Kinder Conference

by Explorer parent Regina Koepf

January 31, 2006 

Dear Explorer Families,

I had the pleasure of attending the two-day California Kindergarten Association (CKA) conference in January along with teachers Konne and Jackie. I attended because I have been a Kindergarten teacher in Campbell Union School District since 1995, and as a California educator I am required to fulfill 150 hours of professional growth in order to renew my credential.

This conference was of great interest to me because I thought it would help me become a better Kindergarten teacher by attending sessions with prolific and well-respected authors, illustrators, musicians and professionals across the country. Ultimately, what I came away with was something more than teaching tips and hours toward my next credential renewal. As it turns out, I was left feeling inspired professionally and personally, particularly by the opening segment and keynote speech which covered the issues affecting Kindergarten today and raising children who are ready to learn. Teachers Konne and Jackie asked me to write a summary of what I thought would be of interest to Explorer families.

The conference began with the president of CKA speaking about issues of importance to Kindergarten teachers such as changing the entry age of Kindergarteners to 5, the “pre-school for all” initiative, class size increases across the state, and full-day and state-mandated Kindergarten. Listening as both a teacher and a parent, I realized that we both share the same debatable concerns.

Faced with the increasing educational demands placed on children as early as Kindergarten and being aware of the social/emotional and developmental needs of our kids, as a parent, I am concerned about my own four-year-old daughter starting school too early or possibly too late. I wonder if she and the other students in her class will have had enough social experience prior to starting Kindergarten. I also worry about her getting lost in a large class with a high teacher to student ratio or experiencing too much pressure to develop skills and meet state demands. Additionally, I wonder if a 3 hour day is long enough to get a well-rounded education and likewise, if a seven our day is too long for her to handle. I know I am not alone in my concerns.

With these issues in mind, the keynote speaker provided inspirational words of praise and advice for teachers as well as parents of Kindergartners and responded to our concerns by offering a unique solution.

Rosemary Wells is a mother and the author of many books for children including the Max and Ruby series and is creator and founder of the “Read to Your Bunny” program used in many schools to promote family literacy. Recently she has written two books My Kindergarten and My Shining Star which focus on Kindergarten children and their emotional, social and educational needs. Her message was clear. Children entering school thrive when they are “ready to learn.” Parents are the child’s first teachers and they lay the ground work for their child’s success in school and in life by teaching and developing a set of necessary skills, values and practices at home.

According to Ms. Wells, a child who is “ready to learn” is socialized, respects and trusts others and is in the constant practice of reading and writing daily at home. In her speech she laid out her “Ten Commandments” that need to be modeled by parents or guardians and developed in children (with a strong emphasis on the final three):

  • Respect – Children who are respected at home will have empathy for others and learn to cooperate and respect themselves.
  • Listening – Children who are listened to will listen to others.
  • Trust – Parents must keep their promises.
  • Work – Daily work at home teaches responsibility.
  • Honesty – Children who see that truth is valued at home and see the justice in truth will know right from wrong.
  • Patience – Children who see parents who try and try again are not afraid of failure.
  • Habits - Children need sleep, good food and the outdoors.
  • Reading – Just as we brush our teeth daily, we must lap read with the same consistency.
  • Writing – Parents must model behavior and praise every effort made by children.
  • Time – Children who spend quality time with parents feel like they are important and worthy.

Ms. Wells said she loves to see children who are, “Organically nourished, television deprived and book flooded.” First and foremost she believes that “the book is key.” Not only can children discover things about the world, wonder about, ponder on and discuss new ideas, but they are given a tool to use for a lifetime. She also believes that since parents are the child’s first teacher they cannot underestimate the impact and influence they have on their children in shaping their values and beliefs about the world. Forget about the latest CD rom, DVD or even fancy books on tape. Nothing replaces one half hour of lap reading each day with a child in his or her parent’s own voice. Why? The answer is because children spell “love” t-i-m-e. The time spent reading with your children builds confidence and lets them know they have value. She also believes that a successful child learns from experience, and one of the best experiences parents can give to children in addition to daily lap reading is a trip to the library. By exposing them to reading and writing early on, learning is not brand new and strange when they start school. In essence, reading, writing and spending time with your children will prepare them to be the producers rather than consumers of tomorrow.

In closing, the opening session of the conference inspired me and reaffirmed my confidence as a parent and a teacher.

Let me preface by saying I know I am preaching to the choir when I summarize what I learned as a parent from this experience. The choices we make for our children will directly impact their futures. We must teach our children the values they need to succeed before Kindergarten and allow them to do better than we did in life. We need to be involved in the lives of our children throughout their school years and learn to work with and trust the teaching professionals who touch their lives.

The message that stuck with me through the eyes of a teacher is that we owe tremendous gratitude to parents who have raised children who are ready to learn. When these children enter Kindergarten they are familiar with the process of learning, excited about learning and curious and capable of meeting and exceeding high academic standards. They truly soar in that first year. I agree whole-heartedly with Rosemary Wells when she says, “Give me a child who is ready to learn, and I’ll give you a shining star in return.”

Best Regards,
Regina Koepf

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