Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Kindergarten Readiness

Let me just say that the sentiments expressed in this entry may not necessarily reflect those of all educators out there, but, come on, let's be real...they probably do. So with a clear conscious I'll begin.

A girlfriend of mine asked me if, in my opinion as a former teacher, her child was ready for Kindergarten. "Oh, most definitely." I answered. You see, some schools give parents a little handout-a quick little checklist-to run through before they enroll their child in Kindergarten. Specific social, physical, emotional and cognitive areas are addressed. Things like: Does your child know his name? Can he count to 10? Does he know colors and shapes? Does he play well with others? This checklist is for you Mom. Trust me when I tell you that the teacher will know by the end of 'Meet the Teacher Night' if your child is Kindergarten Ready. Basically, if he doesn't throw fecal matter or come to greet her brandishing a switchblade, he is ready. (The parent's of fecal throwing and knife wielding children don't show up to the school until the 2nd or 3rd week of instruction.) Those other things like 'getting along well with others' and the ability to 'identify geometrical shapes' will fall into place at some point during the year. Besides, kids at this age are little geniuses. Some may have been exposed to more educational concepts than others; and any good teacher worth her chalk will tell you that children learn in different ways and at different rates; but essentially, they are all going to learn-and bucketfuls- at this age.

The real question your Kindergarten teacher wants to ask is....Are YOU Kindergarten Ready? As a mom, a parent, a co-educator of this young person, ready to embark on your journey into the world of public school?

If there was a crash course out there for parents in Parent Kindergarten Readiness the world of education would be a much more pleasant place. The curriculum would look something like this:

Avoiding Drama Drop-off : In this course the caregiver/parent will learn to bring his/her child to the assigned area at the correct time on an ongoing basis. The caregiver/parent will receive instruction on entrusting her offspring to the person assigned to educate said child with a kiss goodbye and will not linger at the door or play peek-a-boo in the window with mascara streaming down their face. The caregiver/parent will also be instructed on the merits of being truthful with his/her child (not pulling the old-'I'm just going to the restroom and I'll be right back' scam) sneaking away like a thief in the night. Avoiding these pitfalls, will save anxiety for all parties involved.

Teacher Appreciation Appropriateness : This course is designed to bring the parent to an understanding of who a teacher really is. The parent will be coached on the fine art of acceptable genres of appreciation. I realize that most Kinder teachers convey a cartoon-like effervescence-smiley, bright eyed and equipped with catchy little quips like, 'criss-cross applesauce' or 'one, two, three, eyes on me!' But trust me, she wears this persona like a rubber glove and is all too relieved to peel it off at the end of the day gleefully disposing of it in the nearest garbage receptacle, so that she may partake at Happy Hour exuding a more mature dialect. Your teacher is a real person-no matter how she seems in the classroom. She doesn't need to be reminded that she teaches letter identification by wearing ABC block earrings. When you feel it is the appropriate occasion to give your teacher a gift, do so with an open mind and an open heart. Do this as often as you feel it is warranted. No need to feel like you must appreciate her only on the week of April 7th -11th (the official Teacher Appreciation Week).

Appropriate tokens of gratitude can range from the most simplistic to the extravagant, but all of the following are acceptable:

1. A note of praise to her principal stating that you are satisfied or even happy with the level of education your child is receiving in her classroom. (You may even carbon copy it for the teacher since the original note may never be shared with her.)

2. A verbal 'Thank You for helping my child open his cheese stick everyday at lunch."

3. A gift card to the movies.

4. A gift card to Starbucks.

5. A gift card to anywhere.

Do not try to empathize with the teacher by giving her a book entitled, "Chicken Soup for the Teacher's Soul" or anything as kitschy as a bookmark illustrated by Mary Englebreit.

Once, a student gave me a can of hairspray and a brush. I honestly cherished this gift because the youngster had really taken into consideration my needs and showed real compassion for me. (Her mom was also a Kindergarten teacher).

If you do feel that your teacher is in dire need of additional clothing or accessories, save yourself a trip to Hobby Lobby or Gifts Etc. to shell out $30 for an embroidered t-shirt or necklace made out of No.2 pencils. The term "School Marm" went out circa 1932. Give her a target gift card or simply leave a bottle of wine, tucked into a basket of fresh fruit at her doorstep. (Don't bring the wine to school or they will have you arrested.)

