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Wednesday, November 26th, 2014
By Sumana Ghosh-Witherspoon
I never thought my sweet little 5-year-old would turn in to a teenager overnight…well, it happened. Suddenly I was regularly met with bored eye rolls and grunts like “Ugh” or exclamations like “No way, Jose!” I knew this was coming in another eight to ten years (which is why I have already been browsing boarding school catalogs), but now? At age 5?
I believe it all started a few months ago, when she began Kindergarten. Within the first week I was getting a lot of “smart talk.” Me: “How was school? What did you do today?” Ameli: “Fine…you know what I did, you’ve been to Kindergarten…” Me: “Maybe I have, but that was a long time ago.” Ameli: “Yah, that’s cause you’re really old, like how old are you? 9?” Defeated, I went back my errands and she went back to her iPad.
Soon it was time for her first night of homework. As I was trying to figure out the note from her teacher and what she was supposed to work on, she began “I know what to do Mama!” and “Noooo, that’s not how we’re supposed to do it!” Sheesh! My husband and I gave her a lecture and a time out.
Next it was Game Night at her school. Since her dad is the one who usually picks her up, I was excited to meet her afterschool teachers and others at the school. As we were huddled around a bowl of snacks and bingo cards, a man came up to us and said “Hello Ameli!” and looked at me expectantly. Me: “Who’s that?” Ameli, eyes downcast: “No one!” After much prodding I realized it was one of her teachers…she admitted later that she was embarrassed for me to talk to him! Embarrassed? Of me? I couldn’t believe it…here I was thinking I am one of those cool parents, in the know and generally “with it”! (Perhaps using the term “with it” doesn’t help my case, but you know what I mean.)
This time we had to have a meaningful talk with her…we delved a little and discovered several underlying concerns on her part regarding cultural identity, dealing with a new sibling (her baby sister joined us not quite a year ago), and hanging out with older kids at her after-school program that had all contributed in creating this teenage mutant kindergartener. At least we were able to find some of the triggers and can now act accordingly to hopefully correct the problem.
Then late last night Ameli woke with a start after an apparent nightmare and came running into my arms, teary-eyed, exclaiming, “Mama, I heard a scary noise in my room, I need a hug!” There she is, I thought, my little girl is still in there. Maybe I do have more time before eye rolls become a way of life!
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Thursday, September 4th, 2014
Your child may have started school or gone back to school already, but here on the east coast (especially in New York City), school is just starting! My Facebook feed is bursting with adorable “First Day of School” photos from family and friends. Seeing all the photos took me back in time, Marty McFly style, to the days when all I had to worry about was what to eat for lunch and who to play with at recess.
Of all the “first day of school” memories, the one I remember the most is my first day of kindergarten at an elementary school in the suburbs of Long Island. I actually didn’t start kindergarten in September like all the other kids — instead, as a late transfer student from Queens, I started school in the middle of winter. What I remember most about that day was showing up to school in a winter coat, without a backpack or any school supplies. I remember the kindness of a curly, red-headed girl named Randi who helped me take off my jacket and hang it up on the wall. Then…I remember bursting into tears. Just sitting on the lap of my grandmotherly teacher (Mrs. Turnwall) as she comforted me while letting me sob big fat tears. Because I was shy. And I felt lost. And alone. And scared.
Eventually, I stopped crying and settled down to listen to Mrs. Turnwall read a story to the entire class. Thankfully, the class only lasted for half a day, so I didn’t have to be at school for very long. Looking back now, I think I felt very, very out of place because of a few reasons: 1) I was a new student; 2) Everyone already had time to get to know each other; 3) I didn’t look like anyone else (I was the only Asian student in class). I think that the shock of starting a new routine and the fear of being in an unfamiliar environment with unfamiliar faces was overwhelming. It was a lot for a 5-year-old to handle!
Starting a new school is definitely one of the biggest childhood changes — and I think it’s definitely important for parents and kids to visit the school beforehand and get a sense of the size and layout. But for transfer families who may not have time to visit the school, there’s still value in emphasizing the positive, fun school things a child will still be able to enjoy (story hour! coloring! snack time!). Some of the biggest worries a child may have will be making new friends and liking the new teacher — so it’s also important to teach kids (especially shy ones) to try and find other kids with similar interests (who can turn into potential playdate pals), and to take time to listen and bond with the teacher.
