Sweaty palms. Racing heart. Nervous thoughts. Separation anxiety. Fear of the school bus. Insecurity about new rules and new authority figures. Uncontrollable sobbing.
These are but a few of the physical and emotional responses commonly associated with a kindergartener’s first day of school. Sometimes it’s the kid who feels this way. More often, it’s the parent.
We sat down with some of the administrators at to find out how the school’s educators address these, and other, issues to help ease you and your child through the transition from preschool, daycare or homecare to kindergarten.
School Counselor Fred Traumuller opened the discussion by saying, “One of the things I think we do very well here at Bower Hill is look at the transition of kids coming into kindergarten… and give them opportunities to gain comfort at (the school).”
Traumuller explained that those opportunities begin long before the child actually begins kindergarten, as early as spring of the preceding year, when children and their families are invited to the school for registration, screening and orientation.
Each of these opportunities exposes the child, and her parents, to the school’s physical building and educators and begins her process of familiarization. It also gives the school a chance to gather pertinent information about the child.
Bower Hill Principal Kelly Gustafson said that the screening each child undergoes is not a test of whether or not he is ready for kindergarten, but rather a way of assessing his strengths and weaknesses to provide information for class placement and program development.
At orientation, Traumuller said, children come in with their parents and go to different stations to learn about the school and its programs and rules. They also learn about the rules of the school bus, and the kids take a small bus ride without their parents, which, Gustafson laughed, “is usually the highlight of the day for the kids.”
The school’s efforts at acclimating each child to her new environment pop up again in the late summer, when parents are invited to the school for an open discussion on teacher, parent and child expectations during the last teacher in-service day and when families are welcomed to walk through the school and talk with educators during an evening open house.
“Bower Hill is a very large school,” Traumuller said. “We do some of these things to try and make it feel smaller… less intimidating (and) more like a neighborhood school.”
According to Traumuller, one thing in particular that makes parents more comfortable and prepared for their child’s transition to kindergarten is knowing what the first day of school will be like.
On that first day, Gustafson explained, the children come to school with their parents. Gradually, over the course of an hour, parents are pulled out of the classroom and taken to meet with Gustafson and Assistant Principal Christopher Shute while the children remain in the classrooms with teachers and support staff.
“Truly, (the kids’) first independent day is the second day of school,” Gustafson clarified. “That’s when they’re put on the buses, when they kiss mom goodbye at the bus stop and come to school on their own for the first time.”
On the second day, children are met at the buses by their teachers, who collect them according to color-coded lanyards provided by the Bower Hill PTA. For approximately two weeks, the teachers continue to greet the children in this way, reinforcing their familiarity with the route from bus to classroom.
The panel of Bower Hill administrators went on to describe what subsequent school days are like for kindergarteners, after the initial shock wears off and the kids are more familiar with the turf.
Noting that the classrooms of yesteryear were designed highly around free play, Shute said that today’s more formalized kindergarten classroom is very different from the classrooms typical to the era in which most students’ parents were reared.
“The standards have changed,” he said. “There’s a real purpose behind everything. Nothing is done to just fill time.
“Every single thing is designed to make sure the kids are progressing the way that they need to, to make sure contact and communication with parents is ongoing, to head off any potential special needs and… to make kindergarten and school a fun place,” Shute elaborated.
Gustafson followed up by saying that teachers and support staff are constantly observing the kindergarteners, whether it’s during daily lessons in language arts, math, science, social studies and journal writing; during “share sessions” (a boosted-up version of show-and-tell) or biweekly physical education; during snack time; or, during weekly rotations between the library, computer lab and RTII enrichment classes.
If a teacher identifies any possible special needs, Gustafson assured, Traumuller and/or any other relevant support staff, such as speech pathologist Tammi Hanak, will step up to take the reins.
Parents don’t have to take the words of these educators at their face. They can go to the school and participate in the action, as part of the “Kindergarten Commons” program. This program exposes each kindergarten classroom to a weekly parent/family volunteer who spearheads a theme-based activity related to the class’ lesson plans.
Kindergarten Commons gives kindergarteners a chance to explore practical applications of things they are learning in the classroom and gives their parents a chance to see what is going on in the school, Shute noted.
Other ways parents can get a glimpse of what goes on behind the doors at Bower Hill Elementary School include volunteer opportunities at the library, PTA meetings, monthly newsletters, weekly information sheets and any-time email access to teachers.
All of these things, and more, come together to provide what Gustafson, Shute and Traumuller all agree is a “very unique, once-in-a-lifetime support network” that is unparalleled in any other educational or professional setting seen later in life.