what activities he participated in. If your child attends a private kindergarten where class size tends to be smaller, you may get a letter home every day. But in general, that type of daily communication is not the norm in kindergarten. Instead, kindergarten parents can anticipate:
- An invitation to meet the teacher and see the classroom before the school year starts (this is often done the previous May or June)
- A welcome letter from the teacher a few weeks before school opens
- One or two parent-teacher conferences
- Periodic newsletters sent home by the teacher or the school
In addition, you’ll want to communicate with the teacher regularly as the year goes on. What’s realistic? Chatting or emailing once a week or so under normal circumstances and more often (perhaps two or three times a week) if there's a problem or if your child is having trouble adjusting.
Your involvement is a big factor in your child's school experience. Here's how you can contribute as kindergarten parents:
- Get to know the school principal. You can find out her philosophy about learning, what opportunities exist for parental involvement, and what recommendations she gives teachers about keeping kindergarten parents informed.
- Meet the teacher. Make a date with your child's teacher during the first few weeks of school. At this meeting, ask how your child is adjusting and share your goals for your child and any individual needs he may have.
- Attend back-to-school night. Most schools host this event about a month into the new academic year. Your child’s teacher will likely spend 15–30 minutes explaining the curriculum and her teaching philosophy. Other things she’ll touch on: the classroom schedules and routines as well as her discipline and homework policies.
- Find out the best way to keep in touch. Some teachers are receptive to emails or phone calls, while others prefer to schedule in-person meetings. If your child's teacher doesn’t make his preference known early on, ask. Don’t always wait for the teacher to contact you; touch base with him as needed.
- Volunteer in the classroom. Kindergarten classrooms are buzzing with activity and usually offer many ways for parents to participate — from being the class mom or dad to speaking about a career or hobby. Most teachers send home a letter outlining the volunteer opportunities that are available.
- Join the PTA or PTO. Not all kindergarten parents’ schedules allow them to help out during the school day. Don't despair — you can still make a difference by becoming a member of the PTA or PTO and participating in fundraising or decision-making committees.
- Continue the learning at home. Learning doesn’t end with final bell. Do activities and projects at home that will build on the literacy and math skills your child is learning at school. Kindergarten teachers often provide materials for this. One example is the calendar that some teachers create for students and parents. Each day has a question or activity ("Eat an apple and count each bite," or "Blow up a balloon. What causes it to change shape?"). Check the calendar with your child each day.