The Teacher's Story

I TRULY ENJOY Joey - his creativity, his energy, and his enthusiasm! Everyone agrees that Joey's attention span is splendid when he is involved in group play or projects. His imaginative play is rich and complex, which may be one reason he's a real class leader. He's kind and cooperative and compromises easily when he's engaged in some undertaking with other children. Today he and his buddies were busy with his favorite indoor materials: blocks and trucks. Joey had great ideas and built easily on others' as well. Yet he was still able to settle down and thoroughly enjoy story time. I've realized how completely focused he is when, days later, he mentions details from a story we've shared.

Despite all of these strengths, I do understand his parents' concerns. Right now Joey has little interest in academic learning or rote activities. Happily, the teacher he will have next year makes learning exciting and encourages imaginative thought. I feel certain she'll recognize and appreciate Joey's exuberance and warmth as a special contribution to the group. While I can't predict with certainty how he, or any other child, will do in the coming year, I feel Joey is a natural for our kindergarten. Still, I know I'll need help in reassuring Joey's parents.

The Parent's Story

JOEY CAME bouncing off the school van. "Are we going to make cookies today, Mommy?" he asked hopefully. Five-year-old Joey is an eager helper. He follows directions, wields the rolling pin with ease, and counts out each drop of vanilla. But he shows little interest in more formal learning. He can count and measure when we're doing something as a family, but if we read a book that calls for him to find the square or triangle, he says, "Why are they asking me that?"

He is a great talker, with a pretty big vocabulary. He loves to pretend to read and write as part of make-believe play. Yet he grows restless when we start to name the letters of the alphabet. I've seen him concentrate beautifully on things he likes to do. But his patience is limited when it comes to the sort of thing teachers used to call "seat work."

For all these reasons, I am concerned that he won't be ready to start kindergarten in the fall. After all, we don't want him to get there and feel he is disappointing the teacher or us. I also keep thinking that it would be awful if he got a distaste for real school. Now is the time to look around for another preschool or a transitional program. I'd better talk to his teacher again. So far, she hasn't agreed, but keeping Joey back seems to us the best thing to do.

Dr. Brodkin's Assessment

Joey's greater receptivity to formal learning will come in time.

What can the parents do?

In a culture that often emphasizes academic skills more than natural curiosity and joy in learning, it is not surprising that Joey's parents are concerned. Fortunately, their worry is not warranted considering Joey's qualities and those of the school.

There are a few things his parents can do. First, they should avoid direct academic instruction at home. It's fine to have kindergarten-size numbers, letters, and words around his room, puzzles, drawing and writing materials, and a kitchen clock with clear numerals.

His parents might ask him whether he wants to dictate a story of his own, but put no pressure on him. An imaginative child like Joey probably asks many questions. It's important to answer in simple language, with clear logic, and to let him see the important adults in his life utilizing their knowledge of words and numbers in everyday ways. When Joey sees his parents read and write for their own needs and pleasure, he will come to realize that those skills are part of a full life. Allow him to continue to make playdates to maintain his fine social skills. And, above all, listen to whatever he has to say. Feeling heard and understood is an important foundation for learning.

What can the teacher do?

Fives have many questions that provide "teachable moments." Be alert for those with Joey. Academics that come up subtly in the context of his curiosity will be most appealing to him. Continue to encourage his problem solving. Welcome his imagination and self-expression, guiding him gently toward ever more complex applications. These are readiness experiences more valuable than exercises in rote memorization. Continue to be optimistic about Joey's future in the learning environment of his school and reassure the parents that Joey will want to learn formal academics for his own reasons. He'll love the idea of reading stories on his own; he'll be eager to keep score for all sorts of new games; and he'll want to be in sync with the activities of his friends. The teacher's main task is to help Joey's parents understand that their delightful son is likely to do well in a kindergarten that is ready for him.