VS, Oregon, writes: My son and daughter-in-law will be sending their oldest son to kindergarten in September. They are considering two different schools, one is the local public school kindergarten and the other is a private school, also near their home. Neither one of them are sure which one is the best choice. The tuition for private school would be somewhat difficult, but they are willing to pay it if it would be a better choice. They’ve asked me for my opinion, as I will be picking him up and caring for him after school until one of his parents come to get him, but I’m not sure what to say.
Dear VS, I personally sent my children to public school, and I liked the experience they each had, especially in socializing in a multicultural setting. But they also did not learn passion for learning.
I would urge the parents to visit for a period of time at each school if that is possible. (If the school doesn’t want parents there, that school would be off my list!)
Does your grandson seem ready for kindergarten?, and if so, what type of experience? There are schools where time for learning through play is provided for, with some structure; others stress letters, numbers, and more structure–less socializing. Some questions to ask: How is your grandson doing, physically, emotionally, socially, in relationship to his peers? Can he ask new adults for help? Will he need a little more help with certain activities than his peers? Can he be a leader or follower in the group, depending on the situation? And, does the school have a policy for encouraging parents to participate in some ways? And does the school have a plan for how to ease the parent-child separation process?
This is an opportunity for the parents to clarify what’s most important to them. Most parents want their children to grow up to be productive and happy members of society, to be able to be part of the group but also independent when appropriate, but there are as many ways to achieve that as there are individuals.
— Sometimes it comes down to the necessity of having a safe place for their child, with the hours compatible with their work schedules. Other times, parents have more flexibility. They can look at their child’s development and decide on the basis of what would be most beneficial for him at the time.
There are several developmental principles that apply to early childhood, including 5-yr-olds:
- Separation between parent and child is a process, and when handled well, the child can grow in self confidence over time. The school should be able to help ease that process. There are ways to ease the separation if it is a difficult one (i.e., including the parent in activities, allowing the parent to stay for a day or a few days until the child gets acquainted with other children and adults, and reassuring the parent that the child will be ok when the parent leaves–even though he may cry at first.)
— Incident: Our 5-yr-old granddaughter fussed when we (her grandparents) were taking her for the weekend by car to our city apartment. As we approached the city, we heard “Free at last!” from the back seat!!! Memorable!
2. Brain development is not complete, including the membrane between the right and left brain areas. This suggests that the child still needs to be moving about, exploring, learning naturally those skills that will later help him in his more formal learning, such as hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills, and also enjoying the experience. (Note, a child can perform some tasks better on some days that he can on others, so “performance” or “testing” may be stressful.)
— People, generally, continue to do what they do well and enjoy, and they shy away from what they find difficult. Exploration, enjoyment, build self confidence, allow for trial and error–and which carry people through many difficult times.
3. A kindergarten needs to be adequately staffed, so that when a child is having difficulty getting along with others or having a bad day, an adult can be nearby to assist him or her. Most often, children enjoy being part of a group, and the group experience helps them learn to abide by a group’s rules. But a child may need help in finding the right words to express frustration, anger, or to successfully approach other children, or to calm down after being excited–and an adult nearby can be a calming influence.
4. Threat narrows perception: A concept I learned in college, and one that I have found to be true in situations where a child or adult feels threatened or afraid. Limits/firmness with kindness help children want to conform to the classroom expectations. (On a visit with my granddaughter for lunch one day after preschool, she proceeded to show me her dolls, then yelled orders at them, using words that only an inexperienced or stressed teacher could have done. My daughter took another look at the school.)
5. Of the most popular characterizations of parental style, “authoritative” wins out over “authoritarian,” “permissive,” and “uninvolved.” “Authoritative parenting” are “warm, involved parents who are secure in the standards they hold for their children…provide models of caring concern as well as confident, self-controlled behavior. They exert control in ways that appear fair and reasonable to the child…and make demands that fit children’s ability to take responsibility for their own behavior…” (Berk, L.E., “Infants, Children, and Adolescents, 2005, Pearson Education, Inc.) THIS APPLIES ALSO TO TEACHING STYLES!
A thought-provoking post on kindergarten, from an experienced father: “An Open Letter to My Son’s Kindergarten Teacher (Philip Kovaks, Huffington Post, 07/25/2014 4:07 pm EDT Updated: 07/25/2014 4:59 pm EDT). While this article may be somewhat “tongue-in-cheek,” the author describes real concerns about how his child will thrive in an over-structured and not-so-creative typical kindergarten.