Monday, August 11, 2008

School Starters

8My daughter is starting school. In just a couple of weeks. She's a pretty adaptable kid, if she knows what's coming and what to expect, so I've been doing some preparing with her. In the spring, our school, as most do, had an introduction session where she saw the classroom and met the teacher. She saw the coatroom, the bathroom, the class pets, the puppet stage, and so on. That helped. So did the table of snacks. (Hey, she's four...) We looked around the school. I talked about how the teachers knew that those really big kids could seem a bit intimidating for the first couple of years, so the kindergarten kids would have their own door and playground just for them, and we took a look at them. I talked about how she would still go to daycare and play with her familiar friends, but that she would get to make some new friends here, too. I told her I thought we would be able to take the classroom pet home some weekend when the teacher noted that they would be looking for weekend stays for her. We remind her of these things now and then, when it comes up. So we've talked a lot. She seems ready-ish.

But kids assimilate information in lots of different ways, and I have, as I often note, found that reading a story that illustrates a situation can be especially helpful, as it shows another child in the same situation doing just fine, even if they are worried at first. It validates a child's concerns and feelings in a way that my preparatory speeches can only do to some extent. So besides walking by the school now and then to remind and reinforce what we have learned so far, we are bringing some school home to the story chair in our current picture book selections. Cmp_bts

Heck, I may even spring for some new school supplies to help ramp up the excitement - especially if I can find some of the great selections from the new Back To School Guide over at Playdate friends Cool Mom Picks! C is for check it out ...

Wemberley Worried, by Kevin Henkes

Wemberley is a worrier. She worries about everything, even though her parents and grandmother try to cajole her out of it. But her biggest worry was coming - she was starting school. Her list of concerns hits right on the money as far as little kid worries, but when she arrives, her perceptive teacher introduces her to another girl, with whom it is apparent she has much in common. Though shy, the two become fast friends over the morning, and she has such a good time, she forgets her major stressors of the morning. A nice relatable tale for an anxious child from the master of sweet but not sickly sweet or over-simple.

Jessica, by Kevin Henkes

Another Kevin Henkes book (yes, I know, I love him, but these really are apropos), this one tells the story of Ruthie, who has an imaginary friend. The two are inseparable, so when her parents think "Jessica" should stay at home when she goes to kindergarten, Ruthie is worried about how she will fare. Jessica, in fact, comes with her and helps her through the first part of the day, until another girl asks to be her partner in line, and Ruthie doesn't know what to do. Turns out, though, that this girl is also named Jessica, and soon enough, Ruthie has a real best friend, which is even better.

Off to School, Baby Duck, by Amy Hest, ill. Jill Barton

Baby Duck is nervous before her first day of school, dragging her feet through getting ready to go and along the walk to there. Her parents' encouragement is not helping her much, nor is her unbuckled, flapping shoe. When she gets to school, though, her beloved grampa is waiting. Grampa is a staple in these stories as the adult who understands where she's at and helps her feel better, and this book is no exception. Grampa suggests she sing a song, buckles her shoe for her, points out some of her strengths, and introduces her to another child and the teacher, asking some of the important questions about school on Baby Duck's behalf. By the end, Baby Duck is not feeling so afraid or alone, and skips in happily. (A mother can dream...)

Ramona the Pest, by Beverly Cleary

Pumkinpie and I started reading this old favourite this summer, as I've been easing her into chapter books this year, and it has been quite a hit. I remember Ramona being a favourite of mine as a child, too - she was not the kind of obnoxious brat you find in some early readers, but was just cheeky enough to be doing all the things you kind of wished you could... Cleary really gets young kids, and hits the right notes of feeling both brash and scared, making Ramona is compellingly relatable. The short episodes also make for nice shared reading, and we often break a chapter into two or three nights, depending on the length of each small event in Ramona's life as a kindergartner. My only complaint is that our newer edition has a new illustrator, too, and I loved the old Alan Tiegreen illustrations. Apparently, even classics are not immune from so-called "progress."

Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten, by Joseph Slate, ill. Ashley Wolff

This book sees 26 children getting ready for school in the morning, interspersed with their teacher's preparations. What she's up to is not described, exactly, but shows a lot of the kinds of activities that the children will see in the room, so it's a good one for explaining what to expect, as well as showing other children getting exited. Although this series is not my favourite, it also shows a lot of the other big events of kindergarten, so as your child gets into the swing of things, you can use the same teacher to introduce field trips and 100-day celebrations, too.

Kindergarten Countdown, by Anna Jane Hays, ill. Linda Davick

This book is a one-week countdown by a very excited little girl. She thinks about what she will do in kindergarten and how she will behave, and she gets her gear ready to go (some of which won't apply to half-day kids, but still, exciting!). The computer-drawn illustrations seem a bit flat to me, but then that is rarely a style I love. Luckily, the jaunty rhymes and girl's raw giddiness is contagious and saves this book. I think I'll be bringing it home for that last week myself.

A Place Called Kindergarten, by Jessica Harper, ill. G. Brian Karas

The animals anticipate Tommy's arrival with snacks and neck scratches as usual on a day when he does not arrive... The dog tells them he's gone to "kindergarten," wherever that is. The animals worry throughout the day, thought they try to act calm. When Tommy returns at the end of the day on the same big yellow bus that took him, he rushes in to the animals, dispensing the customary snacks and pats, as well as letter knowledge and new songs! He is excited and happy, and the animals join in his delight, wondering as they later go to sleep what he will learn the next day. This book is obviously aimed at a rural child, but the care of the animals and the boy's joy are so lovely, I would take it home anyhow, just for the warm and positive feel of it.

Kindergarten ROCKS!, by Katie Davis

A young boy is about to start kindergarten, and is a bit nervous - or rather, he claims, his stuffed dog is nervous. His older sister helps him think about the things that he, er, his dog is nervous about, answers his questions, and gives him coping suggestions (for his dog). When he gets there, he discovers some good surprises, like a nice teacher, an old friend, and lots of fun activities. At the end of the book, his dog is lost - he's had so much fun, he's left him somewhere, and then panics - but once his sister helps him find good old Rufus, he returns to a positive opinion of his day, exclaiming, "Kindergarten Rocks!" I like that this book pictures a boy (it seems that fewer do), and that the boy's voice is pretty believable - his projecting onto his dog to appear fearless himself is something that kids do, for example. I also like that his sister helps him out. My only quibble is the inclusion of lunch, as few kindergartens are full-day. Still, for those who are, it could be a nice touch.

Look Out, Kindergarten, Here I Come!, by Nancy Carlson

A young mouse is super-excited to be starting his first day, and his mother has to remind him of each step of getting ready. On the way there, he and his mother talk about the things he will do when he is there, givng a good summary of what to expect. When he arrives, however, he falters momentarily, wanting to go home, before his kindly teacher offers to let him look around and he decides he'll be okay after all. This mouse doesn't express any concerns about his experience beyond this one moment of doubt, making the book seem a bit overly simplistic, but the overview of what will go on in kindergarten is a good one for people with children sturdy enough in nature for the excitement to ring true.

Look for these and other great school-themed stories at your local public library!

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.

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