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Talking about School Transitions

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The school year is ending, but if you have a child starting pre-school or Kindergarten in the fall, you may be wondering how to best prepare for September.  There’s actually a lot you can do ahead of time to help your child be ready for school and to help you with this big transition.

It turns out that I’m not the only one thinking in this direction.   Well Baby Center in Mar Vista is offering Becoming Social, a 6-week summer playground learning experience that starts in July. On June 12th, UCLA Family Commons will be hosting a talk— School Transitions: Entering Kindergarten, Preparing for Middle School.  Dr. Rebecca Eberlin will lead the talk at UCLA Family Commons.  The program at Well Baby Center is designed for children 2.5 to 5 years and their parents.  I recently sat down to lunch with Eileen O’Sullivan, the facilitator for the Becoming Social program at Well Baby Center.

Eileen and I have known each other for a long time and worked together.  One of our points of connection is a love of parenting, parent education and child development.  Over the years, we’ve spent hours talking about our kids, school programs and hashing out ideas of best practices in parenting.  While these talks would drive some people to tears of boredom, I’ve long wanted to start writing down some of the finer moments from these conversations as a way to keep the dialogue going and open it up.

We talked about how our kids transitioned into middle and high school and then reflected back on that first leap into school.  While it can be challenging for the kids to start school, it’s also a huge change for the parents.  We talked about some of the pitfalls parents encounter and Eileen characterized it in this way,

“It’s hard for them to turn it over even if they’ve had a full time nanny.  With the nanny, they still direct things.   If they’re not going to help the child assimilate and adjust home life to meet the expectations of the school…it’s not going to work.

I was speaking to a group of parents and neighbors who all have Kindergarten and first grade children.  If you don’t support and know what the school is like and have a good idea of what they’re going to do, then you can’t help your child [as effectively].  Things like—I notice at school it’s going to be different because… and you bring this up really conversationally while you’re doing other things, like driving or cleaning up the kitchen or any of those…kinds of tasks.

That’s what I’m talking about in supporting whatever decision you’ve made.  You have to defer to the teacher and make the teacher a partner.  It’s good if you find yourself saying things like, And what did your teacher say?

While you won’t have conversations like this until after your child starts school, it’s good to recognize that you will be deferring to the teacher at times and the way the classroom is run.  It won’t always be exactly to your liking.  It’s helpful to look at the school administration, staff and teachers as joining your child’s team, emphasizing collaboration between school and home.  Eileen described how the Being Social program at Well Baby Center will mimic the school day schedule.

“Through the summer, [we’ll be] helping them to recognize the schedule that we keep.  The open play/observation time, a time to have the snack that they bring with them, to sit down and eat it and then it’s put away.  It’s not food on demand.  This is all preschool preparedness.  With the parents assisting them much the way a teacher would help opening things.  And then there will be a period where the children have an activity offered to them, but it’s not directed.  They can choose to participate or not.  The interns and myself will model for the parents how we intervene, how we assist in going from least to most help.”

I like thinking about my parenting role in these terms of going from least to most help.  It’s a good framework for one of our biggest goals in parenting—to raise independent, self-sufficient and competent children.  While this plays out differently with toddlers, school age children and teenagers, there are commonalities.  But we’ll save that for another article.

Enjoy the summer and best wishes for an easy transition in the fall!

Deborah writes about parenting, writing and living in LA at her blog-betweenparents. She’s also a blogger for the Huffington Post.  You can find her on Facebook and Twitter.

 

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