Starting kindergarten isn’t always easy for new students or their parents, but the North Kansas City School District has found a way to help ease that transition for all involved.
The district has created its own picture book to help students learn what they’ll need to know and what to expect when their first year of school begins.
The book is just one way that Northland school districts work to prepare incoming kindergarten students before the first day of school ever arrives, whether it’s attending a summer school program, visiting the bus depot or attending kindergarten round-up.
The North Kansas City School District’s new book — “I am Ready for Kindergarten!” — chronicles everything from what the elementary buildings look like to what skills children should know before class begins and what they’ll do once they arrive in the classroom.
“I think one of the biggest challenges that we saw was there was just simply a lack of knowledge about what the expectations were both for students and the parents of the students going into kindergarten,” said Kali Young, a former social studies teacher in the district who illustrated the book. “So whether it was the academic or the physical or the social skills (we were) just really trying to inform them.”
Young, who recently accepted an administrative position within the Platte County School District, was one of four women who created the book while serving in the North Kansas City School District’s leadership institute last year. As part of the leadership institute, participants took on a project that directly tied to the district’s strategic plan. In this case, they addressed the board of education’s goal to prepare all students for kindergarten.
Jill Evert, the teaching and learning coach at Crestview Elementary School and one of the book’s authors, said they decided what to include in the book after reviewing district expectations, looking at the state’s common core standards and talking with teachers in the district’s early childhood centers to find out their “dream list” of skills they wished students had before starting kindergarten.
“We took each of those academic skills, those social skills, behavioral skills and they just started out as a page,” she said.
The book isn’t just helpful for incoming students; it’s also a way to communicate new standards and expectations to parents.
“Kindergarten five years ago looked nothing like it looks now and a lot of that has to do with the common core standards, which were then adopted by Missouri as the Missouri learning standards so it kind of raised the bar on what kids should be able to do in kindergarten,” said Shelly Sanders, the new assistant principal at Gracemor Elementary School and one of the co-authors.
But the book doesn’t just tackle academic skills, it also helps ease student fears by telling them how they’ll spend their day and what they can expect in the classroom. For instance, one brightly colored page says “ When I go to Kindergarten, I will share and take turns with my classmates.”
The authors tried to make the book as accurate as possible, even changing one of the illustrations after learning that there were no swings on district playgrounds.
“Even the illustrations I would say are very much what they expect in the classroom,” Evert says.
The authors recently distributed 1,567 copies of the book to 20 elementary schools in the district. Soon-to-be kindergarten students who were attending either a 2- or 4-week summer program to also help them get acclimated to the district were the first to receive the new books.
“We had kids that would shout, I love my book,” said Athena Graham, a fifth grade teacher at Clardy Elementary and one of the co-authors.
The North Kansas City School District isn’t the only district that helps students adjust to their role as kindergarteners before the year begins.
The Liberty School District also offers a summer adventure program that’s open to incoming kindergarten students, along with a transportation open house where students can sit on the buses they’ll soon be riding home.
Chris Gabriel, the principal at Lillian Schumacher Elementary, said they try to encourage parents to send their children to the summer adventure program to ease the transition in the fall.
“The kindergarten program is just really an introduction to kindergarten so they get a chance to kind of feel the length of the day and I think you know that’s the biggest difference for kids coming from a preschool setting,” he said.
Regardless of whether it’s a parent or the student who may be a little uneasy about the kindergarten milestone, Gabriel said the best thing to do is reach out to the child’s school before the first day arrives.
“Don’t be afraid to ask questions,” he said.