A teacher will not [read as] should not, favor your child if you follow these simple guidelines, but, it can't hurt either.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Theme of Faith

For some reason themes are important. They lend a structural element to ideas and notions that we think may be too complex for our simple minds to wrap around. As a teacher, I was taught to start with what the student knows and build on that. Most often, a theme was involved. Ideas and real-life, tangible objects combined in a way so a child could relate to them and make sense of the more ethereal concepts we were trying to teach. Concepts such as: Parts of a Whole (division)-using an apple to illustrate the amount of one whole and then later having the students devise a way to equally and fairly share the apple, then not wanting to leave to waste a teachable moment-or an apple; using the the fruit to illustrate color recognition, letter-sound correspondence, syllabication, simple physics, the scientific process, art appreciation, and anything else that might ever so slightly apply, gorging the students minds with the theme and hoping at the end of the lesson that they came away with some of the actual concepts.

This process works-most of the time. And when it doesn't, the child who doesn't grasp the concept, most often, still believes in what you are trying to teach them. Why? Because, children have their own overriding theme that governs the thought process. FAITH. A firm belief in something which there is no proof. We try endlessly and tirelessly (OK, maybe not so tirelessly) as parents to provide the proof, when actually, children have an innate assurity that things in the universe are occurring because they just are. Sure, they question things, but without our influences and constant input, they are happy in their own conclusions and can come up with some pretty astounding theories on their own.

Even Einstein had some crazy ideas in his day. His ideas where simply ideas. Yet, he had the brilliancy to take bits and pieces of others theories and apply them to his own (outside of the box) notions. Not confident in his abilities to perform actual experiments to test his hypothesis, he would imagine them. Thought Experiments- his preferred and most accurate testing method -was a heuristic mode of thinking, altering complete lines of reasoning in more than one school of thought (physics, mathematics, astronomy)- and even art and literature.

Children, I'm discovering, do this naturally. They need no proof when it comes down to the ideas and concepts we (as more logical, educated beings) have deemed as unfathomable or too complicated for their young minds. The have a capacity to create their own theme, apply it to the situation and preform a thought experiment that satisfies and encompasses the situation.

This is what I'm talking about...

On the way there I used my best mommy speak, trying to convey the situation they would encounter in relatable, 2 and 4 year old vocabulary.

He's sick, and we are going to visit and tell him we love him so that he can feel better. He can't talk to you, because he had a stroke that makes his voice not able to work anymore. You can tell him about your picture you drew and tell him that you love him. You have to use your quite voice and behave...OK?

The four year old grasped the theme of the lesson. I could see that she was assimilating the information with the background knowledge she had and was planning ahead. It was the two year old I was worried about.

As we pulled into the parking lot, the four year old exclaimed, "Hey, this isn't Jido's house?!!"

No, remember, I said that he is really sick? Well, this is a place, sort of like a hospital, where they have special doctors and nurses that can help take care or him.

It was at this point that my two year old, stepped outside of the box. He introduced me to his own theme; created to make meaning out of this incomprehensible situation. "Don't worry Jido, we're coming to rescue you!"

Where did that come from? Quite possibly it was the word help. After all, superheros help those in dire situations all the time. It's their mission.

As we entered the facility, the four year old clung close. Her anxiety felt through the grasp of her hand. Entering his room, she shied away and tried to hide behind me. My theme of care and concern, had been conveyed as apprehension. The two year old grasped the concept of help and had taken it upon himself to be the helper. He chattered away about the picture his older sister had drawn earlier (with complete confidence that the stick figure drawing would, '...help Jido feel better' ) and gave away hugs and kisses freely without any hint of anxiety.

As we walked down the hall to leave, two women sitting in wheelchairs made mention of the kids. My pint-size superhero, approached them and began to converse freely. The women commented on his cuteness and he in turn held their hand for a moment, gazing at them with a look of sheer delight. He talked to them. They weren't sure what he was saying, neither was I. It didn't matter. He had faith that what he was telling them was helping, that his sheer presence in this unknown place was making them happy.

And it was.

Moose Coming May 27th!!