Preparing for Kindergarten, According to a Kindergarten Teacher

If you want to start from the beginning, check out Part 1.

I have no doubt that my mother is answering a specific calling and has been gifted accordingly. I will try not to gush too much because she will be mortified if I do, but let’s just say… Mrs. Reese has a reputation. She’s in her twenty-first year of teaching kindergarten, with a few more in third and first-grade. Until her campus got an Instructional Coordinator two years ago, she was the GT (Gifted & Talented) coordinator campus-wide. She’s won awards for being amazing and all that jazz. Bottom line: SHE KNOWS HER STUFF.

In terms of the academic pressures parents of preschoolers feel, my mom has reassured me many times and put my anxieties to rest. I felt it selfish not to offer you that same peace.

So friends, these are Mrs. Reese’s thoughts on prepping for kindergarten at home:

6-ways-to-prepare-your-child-for-2

1. When people ask you what they need to do to get their child ready for kindergarten, what do you tell them?

  • Read! Read! Read! Make it fun. Go to the library; go to story time; make it a part of your daily routine. Ask a few questions as you read that are higher level: not just “What color is her dress ?” but open-ended questions like, What would happen if…” Oral storytelling is important too. Tell them stories about your life when you were little, stories about their grandparents, make up silly stories, etc.
  • Put your phones away. Talk to them. Have conversations. Spend time together. It doesn’t have to cost money or be thrilling. Play games together and take walks. Instead of handing them your phone to distract them in the grocery store, discuss what you’re buying and why, compare the cereals, fruit, meat, ask their opinion, describe everything. Instead of turning on a movie every time they climb into the car, talk about all the things they see outside. Language is so important. 
  • Stress behavior. What would Jesus want you to do? What does it mean to be kind—how does it look? How does it sound? How does it feel, to you and to the other person? Children who know how to treat others are miles ahead of the class!
  • Model thankfulness. For everything– when things are good and bad. Ungratefulness is innate in children. They have to be taught contentment and gratitude, things like saying “thank-you” when they get one cookie, instead of complaining about not getting two. Explain to them how that makes you feel.
  • Practice teamwork. Make sure your children help around the house. Give them jobs and responsibilities. Emphasize the idea of being a “team.” Let them do things for themselves and praise them when they are independent. Doing everything for them is not doing them any favors.
  • Create structure in your day. Kindergarten will be a much easier transition if they are accustomed to routines and schedules. Have a set bedtime and rest time. Children appreciate clear expectations, followed closely by clear consequences.

2. Other than being “smart,” what characteristics are most helpful for a child’s success in the classroom?

Ability to get along with other children—to share and be kind. They’re five and very egocentric. They truly believe the whole world revolves around them. But parents need to constantly teach and reinforce that we care about others; we think about how others are feeling; we have empathy for others. That’s a word we discuss constantly in the classroom. How would that have made you feel? That is how you made him feel. Try to help them understand that actions can be hurtful, that words can be hurtful.

Children learn by watching — so if parents create a narcissistic environment in their home, kids will follow suit. If they see that their parents care about others and treat others with respect and compassion, they will too.

3. What about the characteristics that are the most challenging?

I’m fine with children who don’t know their letters. I’m fine with children who can’t count. I’m even okay with children who can’t sit still. What is so hard is children who will not obey and don’t think they have to obey, children who have no concept of authority. It’s obvious that they run their homes. I have had parents tell me, “We don’t know what to do. He just won’t do what we say.” If that continues, you are not helping your child in any way. You are setting your child up for struggle.

4. What advice do you give your parents that are struggling with discipline at home?

I tell them about a conversation I had with a wise mentor when I was a young mom. He told me, “You have until about five or six-years-old to teach behavior. After that, it is an uphill battle.” And he was right. After those ages, it gets really hard to undo bad habits and disrespectful attitudes.

Children need to know from the very beginning who is in charge, who is the boss. They need to know the precise unacceptable behaviors and KNOW that if they do those things, there will be consequences (not threats). Every. Single. Time.

Don’t be afraid to start over!! If you find that you haven’t done that well, it’s okay to sit him/her down and say, “Listen. Mommy and Daddy have not done a great job of making clear what kinds of behaviors we expect from you and what is unacceptable. We are sorry. But we are going to be making some changes and from now on…. ” and establish some family rules and definite consequences for breaking those rules.

Kids appreciate structure, boundaries, clear expectations. They feel safe and secure when they know someone else is in charge. Chaos is not only hard for the parent, it’s detrimental to the child.

