The Purpose of Kindergarten

It’s pretty common when you are starting to prepare your preschool child for that first day of kindergarten for her to ask you, probably with tears in her eyes, “But Daddy, why do I have to go?”  And while you have your parent answers to give her and you will obviously refocus her attention on how fun it will be and how it will be her next step toward “being a big girl”, you might ask yourself that question as well.  It’s important that dad and mom have a firm idea of what kindergarten is all about as well so you can do a good job of preparing your little one for this big step in life.

It is a mistake to see kindergarten as a huge academic leap into the future.  When parents pour so much energy into preparing their children to excel academically before heading off to kindergarten, they miss the point of this important year of school.  Moreover, by “prepping” the child for school as though this first year was going to be their freshman year at MIT, you create even more stress and anxiety because the child begins to think they are going to walk into a situation of high stress. The result is the child goes off to kindergarten already stressed and far more anxious than is justified for this first step out of the home.

Now this does not mean that preschool is not a good idea.  Not only does preschool give the child an early love of learning, it is also an excellent way to help your child begin to acclimate to the idea of going to school out of the home.  And learning to go somewhere else and become part of an organized curriculum is a big purpose of kindergarten.  So preschool gently starts that transition both academically and emotionally.

To a very large extent, the purpose of kindergarten is to help young children begin that transition to a structured environment of school.  If by the end of this important first year, kindergarten children come to school happily, know how to work with a schedule, sit at desks, listen to speakers, write things down and take them home and then bring them back again the next day and walk through the structured schedule of a normal school day, that is a huge step forward in preparing your child for school life that will begin in first grade.

Yes there is a curriculum in kindergarten and simple lessons are taught.  Very often grades are not even kept or a child is given a good or passing grade just for being in class, participating in the group activity and trying to work with the program.  The learning objectives that any kindergarten teacher will have for this year of life with these first year students is heavily slanted toward behavioral and social goals and not as heavy on academics.

The kindergarten teacher is a much different kind of teacher than any others your child will meet in his or her academic career.  You will find your child’s kindergarten teacher to be very interested in each child as an individual and in helping your child make that transition away from living at home every hour of the day and toward using a significant part of their day at school.  Commonly kindergarten teachers have special training in child psychology and are as much counselors and guides as they are teachers of lessons from books.

Get to know the teacher of your child’s kindergarten class.  You will find she is eager to know all she can about your child to achieve her goal of preparing each kindergartner for the more academic years ahead.  And if you are in sync with those goals, you can reinforce the experience your child is having with encouragement and interest at home.  And working as a team, you and the teacher will help your child have a wonderful and successful first year in school.