Every first day of elementary school after that first day of kindergarten must have been easier — because I don’t have a solid memory of any of them! Although I never became BFFs with the red-headed Randi, I will always remember the sweet gesture that she showed me, a new girl who felt lost but who never felt really alone again.
Tell us: Do you have any memories about your own first day of (elementary) school?
Read more back-to-school musings:
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Image: Back to School blackboard and school supplies via Shutterstock
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Thursday, April 10th, 2014
Not so long ago, a friend asked me whether I plan to send my youngest child, my third, to kindergarten on time, or if I’ll choose to hold her back. The question didn’t surprise me. “Redshirting,” or delaying entrance to kindergarten by a year, is not uncommon where I live, and my daughter makes the cutoff in our district by a scant five days. That makes it likely she’ll be the very youngest in her grade, something I’ve come to see could actually be a positive thing academically. But the timing of my friend’s inquiry did throw me a bit: My daughter is just 2 ½ years old. Surely that buys us some time to decide whether she’ll be ready at almost-5 for kindergarten.
Still, you can’t blame parents of children on the younger side for their grade for worrying early and often, particularly when we have to suffer through anxiety-inducing commercials for websites and other wares peddled to get our kids prepared for kindergarten, which sounds increasingly like an intimidating, unforgiving place rather than the warm welcome to education that it used to be.
In the May issue of Parents, for our “Preschooler” column “Ready for Kindergarten?” writer Renee Riebling quotes moms who’ve already made the decision, and their experiences are varied and enlightening. (Renee had to make the choice herself, too, whether to hold her son a year or send him on to kindergarten, and her blog post about it is worth reading.) A few things I learned from reading (and editing) our piece in Parents:
Check with your school district first to find out what the rules are. For example, ask whether children must start kindergarten or first grade in keeping with their birth year; even if you think you already know the answer, it’s still worth a call to the district office, as these rules can change. Also find out if special exceptions can be granted by the school principal, as was the case for one of the moms Parents interviewed.
Think about down the line, not just kindergarten. Will you be as happy with your decision, whichever way you lean, when your child enters older grades? I admit I don’t love the thought of my daughter being a youngin’ in, say, fifth grade with redshirted boys who are a year (and then some) older, or sending my 17-year-old baby off to college. On the flip side, there may be some downsides to holding her back: After talking to a couple of parents of teens, I’m not crazy about the thought of her getting a driver’s license at the beginning of junior year of high school, a potential distraction during a crucial academic year for college.
Get the preschool teacher’s input when making a decision. Some of our parents interviewed agreed with their teachers’ assessments that another year of preschool would help, whether with developing fine motor skills or confidence or maturity. Others felt that these weren’t necessarily good enough reasons to delay kindergarten, and were glad they trusted their own instincts that their kids were ready enough.
Remember every child and family are unique. I hope we’ll make the best decision for my daughter (my hunch is she’ll be ready), and I wish you well choosing what’s best for yours. (For another article on the subject, you can read this story we previously ran in Parents: “Thrive in 2025: Holding Kids Back for Success.”) As with all big decisions regarding our kids, sometimes it’s just helpful to hear it straight from other parents who’ve been there.
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Image: Children painting in school via Shutterstock
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Monday, February 24th, 2014
Editor’s Note: This guest post was written by Elisa Villanueva Beard, the co-CEO of Teach For America, a national nonprofit that works for the day when all children have the opportunity for an excellent education. Teach For America currently impacts more than 750,000 students in over 2,600 schools.
It’s part of parenthood to say “no,” to our children, to set boundaries and explain limits (No, you can’t stay up until midnight. No, you can’t throw that ice cream at your brother), but no parent should ever have to deny their child an education. Young children are insatiably curious, and they all deserve a chance to learn. This is why I was glad to see the President name early childhood education as a priority for 2014, during his State of the Union address last month.
