We all have our own ideas of what we can do to support the development of our children during their 3 - 7 year old age range. And we often read books, ask advice etc. to help us.
At Five Enchanted Mermaids, we have researched this age range to help us decide on the stories we want to write and the products we want to develop and promote. As part of that research, we reached out to Megan Fitzgerald, a kindergarten teacher who has also raised three kids though those ages.
Here are some of the subjects covered in our chat.
Five Enchanted Mermaids: Welcome, Megan. So, tell us a little about you?
Megan: I live just outside of Philadelphia with my husband and three kids, ages 7, 10 and 12. I taught kindergarten in Philadelphia for five years before having my oldest. After staying home for eleven years, I reentered the workforce teaching three and four-year-old’s at a local preschool.
Five Enchanted Mermaids: Today, we want to discuss the progression of little girls from 3 – 7 years of age as they leave the fully home environment, or preschool and enter kindergarten.
What are the initial challenges that they face as they enter kindergarten?
Megan : Kindergarten is a major milestone for children (and for parents, too!), marking the beginning of their formal education. While there is lots to look forward to, there are also some challenges. Children will spend a large part of their day in a new building with new grown-ups and classmates. While some programs are half-day, more and more schools are opting for full-day Kindergarten. For children who still nap, the first few weeks of school can be especially rough. Another challenge is the changing academics - incoming Kinders are expected to start the school year with the basics under their belt - letters, numbers etc., that “back in the day” were taught during kindergarten year.
Five Enchanted Mermaids: Let’s talk about how they can either “hit the ground running” or have significant difficulties.
What basic skills/knowledge do they need when they first arrive? What deficiencies really matter? What can be taught easily and quickly? What requires most work?
Megan : Schools usually provide a kindergarten readiness check-list for parents and preschools. Some of the essentials for starting kindergarten include being able to take care of toileting needs and washing hands, as well as being able to separate from the parent or caregiver.
Knowing the following math skills include counting, sorting and comparing quantities; matching numbers with groups of objects; identifying shapes; the concept of more and less; and number recognition.
Incoming Kinders are often expected to identify letters, write his/her name, recall events in a story, participate in and recite nursery rhymes, complete simple puzzles, and recognize words that rhyme.
Socially, children will continue practice taking turns, sharing, following simple directions, and expressing feelings.
Some parents are concerned that their child may not be ready or will not keep up in kindergarten. Kindergarten has been described as the “new first grade”. While I believe this is both true and unfortunate, I urge parents to relax and not worry. Learning a skill, such as reading, is like learning how to walk - some kids do it sooner whereas others pick it up later. Try not to stress! The most important thing you can do is simply read to your child every day. Read them whatever they want - even if it’s comics, a simple board book, or the same book over and over and over again. And put on the closed captioning when they are watching tv - research shows it strengthen reading skills!
Five Enchanted Mermaids: Do you find that parents or the preschool has the greatest impact on their children’s ease of succeeding? Megan : I believe parents have the greater impact over preschools. Preschools can only do so much a few hours a day. As a preschool teacher, I do my best to check off the boxes for what my students are expected to know at the end of the year. More importantly, however, I share resources with my parents to extend and enrich their child’s learning year-round, from storytime at the local library to handouts on the importance of fine and gross-motor skills.
Five Enchanted Mermaids: What should preschool be doing better?
Megan : Preschools should be play-based, meaning they allow children to learn through play. Put the flashcards and worksheets away. Read lots of stories. Sprinkle nursery rhymes and fingerplays in throughout the day. Play outside - unstructured. Create “process art”- focusing on the actual experience rather than the end product. Everyone’s pumpkin doesn't need to look like the teacher’s!
Five Enchanted Mermaids: What have you learned as a teacher that you have used in your own home?
Megan : My experience in education has had a tremendous impact on the way I parent and advocate for my own children. In the ten plus years I’ve been an educator (counting my stint at home), I have seen a dramatic decline in play-based learning for early childhood education with greater emphasis on academic achievement. As a result, I encourage my children to do their best but to enjoy the process. The way they learn is more important than the grade they earn. At least in the early years!
I try to practice what I preach as an early-childhood educator (reading, learning through play, getting outside, etc.). Based on my research and experience as a teacher, I also opt my children out of high-stakes standardized testing and curriculum that I believe is developmentally inappropriate. As with everything in life, I believe balance is key!
Five Enchanted Mermaids: Thank you, Megan! This has been very insightful.
We hope this has been of interest to you and helpful. Please comment on the blog with your views and ideas.
Megan Fitzgerald is currently a preschool teacher outside of Philadelphia. After receiving a Master’s in Elementary Education, Megan taught Kindergarten in the School District of Philadelphia. She believes learning should be fun, engaging and developmentally appropriate. When she’s not in the classroom, Megan can be found with her nose in a book or hanging out with her husband, three children and energetic dog.