Practice what you preach. Are you telling them it’s important to read, but then watching TV all day or playing on the computer? Are you encouraging them to be kind, but then you are unkind to others in front of them? They will pick up more on what you DO than what you SAY. If you want them to have integrity, you must have it first.

Lastly, ask for help. If you have done everything you know to do, go to someone else. Seek out a wise friend, a counselor, a doctor, someone that can give you some guidance so that you can fix this now, rather than in the teen years when the consequences are much weightier.

5. Have you seen students benefit from an atmosphere at home that emphasized play rather than instruction?

A couple of years ago I had the daughter of an Early-Childhood Education professor at the local university (and was a bit intimidated). When we did our beginning of the year assessment, I was shocked to find that she didn’t know all her letters. She probably didn’t know half of them. I was so proud of her mother. When I asked her about it, she explained, “She just wasn’t interested. She wanted to play, and I knew that was what her little brain needed anyway, so I never pushed it.” By the end of the year, she was reading at a 2nd grade level and tested as “Gifted and Talented.” AND she was well-liked because she had developed valuable social skills while playing — like sharing and being kind. She didn’t need to be working on phonics as a 4-year-old. When it clicks, it clicks. And it will click. You don’t have to push it. Before they are 6, let them be 5. Before they are 5, let them be 4.

6. When looking back at students that later flourished, can you identify common themes among them?

One thing Jim [her husband, my dad] and I identified was the ability to stick with hard tasks: perseverance and GRIT. We’ve both read a couple of books emphasizing that our current testing systems are failing us because they only measure one thing – academic intelligence, which is a very narrow lens and does not accurately measure potential. We don’t take into account integrity and character, which are just as, if not more so, crucial to success than IQ.

I’ve seen that when learning comes naturally to a student, they get accustomed to it being easy, so when they are faced with difficulty, the willingness to keep trying and push through frustration is more indicative of long-term success to me than if they can get stuff on their first try. Eventually they will be faced with hard stuff. How will they respond? Kids that keep trying and don’t give up surpass everybody!

 

I hope this puts some minds at ease, specifically if you feel like your child is trailing academically at three-years-old. He is learning. She is learning. They are just doing it in their own way, not ours.

When it comes to the anxieties of motherhood, my mother is my Xanax. I pick her brain all the time and am so glad I could share her with you. If you have any bonus questions, send them my why. I’ll be happy to get back to you with her answer, or do a “Part 3.”

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To the Mom Whose Hands Are Full

If I had a nickel for every time I heard, “Man, you’ve got your hands full,” I could guiltlessly go to Target a lot more often. I hear it pretty much every time I go to the grocery store, every football game we attend, or just anytime I venture out into the world with all three in tow. You would think I had a go-to witty remark tucked into my back pocket, but instead I just laugh and say something like, “Yep. Sure do. They’re pretty sweet, though.” Lame.

Yes, my hands are full. I am usually holding at least one child and holding the hands of the other two (it’s just as awkward as it sounds). I usually have a backpack or a diaper bag or a baby doll or a half eaten granola bar, a paci, a blankie, perhaps a stuffed animal. On really great days, all of the above. There’s a good chance that no one has had their hair brushed, that one child is missing an article of clothing (usually pants), or that another is dressed like a superhero princess. There’s an excellent chance that one is crying, probably two, sometimes three, and even perhaps the whole lot of us, me included. We are a disheveled mess of a bunch. No wonder they think my hands are full.

It’s easy for me to only recognize the difficulty in having full hands, the inconveniences and challenges, the discomfort of it. It’s easy for me to see it as a negative: ugh, my hands are SO FULL. 

But the other day someone shouted to “GET TOGETHER! LET’S TAKE A PICTURE!” My kids were running around or had been scooped up by someone else and I froze. I didn’t know what to do with my hands. They were empty. I felt like holding up my bare palms to stare at them like, WHAT ARE THESE THINGS? WHAT ARE THEY CALLED? As the photographer counted “1, 2, …” I panicked. What do I do with these? Where do I put them? Do I do the chicken wing thing or stick them in my pockets (nope. definitely a bad choice.) or let them hang limply by my sides? WHY ARE ARMS SO DADGUM LONG?

I realized, I have found comfort in full hands. Children and the accessories of motherhood have become so much a part of my normal that empty hands feels more like emptiness.

And then it hit me: pretty soon, my hands will be empty. What am I going to do?

I am not a sentimental person. I’m not great at soaking things up, not because I hate my present stage but because I get so lost in my everyday. But man, as I was looking at that picture of myself later I couldn’t help but stare at my empty hands just … hanging there, kidless. And I got so emotional.