Every minute, the brain of a young child gains 700 neural connections, which is why early childhood education is important in order to support academic and social growth before kindergarten. It matters. As a parent, I’ve also seen my own kids grow immensely through early education. I’m reminded of a day last spring when my oldest son returned from preschool, eager to tell me what the biggest country in South America was. He also wanted to tell me the official language and the names of all the neighboring countries. Langston was so proud to share what he’d learned. He was empowered by his knowledge. Though he could rattle off the facts perfectly that day, I knew that in 10 years, he might not remember the details. But what mattered at the moment was the memorization skills and academic confidence he’d gained, plus the global perspective the school lesson spawned.
And as a former teacher, and someone who has devoted her entire professional life to supporting educational equity, I’m certain that Obama’s call for early childhood education isn’t just important — it’s urgent. The 6-year-olds I once taught were brilliant and motivated, but they hadn’t been to preschool, so we often struggled together, rushing to catch up with other more affluent peers nationwide. Disparities that start at 6 (or even as young as 2 or 3) years old only grow over time. We’re facing inequities today in our education system that have nothing to do with the will or intelligence of students, parents, and communities. What we’re seeing — the gap in test scores between students of color and white students, or between low-income and high-income regions — is the result of a system that’s not designed to serve all kids. We can, and must, change the system, and expanding early childhood education will be a part of that change.
The focus on early childhood education is not just good citizenship — it’s good politics and economics, too. And it’s also simply the right thing to do. Kids who attend preschool are 70% less likely to be arrested before the age of 18 than kids who don’t, and they earn, on average, 33% higher salary in adulthood. Increased salaries and decreased arrest benefit the nation at large; it’s clear that our investment in preschool will be paid back in spades. There are multifaceted reasons the gap, but generally kids who miss out on early education often miss out on other crucial starting blocks, like adequate healthcare and nutrition. So it’ll take systemic change to give kids a shot at a better life, and preschool is a great start.
Young children hold fast to ideas of what’s “fair” and what isn’t, and it often comes down to things being exactly equal. (Parents of preschoolers know the perils of giving one child a slightly bigger handful of goldfish than another.) So if one child gets an education, another should, too. Simple. We take it for granted that all kids deserve a free public education. Over a century ago, we decided that K-12 was enough, but today, we know children need more than that: modern research and modern times have shown us the best education starts early. It’s not only smart to provide this, it’s also what’s fair. Let’s make it happen then — our children expect nothing less.
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Photo Credit: Jean-Christian Bourcart
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early education, education, education standards, kindergarten, preK, preschool, president obama, teach for america, universal preschool | Categories:
Child Development, Education, The Parents Perspective, Toddlers
Thursday, January 30th, 2014
A new study released this week by The New England Journal of Medicine, which tracked children’s weight fluctuations over time, found that a child’s weight in kindergarten was a strong predictor of his or her weight by eighth grade.
Of the 7,738 children studied, roughly three-quarters of those who become obese between the ages of 5 and 14 had been above the 70th percentile for body-mass index when entering kindergarten. With each passing year, the chances that a child would break away from their current weight trajectory decreased—meaning children whose weight was in a normal range stayed that way, while those who were heavy remained so. These findings suggest that a parent’s efforts in his or her child’s early years to encourage healthy food choices and instill a fitness-focused mentality can help set a child up for a lifetime of successful weight management.
But will harping on “eating right” and “staying active” at such a young age backfire and make future generations even more body image-obsessed than they currently are? Studies show that even young children are aware of body image and feel tremendous pressure to live up to images portrayed by the media. This creates a challenge for parents to strike a balance between advocating for good health and encouraging a positive self-image, despite outside appearances. To downplay body image concerns while still inspiring a healthy lifestyle, try the following:
- Emphasize nutrition rather than weight.
- Describe food as energy for the body.
- Encourage the formation of exercise habits now, which research shows are likely to continue into adulthood.
- Get active together. Sign-up for our “12 Weeks to a Healthier Family” newsletter to get started.
Image: Mother and daughter eating fresh vegetables via Shutterstock.
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