Insights from a veteran Kalamazoo educator.
During her five decades in education -- including 36 years teaching kindergarten in Kalamazoo Public Schools and eight years as an Western Michigan University mentor for intern teachers -- Lois Hoekstra has seen kindergarten change and evolve.
"I remember my first kindergarten classroom" in 1969 at Lakewood Elementary, Hoekstra said. "I remember opening a cupboard and it was filled to the brim with cookies and crackers and towels for resting time."
Back then, she said, the focus of kindergarten was primarily teaching social skills, with an emphasis on fun and play.
By the time Hoekstra retired in 2005 from Indian Prairie Elementary, "kindergarten was a combination of play and work."
Now Hoekstra mentors WMU students interning at Kalamazoo's King-Westwood Elementary, where today's kindergarten classroom is "seen as a literacy center."
Much of that has to do with advances in understanding child and brain development. Experts now say young children are not only able and eager to learn at a faster pace than previously recognized, but putting a more intense focus on literacy and number skills in kindergarten can improve outcomes in later grades.
Those increased expectations make it more important than ever for children to be prepared for kindergarten, a topic of discussion in many families and elementaries at this time of year when schools are holding kindergarten enrollment and orientation. All 17 elementaries in Kalamazoo Public Schools are holding their kindergarten orientation sessions today.
Hoekstra stressed that every child is different, and schools work with kindergartners no matter their skill level. But here are six skills that parents can develop now in their 4- and 5-year-olds to make the transition to kindergarten easier.
1. Encourage a child's curiosity and eagerness to learn. It's important for children to start kindergarten with a sense that learning is fun. "They're going to be like little sponges" in kindergarten, Hoekstra said.
2. Know how to write his or her own name. "As a teacher, I loved it when a child could write his or her name, even if it was all in capital letters," Hoekstra said. Other experts suggest a child should also know his or her parents' names and the family address and phone number.
3. Know how to count, at least to 10. "Even 20 or 30," Hoekstra said. Other experts also suggest that incoming kindergartners should have a sense of the order of the numbers -- for instance, realize that the number 5 is after 4 and before 6.
4. Know the alphabet. While many, if not most kindergartners, know the alphabet song, it also helps if they recognize the letters in isolation -- for instance, they can pick out that letter "s" in a word -- and if they know the sounds that letters make. Hoekstra said this is a skill that parents can practice with their children in the car by reading signs.
5. Know how to use scissors. "Children who don't know how to use scissors can get so frustrated" in the first weeks of kindergarten, Hoekstra said. Incoming kindergartners who have never used scissors should be given a pair now and a chance to practice, she said -- an activity that also can serve to occupy a bored or restless child. Hoekstra also suggests giving Play Doh to preschoolers to develop their fine motor skills.
6. Know how to care for his or her own physical needs. "If you really want to make a kindergarten teacher happy, teach your child how to tie his shoes," Hoekstra said. Likewise, other experts say it can help a kindergarten teacher immensely if a child can use a restroom without assistance, including putting clothes back in order; can zip up or button their coats on their own; take on and off boots and other outerwear, and know how to use a tissue and to cover their mouth when they cough.
Hoekstra said she sees the increased expectations in kindergarten not only in the interns she oversees, but also through her granddaughter, who attends full-day kindergarten in Kalamazoo Public Schools.
"She does a lot of reading, a lot of writing," Hoekstra said. "It's just amazing what (kindergartners) can do. I think kindergarten teachers have so much better training today."
She said that the increased intensity of kindergarten has been largely a positive development.
But she added: "We need to remember the 5-year-oldness of a 5-year-old. We can't lose sight of that."
By Julie Mack
Source: Mlive Kalamazoo - http://goo.gl/knKOM