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‘Line Up Straight, Try the Corndogs, Don’t Hurt People’s Feelings’

Out-going Kindergartners Share Best Advice for Fall’s Class


Rule No. 5 is very important, say kindergartners

Karie Uhl knows kindergarten is a time of big transition for children. Uhl, who just finished her fifth year teaching kindergarten at South Elementary School, says there are issues she and her fellow teachers see every year, including separation anxiety (for kiddos and parents), learning classroom routines and rules, and adjusting to all the new stimulation classroom activity introduces.

“Kindergarten sets the stage for the rest of their schooling,” Uhl said. “There’s a lot of pressure to make them have a good year. This is where they learn to love it or not love it.”

School News Network went straight to the experts for the scoop on the most pressing issues of the first year of regular school: Uhl’s students. She posed a handful of questions to a trio of small groups. Below, their wisdom.

If you have a child headed to kindergarten in September, here are some ways you can help ease the transition:

  • Try to do some play therapy at home. Small figures, stuffed animals, or puppets will do. Have your “actors” experience a transition to a new place. Don’t forget to “act out” coping strategies, for example: “Mr. Elephant feels scared. So what can he do? Maybe he could tell his teacher!”
  • Talk to your child about the transition in a positive way and try not to let your own anxiety about the change show too much.
  • If your school offers visiting days, do your best to have your child attend. If your child’s kindergarten provides a daily schedule of activities ahead of time, go over it with your son or daughter. Take photos of the school, the classroom, and the new teacher, if possible.
  • See if you can find out some of your child’snew classmates, and set up a play date. Some schools offer late summer playground dates for incoming kindergarteners.
  • Remind your child “It’s okay to be afraid, but you’ll feel better each day that you’re there. Lots of kids feel just like you do.” Acknowledge your child’s fear as real and appropriate while offering reassurance.
  • With your child, write a story about his or her first day at kindergarten (with your child as the main character!). Include logistics, feelings, etc.
  • Read to your child about starting kindergarten. Some good choices are “The Night Before Kindergarten” (Reading Railroad Books) paperback, written by Natasha Wing and illustrated by Julie Durrel; “Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten,” written by Joseph Slate and illustrated by Ashley Wolff; “Kindergarten Rocks!” by Katie Davis; “Look out Kindergarten, Here I Come!” by Nancy Carlson; and “I Am Too Absolutely Small for School (Charlie and Lola),” by Lauren Child.

— Source: Harvard University Health Publications

What were you most nervous about?

  • Alex: “People not sharing at recess. Sometimes they didn’t and then I would say, ‘Can I have it?'”
  • Madison: “Riding the bus.”
  • Emma: “That school would be really hard.”
  • Mallory: “I was nervous about meeting new friends.”

None of our trios could recall any major or minor meltdowns when they left Mom or Dad at the sidewalk in the beginning, but Uhl said tear-stained faces are pretty common — from parents as well as students.

“You always get a handful of kiddos who have that separation anxiety,” Uhl said, “but it’s alleviated for most within the first couple of days. I’ve seen some parents have more of a problem separating than their child, and it’s understandable: being away from them for a full day is hard at first.

“But I tell parents, ‘We’re trying to teach (their children) to be independent. As hard as it is, you’ve got to let them go and trust that we know what we are doing. I think our job as teachers is to reassure parents that we care about their kids, we’re going to take care of them and they are going to be just fine.”

Which school food is your favorite?

  • Madison: “Corndogs. And there’s so many.”
  • Natalie: “Pancakes.”
  • Tristan: “Pizza.”
  • Benjamin: “Are you going to do desserts? Mine is ice cream.”

What were your favorite things about kindergarten?

  • Alex: “That we make a lot of friends at school.”
  • Benjamin: “I just ask someone to be my friend and they want to be my friend.”
  • Natalie: The school bus. “I was so excited because I begged and begged my brother to ride the bus before I went to school.”
  • Emma: “Birthday treats.”
  • Logan: “Recess.”

What are you most proud of accomplishing in kindergarten?

  • Madison (with Tristan, Mallory and Logan concurring): “Being able to get good at reading.”

What are some rules you think are good for kindergartners to know?

  • Emma: “Keep your dear teacher happy.”
  • Alex: “No talking when the teacher is talking.”
  • Benjamin: “Line up in a straight line.”
  • Natalie: “Make smart choices. But that is so hard.”

Uhl couldn’t help but chuckle at Natalie’s remark. “Every morning we do our rules,right up until the last day of school, and that is a huge part of kindergarten, understanding what a smart choice is and how we make them, being able to answer ‘How do we treat people? How do we be good little citizens?’ A lot of it is teaching respect and what we can do to make each other feel good.”

Your best advice to new kindergartners?

  • Liam: “Don’t be scared.”
  • Mallory: “No sharing food in the lunchroom (in case of allergies).”
  • Madison: “Don’t call people names. Never play in the bathrooms. If there is a fire drill never close your ears, because you won’t hear what is happening. And don’t close your eyes because you won’t see what is happening.”
  • Benjamin: “I’ve got lots. Don’t go in the gaga pit. Line up straight. Don’t hurt people’s feelings.”
  • Natalie: “Be really really really really smart.”

Karie Uhl
Karie Uhl

In Uhl’s opinion, the biggest adjustment kindergartners face is being in school all day. “Just getting their stamina up is tough,” she said. “Parents may notice kids seem exhausted when they get home. It’s so helpful for them to get into the routine of early bedtime in August so kids are ready for that.”

How does she manage with major adjustments times so many kindergartners? “We really have to take baby steps,” she said. “We take lots of breaks, do lots of getting-to-know-you games. We definitely don’t get into hardcore academics for the first few days.”

Major elementary school perk: birthday parties and popsicles to share

The first year, Uhl said, students are learning how to line up, how to work quietly, what the protocol is for using the bathroom, and how to set routines away from home.

“It’s a process,” she said, “but it’s so fun to see them at the end of the year, ready to be more independent.”

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Middle school students share their first-year advice

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a reporter and copy editor, covering East Grand Rapids, Forest Hills and Northview. She is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio or email Morgan.

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