Sarah Hager

Sarah Hager reads to her parents, Roger and Erin, from her favorite Sandra Boynton book. Children do not need to know how to read when entering preschool; however, many children are able to recognize letters and words from reading with their parents at an early age.

Parents can help prepare little ones for that big day



For years now, you’ve known this day was coming. Like paying taxes, there is no way to avoid it: your child’s first day at school, whether its prekindergarten or kindergarten.

By preparing your little one for this big day, you’ll make the transition easier for both of you.

“We take the whole-child approach to prekindergarten,” said Jean Hinzman, director of Title 1 for Marion County schools, developing intellectual, cognitive and language skills, honing fine and gross motor skills through play.

“Once a child goes through pre-K, he’ll be ready for kindergarten. Preschoolers are not ready to sit down for long periods of time. They need to be up and moving.

“The emphasis is on learning language, literacy skills, becoming acquainted with books and learning letters, but not memorizing the alphabet,” she said.

“We want them to be exposed to books and words, but they’re not expected to learn to read and write in preschool. Our job is to get them ready for reading and writing.”

A lot of parents may not think preschool is real school, she said.

“But we do have West Virginia content standards for preschool.”

Some preschoolers may need help in working, playing and getting along with others. Some may be more used to being around adults other than family. Others may be shyer.

“It’s our job to help them,” she said.

The single most important thing parents can do with preschoolers and kindergartners is read to them.

“And have fun,” Hinzman said. “They don’t need a lot of fancy things. Crayons or blocks for fine motor skills. Let them run and kick balls.”

“Children learn through play. We don’t say, ‘Today we’re going to learn the letter A.’ As we read, we’ll write the letters in a word or their name. The child’s name is the first word we start with, and we’ll talk about the letters in their name.”

“It’s important for parents, if they can afford it, to buy books as presents for their children.”

Learning can take place outside the classroom as well, she said.

Going on a car trip can teach a child left from right, colors and distances. Going to the grocery store produce section is a lesson in colors, shapes, sizes, numbers, smells and textures.

“Children don’t need educational toys,” she said. “Those are nice, but give them finger paints, crayons, coloring books.

“We’re supposed to be ready for the child. The child is not supposed to be ready for us,” she said. “We accept them where they are. It’s our job to move them up that continuum.”

Orientation for kindergarten is Aug. 26 and 27, with Aug. 28 the first day of school for the little ones.

Don’t worry what your kindergartner should know before the first day of school, said Charles Pitrolo, kindergarten liaison for Marion County Schools.

“Every child comes in with different abilities. There is no cut-and-dried fast answer. But there are a lot of things parents can do to ease them into kindergarten.”

• First of all, if your child’s school is having an open house, go. And take your child, too, to familiarize him or her with the layout of the school. “This goes a long way in calming their fears,” he said.

• Get into the morning routine before school starts, he added.

“Set the alarm clock and have the backpack, clothes and lunch ready the night before. This will ease the stress so there is no panic in the morning.”

While what he called “the Dagwood rush” happens to everybody, it’s still traumatic for the child.

“When a child sees stress in his parents, it’s amplified in his mind. Being organized is a big factor. It calms and reassures the child.”

• Practice walking to the bus stop to see how long it takes. It make take you only five minutes but your child 10. (Those little legs, you know.)

“Instead of telling the child to walk faster, which creates anxiety, leave early and take a leisurely walk with your child’s pace. And you’ll avoid the child potentially missing the bus and arriving at school late.”

• Children should know their bus numbers, first and last names, address and phone numbers, including cell.

“Writing this on an index card and putting it the backpack goes a long way in helping the school staff. If a child misses the bus or gets panicked, that card can be a life saver.

“Parents are very concerned, and rightfully so, if their child is not at the bus stop. A call from the school is a timely reassurance.”

• Go over safe bus riding habits, such as staying in the seat. Have the child look for familiar landmarks to know to get off at the right stop.

“Write their entire name on personal items, such as lunch boxes, backpacks and jackets.”

• Establish a spot in the house where the student is to put the backpack.

“Then it becomes a habit and part of the routine. You’ll always be able to find it.”

That way, books, homework and forms of all sorts will be found quickly.

• Set aside time to review what was learned that day in school, even if only 10-15 minutes, he said.

• Create a little study area where school supplies are kept. A timing device, such as an egg timer, will help establish early study habits.

• If you don’t do anything else for your little student, do this.

“Read to them,” Pitrolo said. “Historically, that is the single most important thing you can do. Read to your child every day, even if it’s only for 15-20 minutes. My parents did that for me and I did that for my children.”

Many bookstores and libraries offer free reading actives for children, he added.

• “Work with your child on alphabet and number recognition, counting objects.

“Especially things they can handle. Appeal to their senses. Take a candy bar and break it into 12 pieces. They can feel the smoothness and smell the aroma of the chocolate. And if they count correctly, maybe they can eat it, too.

“Work with writing their first name with scented crayons. Appeal to as many senses as you can.”

For more tips, visit www.greatschools.net, he advised parents.

“Consistency for children at this age gives them comfort. Praise them and reassure them to help feel a sense of security.

