Fit to learn

Susan
Susan Flanagan
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Who knew your tiny child needed so many skills before heading to school?

Getting your children ready for kindergarten is a full-time job! — Photo by Thinkstock.com

Surprise baby has made his kindergarten debut. After two snow days resulted in the cancellation of the initial Kinderstart session for children, we finally got to our first of four remaining sessions, designed to prepare pre-schoolers for the fall.

Ms. Robbins who taught No. 1 10 years ago showed Surprise Baby to his locker labelled with his very own name: Declan. He was impressed. There were only four children in his session. First they sat on foam lily pad mats and listened to a story about snow. Ms. Robbins wanted them to problem solve. She asked what would happen if the little boy in the story had brought a snow ball into the house.

“It would melt,” Declan said. He’s a prodigy, I thought.

“What if the boy wanted to keep the snowball … where should he put it?”

“Outside,” Declan answered.

“Well, what about if he wanted to put ice cream somewhere in the house? Where would he put that?”

“In his belly,” answered Declan.

That’s my brilliant boy.

Next came snowman making with construction paper, crayons, scissors and glue. Uh oh, I thought. He’s going to fail scissors. My mind raced back to the distressed expression on the face of No. 2’s kindergarten teacher.

“He refuses to use scissors,” she said at the first parent teacher meeting.

That’s because we were afraid he would cause irreversible damage to his big brother, 15 months his senior. There had been a fair number of teeth marks matching No. 2’s jawline on No. 1’s back so we feared what would happen if No. 2 had access to any type of blade.

I watched as Surprise Baby hacked at the edges of the construction paper as if he were attempting a fringe on a grass skirt.

“Maybe we should cut the paper into three pieces first,” said the angelic Ms. Robbins. “That way you won’t cut into the other circles while you’re cutting out the first.”

That didn’t help. A kind assistant held one snowman circle and guided Declan’s scissors around the perimeter.

“Just imagine you’re driving around the black line,” she said.

“Watch your fingers,” I said. Just in time too. She was a hair’s breadth away from losing a pinky.

Instead of observing their progression, I decided to check out the little girl across the table. Destiny was cutting out her three snowman circles with laser precision. Mr. Dress-up couldn’t have done better himself.

Once Declan had finished butchering his snowman, he told me that I could glue them onto the paper; he was ready to move on to Play-Doh. Hmmm. I explained how Ms. Robbins really wanted him to finish his snowman first. She assured him he could open the Play-Doh as soon as he glued on the pieces and wrote his name. Was I proud when he scrawled out those six glorious letters decipherable only to me. Oh well, I thought. We’ve got months to practise cutting and gluing and printing. We’ll just concentrate on what he can do well.

Technology

Next came the SMART Board. For those of you who do not have young children you probably have yet to see a SMART Board. It’s like an interactive classroom computer screen as big as a chalkboard and in the same place. No more dusty erasers polluting the classroom air with lung-filling chalk.

On the SMART Board the children helped assemble a snowman by dragging pieces from one part of the screen to another. Unlike a personal computer, the pieces being dragged flew back to where they started if the child’s fingers lost contact with the board. No less than 10 times did Declan attempt to attach branch arms back to Frosty.

But no matter. Declan excels in other areas. Why, at his pre-school check on Major’s Path, he recognized all his letters, numbers and colours. His hearing was sharp. His vision was great. And he answered questions of the public health nurse that would make any parent proud.

“Do you know what a curtain is for?”

“We only have one curtain,” came the reply. It is true. We do not have many curtains. The nurse looked at me with raised eyebrows. It wasn’t only his response, it was the southern twang he has recently picked up. I shrugged.

After a botched attempt to draw a stick man, we moved on to the weigh in. According to the public health nurse, Declan, whose ribs show when he raises his arms, falls in the obese category. Body mass index is a complex thing most accurately measured with a body scan. A simple way to calculate body mass, however, is by dividing your weight in kilograms by the square of your height in metres. Declan weighed 44.5 pounds and measured 106 cm for a BMI of 17.57.

“I can set up an appointment for you to go see a pediatric dietician,” she said. I almost choked. This boy who subsists mainly on raw fruits and vegetables and the odd pack of gummies from his Godmother could not possibly be classified as obese. I understand how important healthy eating is, especially in a province where obesity is rampant and a cartload of fresh food costs as much as a flight to Toronto. But newer moms take note: if your four-year-old runs around all day, eats like a squirrel and fits into regular clothes, there’s probably no need to panic.

School staff put in a lot of work preparing both children and parents for kindergarten. Cathy Finn-Pike, who has been principal at Rennie’s River for 11 years, sat down with parents back in January to stress the importance of adequate rest, nutrition and exercise before entering school. She urged the parents to encourage courteous behaviour, listening and speaking skills. She said by the time they arrive in the classroom in September they should know how to share and respect other people’s property.

She explained how staff tries to balance classes with respect to gender and special needs. They don’t have their staff allocation until May so this won’t be done for a while yet. She also warned how school stories can sometimes be embellished by the time they make it to the dinner table at home.

“We’ll believe half of what they say (about home), if you believe half of what they say about school,” she said.

One final point she stressed was personal hygiene. Kindergartners should be able to get dressed them selves, go to the bathroom by themselves and wipe their own bum. Uh oh, I’ve got work to do. No more zipping zippers and buttoning buttons. I’ve got my work cut out for me. Between visits to a pediatric nutritionist, lessons in scissor, glue and SMART board skills, buttoning, zipping and bum-wiping, my calendar is full until September.

Susan Flanagan is a mother of five who spends her days practising proper pencil grip with her youngest. She can be reached at susan@48degrees.ca

Have your say.

Email susan@48degrees.ca.

Heather writes: “Some weeks ago I read the article you wrote about kids being “plugged in” and Facebook, etc. Made me feel better as a parent just trying to keep up. On Tuesday this week, the comment you made about cell phones, email and the Internet not having been around 19 years ago when you were pregnant with your first, just really hit me. I was amazingly comforted to realize that “sure make no wonder” I feel as if I am scrambling half the time to keep on my toes at work and at home with the young ones! Look at all the learning and adapting we’ve needed to do in such a relatively short amount of time.

I’ve been thinking that e-learning at school and the ease with which youngsters use Web 2.0 tools is because their use has been intuitive for this next generation (younger teachers and kids included). I guess really, they’ve been born into it haven’t they? Whereas my generation has really had to learn it as we go! (I teach Internet safety to grade three kids..., and use the Nfld. Public Library website to introduce little ones to e-books that are animated together with highlighted text... - and I’m trying a new digital poster presentation platform called Glogster with kids in grades four - six to use instead of the old PowerPoint, and I’m learning to send tweets as encouraged by our school principal to inform parents about a boys’ reading program I started, etc., etc., etc.!) Some days it feels like a LOT, and it is, but it’s also a load of fun!

Finally, today I’ve just finished your Jan. 31st article “Calling all High School Grads.” (Not chronological, I know but I had put it aside to read later). Thank-you so much. Our older son is in grade 11 now but I believe I’ll hold on to the article in hopes that the tips you include will still work this time next year! How it has all changed since 1980 when I lined up with my hole-punched cards in the TSC gym to register that first semester at MUN.”

Organizations: SMART Board, PowerPoint, High School Grads

Geographic location: Toronto

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