Q: My son is a kindergartener going to a public school for the first time. He started school in mid-August, and before this he attended preschool for two years. Since starting public school, he has completely changed his personality and attitude about school and learning. He is unhappy, cries, and often lashes out, saying he hates school and wishes he could stay home. He used to be a happy, caring little boy who loved learning new things. What should we do? — D.N.
A: If kindergarten is mandated in your state, you can't keep him home or in preschool for another year. So, make an appointment to visit and observe him in the classroom; try to see what is causing the problem.
Remember that it is perfectly OK for you to visit his classroom. Public schools are funded with your money and you have a right to visit, especially if your child is not acting normally and is in need of help. Observe quietly and take notes unobtrusively. Make an appointment for a parent conference and tell the teacher what is happening with your child at home. He needs to regain a positive attitude and love of learning. Work together to help him and develop a plan for improvement that includes descriptive praise and positive reinforcement.
Kindergarten is not mandatory in many states; I am not sure of the law in Tennessee, but where I live, in Michigan, kindergarten is not mandatory. In those states where kindergarten is not mandated, the compulsory age for public school is the age at which children enter first grade. In these states it is perfectly legal for 5-year-olds to stay home or attend a preschool until they enter first grade.
If you are able to do so and you choose to keep your child at home instead of having him continue with kindergarten, you should go online to your state Department of Education and find out what outcomes are expected by kindergarten children by the end of the school year. Children can achieve these outcomes by being taught through concrete learning and play experiences either at home or in a preschool.
For example, blocks can be used to teach counting, addition, subtraction, estimation, weight and measurement, and geometric shapes. Problem solving is learned inherently and naturally as children use construction skills with blocks of all kinds. Open or leading questions asked by the adult can guide the child in learning simple to more complex math concepts as they use both unit blacks and table blocks. When children create an unusual block structure, a photo can be taken and what children say about the creation can be printed, posted and read by the children. This ties in literacy and reading with the children's creative problem solving .
Many other concrete literacy activities that have relevance to 5-year-old children can be used to successfully teach pre-reading and reading skills. For example, good preschools and kindergartens use reading, storytelling, personal journaling, dictation on art work, and dramatic play, including children's own stories or plays. They also use computers to print out children's words about their ideas, their work or creations.
All these activities teach letters, phonics and reading skills. If you are a fortunate parent who does not have to work outside the home, you can do these things at home with your child.
Next week: More about kindergarten.
Evelyn Petersen is an award-winning parenting columnist and child and family advocate who lives in Traverse City. E-mail questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. For more columns from Evelyn Petersen, visit record-eagle.com/askevelyn.