“Kindergarten should be fun. Children at that age are naturally curious. Parents may feel overwhelmed with the number of questions, but that’s how they learn.

“You may not know the answers. It’s OK to say you don’t know, but let’s find out together.

“This may mean asking the teacher or maybe grandparents. It’s a great way to connect with an older generation. And it’s a great way to model for a child that you learn by asking others.”

E-mail Debra Minor Wilson at dwilson@timeswv.com.







These children are more than ready for back to school



Sarah Hager is ready.

She’s got her Dora the Explorer backpack. She’s got her Sandra Boynton books. She’s got her crayons all lined up in a pencil case.

And she won’t even be 4 until the end of this month.

She’ll be joining thousands of other little children when she starts preschool this fall.

Her parents, Erin and Roger Hager, may not be as ready.

“She reads a lot,” Erin said. “She likes word games, like Hangman, anything that helps with letter identification. She reads stop signs to identify letters. She plays games on the Internet.”

Sarah likes to watch PBS Kids and Nick Junior, and their Web sites, pdfkids.org and nickjunior.com.

“All have helped her so far,” Erin said. “She’s able to memorize (Sandra Boynton) books and goes through them on her own.”

Her parents also help with simple math concepts, like counting, and basic addition and subtraction.

“Like if you have two and take away one, how many do you have?” Erin said.

“She is excited about preschool. She’s been going to this day-care center since she was a baby, so it’s just like she’s moving up to the next class. She considers herself to be a big girl now. She has lessons each week with a different focus. She’d done that before, but she pays more attention to it now.

“They had a lesson on space, and it was unbelievable what she knew, how many planets, the smallest and biggest ... I was impressed.”

For now, Sara is their only child. A brother or sister is due in March.

“She’s excited about that as well.”

That’s also a lesson, Erin said.

“It’s helping her with time. We talk about months. It’s difficult for kids her age to have a concept of time. ‘Yesterday’ and ‘today’ she uses interchangeably. So we say the baby’s coming after Halloween, after Christmas, after Valentine’s Day.”

Olivia Wyne is all set for kindergarten.

Her mom, Jennifer, is a school teacher, so she knew exactly what Olivia needed to know.

“First, we enrolled her in a pre-K program twice a week in preparation for the transition to kindergarten.”

She made sure Olivia knows her name, address, numbers ... all the essential kindergarten 411.

“Pre-K is just a preparation for kindergarten. It has a curriculum, but not like kindergarten. Kindergarten is more structured and curriculum-based. In pre-K they’re allowed nap time. In kindergarten, they have a rest time, but not actually nap time.”

The Wynes are excited about kindergarten ... well, at least Olivia is.

“I think it will be harder on me than it is on her. I don’t want to think about it,” Jennifer said.

“But all she does it talk about it. She’s done with pre-K and she’s going to kindergarten.”

She took Olivia to Fairmont Catholic to meet her teacher and get acquainted with the building.

“This way it won’t be completely new and scary.”

Olivia had started a reading program in pre-K.

“I still read to her,” Jennifer said. “But she can read ... Dick and Jane, Biscuit the Dog ... She can’t pick up a book to read, but she’s getting the hang of it.”

Olivia’s got the official kindergarten trappings: backpack, wipes, pencil holder and, of course, theme lunch box ... High School Musical.

“Wow. My baby’s a big girl now,” Jennifer said wistfully. “I tell her that and she says, ‘Yes, I am.’

“I’m excited for her, but in a way, I’m sad, too. But I guess that’s common when you’re sending your baby to school.”

Watch out, kindergarten: Here comes Leah Shaw. She’ll be the one with the Princess lunch box, Hannah Montana folder and purple backpack

And she can’t wait.

“She’s very outgoing,” said her mother, Cathy Shaw. “So that’s no problems. It’s not even an issue.

“She’s very self-motivated. She brings things to me to let her do. She loves to write and draw, and asks me how to spell words and write letters and numbers. She loves to practice writing her name and numbers.”

Going to preschool “was the highlight of her week,” Cathy added.

“That helped tremendously. They have so much time to spend on the little things that I wouldn’t even think about, like sensory things.

“At home, we’re always focused on ‘don’t make a mess,’ but at day care they wanted them to do that to develop sensory skills.”

The baby of the family, Leah has one older brother, Connor, 10.

“The first day of kindergarten will be much harder on me than her,” Cathy said. In fact, with both children in school, the entire year will require a major plan of attack.

“I have to plan ahead and schedule things so I can get one child to one school and the other to another, and organize homework and extracurricular activities.”

Leah is learning that life is one nonstop lesson.

“At the store, I’ll ask what color an apple is. I read labels with her. I’m a dietitian, so we look at foods and packaging and colors.

“She’s always been very knowledgeable about colors and shapes. She’ll tell me before I even ask her. That’s partly to do with being in preschool and daycare.

“I know she’ll love school and everything about it. The hard part is letting go. She’s my last baby going to school.”

She knows she’s not the only parent to have the “my-baby’s-starting-to-school” blues.

“Just go with the flow. Be really involved with your child and their teacher. Know what’s going on in the classroom. Ask the teacher to be open with you and communicate with you. That’s important.”

E-mail Debra Minor Wilson at dwilson@timeswv.com.

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