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Berger’s Berg

Children experience school for first time in kindergarten

This week's "Berger's Berg" has been written by guest columnist Gloria Berger.

A new school year will begin Sept. 2 and our 5-year-olds will apprehensively tip-toe into kindergarten to begin their first official school experience. Although some children have previously attended nursery school or preschool, this is the big time — "real school," as they call it.

Kindergarteners will be entering a new, exciting world and remember the experience forever. As a kindergarten teacher, I still recall my first kindergarten teacher.

A child came home from his first day of school. His mother asked, "What did you learn today?" He replied, "Not enough. They want me to come back tomorrow."

Her name was Miss Firestone. She was a tall, stately woman with gray hair pulled back in a bun. Ever prim and proper, she never smiled or hugged and was the stereotypical old maid teacher her era demanded.

But as my first teacher, I loved her. That kind of staid, standoffish, early childhood teaching has disappeared and been replaced with tenderness, motherly concern and fun.

I am not worried about what children know today. I am worried about how they find out.

Today's kindergartener will have a much warmer learning environment, one which encompasses their entire involvement: academic, social, physical and creative. Parents will be welcomed as full participating partners in their child's education, and along with the teacher and school administration, will be working in unison to ease the child's transition into the school system.

At the beginning, children are warmly welcomed into the school situation. They will be given a tour of the classroom to familiarize them with their home away from home, from their desks and tables (their "home base"), to the "house corner," library, play area, "Lego Land," block corner, math center, puzzle center, audio and computer areas and other rotating centers of interest, including science, social studies, music and art centers.

Most importantly, each child will be assigned a "cubby," where they will keep their school bags, lunch boxes, outer clothing, art work and notes from the teacher to bring home. Each teacher arranges her room individually, according to the curricula and needs of her students. Classroom settings often vary at different times of the year.

A first-grader is grooming herself to be president when she grows up, so she had her friend shred her report card.

An important part of adjusting to school is the introduction of school and class rules. Children are told what they are expected to do when the need to use the bathroom arises, lining up, getting the teacher's attention and how to share and get along with other students, teachers and staff members.

Within the first few days, one of the most stressful times for the child is the introduction of the fire drill. Children are clearly told to recognize the signal and to follow the teacher's directions to the letter. Teachers always explain the importance of the children's adherence to strict rules and they generally understand and accept them.

Sometimes a child will become frightened at the change of routine and loud noises. Teachers, aware of the child's possible discomfort, gently guide the child to safety. This fear usually disappears in a few days.

Attending school for the first time should be a pleasant experience for the child, especially if he hears his parents and older siblings speak positively about school.

Importantly, a child requires a regular daily routine. Early bedtimes, regular dinner hours and encouragement to dress independently promote a child's independence and confidence. To broaden their horizons, family members should read to them, take them to museums and zoos and hiking.

The teacher told her class, "Pick out a friend to sit next to." One child stood motionless. "Kerrin, don't you have a friend?" Kerrin answered, "Allegra is my friend, but I hate her!"

Parents, if you give your child security, acceptance, guidance and love, he or she will enjoy learning and their school careers will blossom and grow each day. And, in adulthood, he or she will also have fond memories of his or her first days in school and their best teacher: their kindergarten one.

If people stayed children forever, we would have a better world.

Reach Gloria Berger at news@timesledger.com.

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