THE TEACHER'S STORY
"C'mon, Nadia, let's play school today. You can be the teacher this time." Emily tugged at her friend's sleeve. But neither Emily's pleading nor my encouraging words could convince Nadia to leave my side. I've been puzzled and am wondering why she's begun clinging to me lately. All year long, Nadia has enjoyed being with friends. I thought about her fifth birthday party-that was just a few weeks ago, and she was so relaxed and happy. I remember feeling then that she's grown up so much over the last two years.
When Nadia first came to our school, she was rather timid. It took some time for her to separate from her mom. This year though, she's been eager to try every new activity. While I watched her blow out the candles on her cake, I couldn't help thinking how ready she seems to be for kindergarten. Nadia's a keen listener and eager to learn. She enjoys figuring things out on her own. That's why I'm surprised about what's happening to her now - at the end of the year. She's even back to sucking her thumb, and we haven't seen that since the beginning of school.
This afternoon, I was relieved to see Nadia engrossed in a book. "It's our old Nady," I thought optimistically. During rest time, she often whispers the story to herself that I've just read aloud to the group. This time, though, her attention wandered and she rocked on her mat. Nadia's eyes swept the room, then she looked out the window toward the playground. She seemed so sad that I sat down on an empty mat beside her. She started to tell me what was on her mind.
"Kindergarten doesn't have a fish tank like our class does. And there aren't even any gerbils," Nadia whined, scanning the room again, as if she wanted to remember it forever. "Oh," I said. "Did you have your spring visit to the kindergarten?" She didn't offer a direct answer. "Two girls had to go to the library for books, all by themselves. I don't know how to go to the library..." Nadia's voice was breaking.
Then I understood. I assured her that the kindergarten teacher would show her group how to find the school's library. "Oh, you'll love kindergarten!" I was being sincere. Fortunately for her, Nadia will be entering a great classroom in the fall. But how can I help her to look forward to it?
THE PARENT'S STORY
It took a while for her to settle in, but Nadia has had a wonderful time in preschool these last two years. She's made friends who often visit us on weekends, and she loves her teacher. Almost every afternoon, Nadia rushed into the kitchen, excited about something - new art materials, a trip to a farm, or a new song she learned. In fact, everything has gone so well it's been hard for me to imagine kindergarten being as great as preschool has been for Nadia. But I was relieved when we visited the new school a few days ago. The class is relaxed and the children seem so happy. And the teacher is warm and so involved with them. She responds to their questions in a very kind way. I couldn't wait to hear Nadia's reaction to the visit, but she avoided the subject.
"I'll bet they don't cook in that kindergarten," was the only remark she made on the ride home. I said how nice I thought the teacher was. "She might arrange to have cooking. We can ask her when she comes here to visit." Nadia just mumbled something about wanting her own teacher to come to our house and began sucking her thumb. I know it must be hard for our 5-year-old to accept the idea of leaving a place where she's been so happy. How can I make the change easier for my daughter?
DR. BRODKIN'S ASSESSMENT
Happily, both the teacher and parent understand why Nadia hasn't been her cheerful self these last few days. Her worry about having to leave her preschool is understandable. Such a change revives old feelings about separating which has been a challenge for her in the past. Nadia may not have clung to the teacher earlier in the year, but she has a very strong attachment to this important adult in her life. No wonder she's clingy and regressing with earlier, comforting behaviors. Children in Nadia's situation often regress a bit.
WHAT THE TEACHER CAN DO
The teacher should not be too concerned about this seeming setback of Nadia's. In fact, there is every reason to be pleased with her growth and development. The preschool teacher is correct to expect a child who is curious and eager to please to do very well in kindergarten. Perhaps she should talk to the kindergarten teacher about Nadia's pace at making changes. And for the rest of this school year, the teacher should keep listening to Nadia's concerns, reminding her offhandedly of the fun that's ahead. When it's time to part, it would be good for the teacher to make it clear that she'll still be around and interested in hearing from Nadia.
WHAT THE PARENT CAN DO
Meeting with the teacher will be helpful for Nadia's mom. Why not invite each teacher for a home visit? As the summer wanes, it might help to talk casually to Nadia about some of the interesting activities in kindergarten. And to often take advantage of opportunities to play with friends from the neighborhood who are also going to the new school. Invite old school friends over for play dates whether they will be with Nadia in the fall or not, to help her understand that she's not losing her old friends. Both the parent and teacher should let Nadia know how delighted they are with her progress. Think of all the things she's able to do now that she's been to preschool, and how much more she'll discover and enjoy in kindergarten next fall!