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Book, program get children off to a great start in school

By Anne Bromley

Successful Kindergarten Transition“Two weeks before school started, Nate’s teacher called. It was great, [and it] made Nate feel great. What a nice thing to do!”

“The first week of school, the teacher called to say that my child should be evaluated for Ritalin.”

It’s not hard to pick which example parents would rather have as a first contact with their child’s kindergarten teacher.

These actual comments come from U.Va. education professor Robert Pianta’s long-term study of young children and their transition to elementary school. In a collaborative effort with the National Center for Early Development & Learning, Pianta and his team have been working on the Kindergarten Transition Project since 1995. They have created a flexible framework for enhancing children’s transitions into kindergarten that involves children, schools and support resources.

He and research assistant Marcia Kraft-Sayre recently published a workbook on how to develop and implement a plan, “Successful Kindergarten Transition: Your Guide to Connecting Children, Families and Schools.” Geared toward educators, from school principals to kindergarten and preschool teachers, Pianta’s book addresses families as well, and it could also be used in teacher education courses.

Robert PiantaStudies have shown that children’s early success in school influences their continued academic achievement. Almost 75 percent of the kindergarten population has had some form of preschool, said Pianta. But, according to kindergarten teachers, about half of children have problems making the transition from preschool to kindergarten. Some have considerable problems during the transition that are not dealt with until teachers have pinpointed them later in the school year. Pianta and Kraft-Sayre also surveyed parents, who said they felt that the differences between the two school settings had posed difficulties for their children. The researchers found that too little outreach, if any, before school started was extended to parents and children in preparation for kindergarten.

“Most transition problems can either be prevented or addressed earlier and more proactively when a school has a set of practices and procedures designed to enhance connections among the school, families and early childhood providers in the community,” Pianta said. A handful of states and school districts, including Charlottesville’s, have already adopted the transition model. Speaking at conferences also has helped spread the word: As a result of Pianta participating in the National Governors’ Association conference in early August, the approach is being considered nationally.

“It is clear that the focus in early education and school readiness, at the national and state levels, has moved from ‘getting children ready for school’ to now include a focus on how schools become ready for children and their families,” Pianta said.


How parents can help their child make a successful transition into kindergarten

If your child’s school does have a transition program, participate.

Ask to meet with the child’s teacher as early as possible and talk about your child’s personality, interests and strengths. In your description, try to give the teacher a picture of your child.

Tell the teacher what you want your child to learn.

Teachers say that children who don’t have an established routine at home have more trouble adapting to the routine of the school day.

Consider making the daily schedule at home more consistent.

Pianta’s developmental model takes into account the child’s abilities and skills, the influence of the social environment on the child, and other influences, including friends and community settings, as well as parents and teachers. The good news is it’s not too costly to plan and implement the program. Having someone in the school shift duties and become the transition coordinator works well, he said.

To begin with, schools need to start planning for the kindergarten transition a year ahead. They can choose from a menu of options that bring participants together in orientation sessions, informational meetings, school visits, summer programs and other opportunities for more informal give-and-take. Identifying barriers to communication and how to dismantle them is part of creating a network of support. The coordinator should find out when parents are most often available for some kind of involvement.

“Find out what works for families,” said Nancy Gercke, coordinator for the Charlottesville preschool and kindergarten transition programs. Instead of one central pre-school program, Charlottesville relocated it to six different elementary schools, making it easier for families to attend programs and for student interaction, she said.

Even a simple procedure like making up the class lists months ahead instead of typically waiting until the end of the summer can allow teachers more time to talk with each other and communicate with new children and their parents.

Connecting preschool and kindergarten teachers is key. Preschool programs exist in a variety of places — private schools, churches, day-care centers — and in typically smaller settings than elementary schools. Preschool personnel may have had more opportunity to get to know the children and families and can pass along important information.

Ultimately, the goal of a good transition program is to create a process for children who might have adjustment problems to get the support they need. That way, they’ll have a better chance to succeed in school.


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