Our lives are defined by seasons. As sure as the mama bear comes out of hibernation, we mamas are going to reemerge from these caves we’ve been cooped up in for what feels like forever.

But it’s not forever. It’s a very short season.

We are so close to returning to civilization, our hands totally free. They will no longer be filled with a tiny hand as you cross the street or with that squishy little body in the rocking chair; we won’t have to use them to spoon-feed a mouth or turn the pages of a book; we won’t use them to haul around a bag full of 18,000 essentials or to clean up twice as many messes. Someday, we will be able to leave the house without tying everyone’s shoes, brushing everyone’s hair (optional*), and buckling everyone’s seatbelt. Just like all seasons do, this one will end.

 

Then what? What will we do with our hands?

Pray.

We will pray that we didn’t totally jack them up, that the foundation we laid was solid. We will pray that they acquire equal parts selflessness and boldness. We we will pray for their safety because this world is terrifying sometimes, and then cry out for God to take that fear away because it is not from him.

Raise them high.

We will praise him that he picked us for this job. We will thank him for helping us survive that crap shoot. We will reach high, hoping to feel his grace pour over us and cover all the many doubts we have about how well we did, and then let him remind us of all the things we did SO well.

Reach out and serve.

God uses our current seasons to prepare us for our next. If there is anything motherhood prepares you for, it’s laying down your wants to serve the needs of others. We have honed valuable skills, one being finding a way to love people that prove themselves very unloveable at times. That, my friends, is essential in the real world.

 

Yes, my hands are full. Your hands are probably full, too. But they will only be full for so long. So as we bend over to pick up another pair of dirty underwear off the floor, another toy that stabbed the bottom of our foot, another crying baby out of the crib, let us cherish that load they carry now.

 

 

What If I’m Not “Soaking It Up”?

Last Sunday morning, I sat down in the middle of worship, head in my hands, overwhelmed. My husband sat down next to me and put his arm around me.

What’s wrong? Are you okay? 

I’m just tired. I’m so tired.

Are you sure that’s all? I feel like you’re not telling me something.

No. I’m just exhausted. I’m so ready for Hattie to grow out of this stage. I’m just so tired of her.

As soon as the last sentence escaped my lips, the guilt bubbled up inside me, then the shame, then the inadequacy. What kind of mom am I? I’m tired of my own child. And of all places, I knew God definitely heard me talking about his child, and now he probably thinks I’m ungrateful for this gift, the gift some achingly long for for years upon years. A new layer of guilt.

Lord, I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry I feel this way.

I have read all the hundreds of articles and heard the heartfelt sentiments and shallow platitudes over and over. This won’t last forever. You better soak it all up now because they’ll be grown before you know it.

I know what they mean, what they’re trying to say. I know they’re probably right. And maybe I will miss this stage.

But yesterday I cried when I heard Hattie at 5:30 AM ready for the day. I cried every time I tried to put her down for a nap because she would. not. stop. fighting it. I cried thirty minutes later when I heard her wails echoing from her room. THIRTY minutes? You wake up at 5:30 AGAIN and you can’t muster up a nap longer than THIRTY FREAKING MINUTES? I cried when Charlee collapsed on the floor for the eighteenth time that day, this one in particular because I wouldn’t give her a third bag of fruit snacks. Then, Hattie’s screams filled my ears as I set her down to go take care of her sister. I cried while I was cooking dinner and got a glimpse of the state of the house. And the state of my outfit. And the state of my hair. Then I cried myself to sleep because I felt so guilty for having cried so much.

Can I tell you how I feel right now about soaking up This Time? I feel like cussing This Time out and kicking it in the balls. I feel like locking This Time out of the house and laying down and taking a nap. I feel like telling This Time to go to grandma’s for a couple of months until it gets a little bit bigger.

This Time has me by the neck with all four of its tiny hands and is slowly suffocating me. It has brought me to my knees. I am gasping for air.

I know I can do it; it’s not a matter of knowing whether I am capable of being a semi-functioning parent day in and day out. I can suck it up and do it. But what if I am not enjoying every second of it? What if I wish for these months to pass quickly? What if I feel like a failure because my baby has cried for five months straight and I can’t figure out how to fix it? What if I am so damn ready to be out of the baby stage?

What if I’m not soaking it up? 

Does that make me a bad mom? 

Please stop telling me This Time goes by so quickly. Because these have been the longest five months of my life. I’m fine. I really am. Just allow me the space to catch my breath.

