Congratulations! Your child and you have made it through the first few days of kindergarten (or are just about to). Seeing your big kid leaving pre-K was emotional enough, but entering K is a total tissue-box-emptying time. Now that you're both starting to settle into the daily school routine, and the initial jitters and tears are subsiding, it's time to check your calendar and prepare some questions to ask the kindergarten teacher on back-to-school night.
This early-autumn event is one you'll be repeating every year right up through middle school. It's a helpful way to get to know your child's teacher, learn about the curriculum and school routines, and familiarize yourself with the room where your child spends six or more hours a day. (The teacher may even have you sit at your child's desk!)
You'll notice right away that the kindergarten year is significantly different from the preschool years, from the classroom setup to the teaching method. Whereas preschool is a time for children to learn through their independent playing, kindergarten is where the more "traditional" learning comes in. It's a big adjustment with a lot of changes: Group lessons and worksheets replace blocks and dramatic play. Children are expected to sit for longer stretches and interact with a larger number of peers.
There's a lot you'll want to know, so take a deep breath, bring a pen and paper, and have some questions prepared to make this evening both interesting and informative.
How Is Your Day Structured? Can I Have a Copy of the Schedule?
A kindergarten day will include core subjects such as math, reading, and social studies, as well as science, art, and physical education. Knowing what classes take place on which days can be helpful, pointed out the website Fantastic Fun and Learning. For instance, you might want to dress your child in clothes you're fine with them painting in on the days they have art.
What Are Your Classroom Rules? How Do You Enforce Them?
Every teacher has a preferred method of classroom management, which helps maintain order and lets students know what is expected of them. A kindergarten class typically has a short set of rules, and the teacher may have a behavior chart or reward system to encourage students to follow the rules consistently.
How Much Homework Will Children Have Each Night?
Another difference between preschool and kindergarten is that homework becomes a regular part of the routine. An average night's work might consist of a page of writing (copying a sight word, for instance), a page of math, and 10 to 20 minutes of reading. Some parents feel that children get too much homework in kindergarten; if you feel this way, you might ask the teacher what measurable benefits they've seen in their students from doing the work.
What Are The Mealtime Routines?
Some schools offer an early-morning breakfast, so you'll want to find out when the meal service begins and ends. Ask whether there are any restrictions on what can be brought from home for lunch, or, if your child eats a school lunch, what the payment procedure is. Kindergarten classes may also include a snack time. If your school does, ask when it is and what your child can bring.
How Can I Help My Child At Home?
The kindergarten teacher will have suggestions for ways you can support your child's learning outside the classroom. Reading to your child every day is essential (and fun), of course. You can practice math when you go to the grocery store ("I need five apples, and I already have two in the bag. Let's count how many more we need").
Beyond academic assistance, there are other things you can do to help make this a successful year. Making sure your child gets a good night's sleep is one of them. At this age, children need at least 9 to 11 hours of sleep a night to perform at their best, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Working on social skills — listening, cooperating with others, problem-solving — is more important than you might think. A recent study from Penn State found that kindergartners with the best social and emotional skills were most likely to finish college, be employed by age 25, and avoid substance-abuse problems.
What's Your Birthday Party Policy?
Kindergartners love celebrating their birthdays in school, and most teachers are happy to set aside time during class hours to honor a child's special day. Find out how much advance notice you need to give, whether to bring in the supplies at the beginning of the day or at party time, and whether the teacher has any preferences or restrictions on treats. For instance, it's easier for a teacher to pass around mini-cupcakes or cookies than to slice and serve a whole sheet cake.
How Will You Keep In Touch With Me? How Can I Contact You?
Your teacher should provide an email or phone number; ask what method of contact they prefer, and whether they have specific hours set aside for calls or meetings. You'll also want to find out how you'll be notified if there's an issue with your child that the teacher needs to discuss.