Parent Involvement in Education: Kindergarten Questions

By This information provided the Michigan Department of Education, Office of Early Childhood Education and Family Services.

The Office of Early Childhood Education and Family Services at the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) addresses parents' problems concerning kingergarten and answers many questions. Concern about kindergarten is not surprising, since sending a child off to the "big school" is a huge step in the life of a family. Here are some of the most common:

Q. What can I do to make sure my child has a great kindergarten experience?

A. Families that stress parent involvement in education and parents who learn with their children and provide extra learning opportunities beyond school are the most successful. Develop a relationship with your child's teacher and foster parent teacher communication. Be sure your child is well rested, well fed, and emotionally ready for each school day. Make sure supplies are laid out the night before, and try to make the "getting ready" time in the morning as pleasant as possible.

Q. What are children supposed to learn before they go to kindergarten?

A. The Michigan State Board of Education has approved Early Childhood Standards of Quality for Prekindergarten. The document includes a section on Early Learning Expectations for Three- and Four-Year-Old Children, which helps explain the expectations that kindergarten teachers have of children entering their classes and where the kindergarten curriculum begins.

Q. What will my child do in kindergarten?

A. Today's Michigan kindergarten classes are filled with learning and exploration activities to engage young learners. Ask your child's teacher to share the daily kindergarten routine with you so that you can ask your child more specific questions about the school day. There likely will be both whole class and smaller group times. There usually will be set times for vigorous activity outdoors or in the gym and for meals and snacks. In a full-day program, children may even have a rest time. Children may be scheduled to visit the library, computer center, music or art room. Activities in typical academic subject areas are often arranged to encourage children to interact and develop their social and physical skills at the same time. No matter what the schedule of activities and routines, the most important thing is the quality, variety and appropriateness of the learning experience.

For more, see "The Top Ten Signs of a Good Kindergarten Classroom" published by the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Q. What about homework?

A rule of thumb is about 10 minutes a night of homework per grade; often, kindergartners don't have much, if any, homework.

Q. Are there books for us to read at home about kindergarten?

A. Here are some great books, available at your local or school library, that are a fun way for you to help your child understand the routines of kindergarten:

Q. How else can I support my child's learning, besides checking her homework and reading daily?

A. Young children are interested in just about everything that goes on in the world and learn a lot from experience. Taking walks and learning about the seasons and the natural world are exciting to young children. Trips to parks, museums and special events are a "big deal" to little kids. They'll remember special outings and process the new information for a long time. There are many learning opportunities in your house as well - chores such as setting the table or sorting laundry can help young children learn about numbers and sorting, as well as responsibility and being part of a team. Vigorous activity and play with other children are important too. Limit your child's television and video games - research shows too much of these activities interferes with school success.

Q. How can I talk with my child's teacher?

A. Find out the teacher's preferences. Teachers rarely leave the children during the day. Your child's teacher may have a regular planning period during the week when she can return phone calls. The old-fashioned "note to school" still works, although many teachers and schools have set up an e-mail system for more regular - and easier - communication. Ask to see the school's website, if they have one, where notes, assignments, and activities are posted. Tell the teacher the best way and time to contact you.

Q. How will I know if my child is having trouble at school?

A. School staff may be in contact with you, or your child may talk to you or complain of being sick or not wanting to go to school. Listen to your child and explore possible reasons with the teacher or school staff. Many times a small problem can be identified and extra support given before a problem grows and needs more attention.

Q. My child has some special needs, and attended an Early Childhood Special Education (ECSE) class last year. He is now included in a regular kindergarten class. How can I make sure he has a good year?

A. If your child is 5, he can continue to attend the ECSE class, or be placed full- or part-time in a regular kindergarten classroom. The Individualized Education Plan (IEP) developed for your child, with your participation, can spell out the particulars in a way that will best help your child learn. Make sure you connect often with your child's teacher so that you know how he's doing. Help him practice skills and activities at home. You will always be your child's best advocate.

Q. It seems that there is a wide range of ages of children in my child's class. How does this happen?

A. Children who are 5 on or before December 1 are legally entitled in the state of Michigan to enter kindergarten. That means that your local school district must allow any child to enter a regular kindergarten class if he or she is old enough. Children with fall birthdates may still be 4 when school starts. Parents may also choose to keep their child out of kindergarten, because children are not required to be in school until they are 6 years old.

Q. Do children have to go to kindergarten?

A. Michigan state law indicates that any child who is 6 on or before December 1 must be enrolled in a public or private school or be home-schooled. A child who does not go to kindergarten at age 5 may be placed into kindergarten or first grade the next year.

Q. What's this developmental kindergarten/begindergarten class my district offers?

A. Some Michigan school districts offer a two-year kindergarten for children who seem less prepared to succeed in kindergarten. Before enrolling a child in an extra-year program, it is a good idea to be absolutely sure that the child's "youngness" is not really a learning difference or disability. Children with learning problems benefit most from direct attention related to the difficulty. Attending a two-year kindergarten also means that child will be older than his/her classmates all through school, and this may become a social problem in middle and high school.

Q. Why is my district's kindergarten only half-day? My child has been in a full-day preschool program and I work!

A. Michigan state law requires that kindergarten children attend for half the number of hours required for older children in grades 1-12. Districts choose varying schedules, including AM only, PM only, alternate days and full day. Many districts in Michigan offer a full-day, every day program for kindergartners, feeling that there is so much for them to learn that it is not possible to teach it all in a half-day program. Other districts offer before- or after-school programs to accommodate working parents.

Q. My district offers a full-day program, but I have to pay for the afternoons. I thought districts couldn't charge for school.

A. Districts cannot charge for kindergarten, but they can charge if they arrange for part of the day to be considered a before- or after-school program, and get it approved as such by the Michigan Department of Human Services (DHS). Parents should be clearly told that the part of the day they are paying for is approved as childcare, and the approval/license should be displayed in the classroom or office. The second part of the day is then considered childcare, not school, and parents can pay tuition. If they qualify, parents may receive a subsidy from the DHS to assist with fees.

Q. My child attended a kindergarten program in a childcare center, and now the school district isn't sure that she will be successful in first grade. They might place her back in kindergarten!

A. The placement of your child as a 6 year old is up to the school district. It might be helpful to find out just what your child is missing in terms of knowledge or skills; some short-term tutoring might help him.