And in the meantime, maybe on my knees is where I was supposed to be this whole time. Maybe I should just stay here. 

Perfection Pending

This is the Story of How I Lost My Mind

At the end of some days, I think back on the day and reflect on how it went so smoothly. And then (because I never learn), I think to myself,  “I’ve really got this whole parenting thing down.”

Then there are days like Wednesday.

God gives you days like the former, to remind you of how much you love your kids on days like the latter.

God gives you days like the latter, to keep your ego in check.

Coincidentally, Tuesday was one of those smooth sailing days. Love how Tuesdays seem to always happen before Wednesdays. Literally and figuratively speaking.

On Tuesday, Charlee took a three-hour nap AND Hattie was asleep for an hour-and-a-half of those three hours. That meant I had a whole entire hour-and-a-half TO.MY.SELF. Unheard of. Because of this three-hour nap (does anyone else keep singing three-hour nap to the tune of Gilligan’s Island?), Big Girl had a very difficult time falling asleep that night. She finally tuckered out around 11 pm. Hattie however, fell asleep around 7:30. 

Does anyone see where this is going?

So then we have … Wednesday. Hattie wakes up at 6:15. Ugh. She eventually falls back to sleep around 8. With what I am sure is to be a long while before Charlee wakes up, I decide to get dressed — as in put on makeup and a semi-cute mom-casual outfit. WHAT? I know. It is out of my character. Some days you just need to feel good about yourself, right? I think God knew what the day ahead of me held, so he offered me this nibble of confidence, knowing the rest will be completely depleted in about 12 hours.

I hear Charlee’s good morning cry at approximately 8:32: “YA YA YA YA YA YA YA.”As soon as I hear her I think, “This is bad.” Not unlike her mother, she needs an ample amount of sleep to function emotionally the following day. As I make the long walk to her bedroom, I attempt to prepare myself for what is sure to be a toddlerific Wednesday.

The day begins with breakfast… as days usually do. I’m sure you know, deciding on what to eat for breakfast is torturous some mornings. And the obvious way to convey your disgust with what your mom chooses for you is to cry at a very high pitch, as to attract all the neighborhood dogs to eat the breakfast for you. How dare I give her raspberries and yogurt. The nerve.

If I were smart, I would have recognized the spiral for what it was and kept the child quarantined all day. But I gave her the benefit of the doubt, sure that once we got out the door she would be transformed by the light. So I sat her in front of the computer (Go ahead. Judge me. I would if I weren’t me.) and proceeded to play Elmo songs on YouTube while she ate her buttered pancakes (frozen and store-bought… don’t be impressed), so that I can feed Hattie and get our stuff together for a playdate.

About 12 meltdowns later (why won’t I let her wear her boots on the wrong feet?!), I am determined to get out the door before someone dies. Our 10 o’clock date was to the local church that holds a Mom ‘n Tot time on Wednesday mornings. I walk in with Charlee, fully aware that she is teetering precariously on this tightrope of sleep deprivation, knowing her tired alter-ego could rear its ugly head at any moment.

She has a couple mini-meltdowns (a boy was walking inside a train tent, which is clearly terrifying, and a little girl took the bike she wanted to ride. B*&%$), but nothing too dramatic. Then, the final straw comes in the form of a two-year-old girl who takes a hula hoop Charlee is standing by. STANDING BY. Was she playing with it? Nope. Does she know what a hula hoop is or how to use one? Not at all. Did that pink piece of plastic symbolize all that was holding her fragile world together? Apparently.

We left in a trail of tears, a baby in each arm with the eldest screaming in one ear, the youngest’s eyes wide, like, “Mom! Make her stop!”

We recover at home before nap time.

Did I say nap time? What I meant was… she doesn’t take a nap. 

C lies in her bed for an hour-and-a-half, chatting and singing … just about the only time that whole day she was pleasant. You guys. No nap. No freaking nap.

That evening, we take dinner to some of our friends. And OF COURSE she falls asleep in the car. After about 20 minutes, she wakes up. And she wakes up angry. Angry at Hattie for having to eat. Angry at her high chair for being too high. Angry at mom for not giving her TWO Gogurts.

At about 6:25, Hattie catches The Crazies from her sister and proceeds to scream, pull my hair, scratch my chest and punch me in the face for the next 3 1/2 hours. 8 gallons of gas drops later, she falls asleep. Only to wake up 22 more times before morning.

And that is the story of how I lost my mind.

To be clear… I love being a mom. You might not believe me, but it really is the best job in the world. Weird, huh.