Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. In addition to our traditional advice, every Thursday we feature an assortment of teachers from across the country answering your education questions. Have a question for our teachers? Email firstname.lastname@example.org or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.
How much am I screwing my kid up if he misses the first month of kindergarten? My family had plans to move to a new state at the end of August with my son starting kindergarten at a charter school, which we assumed started in September. But, turns out it actually starts Aug. 3, a full month ahead of what we planned.
Obviously this is poor planning on our part and means we would have to significantly ramp up our plans to get to the new place a month ahead of schedule. We thought we’d have three months to coordinate the move, sell some of our stuff, say goodbye to friends, etc. But now we have less than two months, if we want to be there in time for Day One of school.
Is it worth expediting things so that he doesn’t miss the first month? I mean, some states don’t even require kindergarten, right? Or, will he always be the weird kid who showed up a month late?
—Better Late Than Never?
Dear Better Late,
If I could convince every parent of one thing, it would be that it’s incredibly hard to completely screw up a child this young. They’re shockingly resilient, and in general, if your intentions are good, and you are a loving, kind parent, your kid will have the supports to bounce back from set-backs.
If I could convince parents of two things, it would be that first thing, and that kindergarten isn’t college. As Mr. Hersey mentioned, the beginning of kindergarten teaches important school-readiness skills, like how to walk in a line or how to raise your hand instead of calling out, but the fact is, most 5-year-olds can’t learn new habits like those in a week. Or two. Or five. It will take most of the first trimester in order for them to build those skills, and they will continue perfecting them for all of kindergarten. Your child will not fail to learn school behaviors just because he misses a few weeks.
The same goes for the academic skills they begin working on early in kindergarten. The first few weeks, they have to teach counting, number recognition, letter names, and letter sounds. Preschool isn’t mandatory, so kindergarten teachers have to go in assuming kids are blank slates. If your kid is going to miss the first few weeks, that’s all he’s going to miss, and it’s nothing he won’t catch up on.
If you can expedite moving a little, so that it’s not a full month, that might make the big changes easier on him, but ultimately, if you feel rushed and stressed, it will not be a peaceful transition, and that would have a more negative impact on the beginning of his school experience than missing a couple weeks. As Mr. Hersey suggests, I would try to give him opportunities to meet his teachers and take advantage of whatever Zoom offerings they have, but otherwise, you’re better off trying to make this change as smooth as possible, rather than aiming for fast. Good luck!
—Ms. Sarnell (early childhood special education teacher, New York)
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I have a basic question that requires some back story. Do teachers check their email after the last day of school? The background: My daughter switched high schools this past year at the very, very end of the school year. She had always been in cheer, and had made it on the high school cheer team at the school we were zoned for. After learning some things about our zoned school, we switched to a better school.
I spoke to the cheer coach at her new school, and she said my daughter could try out late, but needed to turn in a virtual try out video by the last day of school. We sent it in a day early, and the coach said that there were some administrative things we needed to complete on our end before she viewed the video.
We completed the paperwork, and sent a copy of everything to the teacher (this all happened the day after school was out). School is officially over now. We have not yet heard from the coach, and I’m wondering if I need to go to greater lengths to get in touch with the coach, or if the coach will check her email? Thanks for any help you can provide.
–Need Next Steps
Dear Next Steps,
In a normal year, yeah, teachers might linger on their district email for a week or two even after officially commencing summer break, tying up loose ends or checking in on any last messages from administrators. After this year? I would not blame an educator for ritualistically flinging their laptop into the sea as the clock strikes twelve on their last contractual day and striding away without a backward glance.
For many teachers, from newbie to veteran, the past year and a half have been the most challenging, laborious, and perhaps demoralizing of their entire careers. Educators are feeling pretty desperate for a meaningful period of rest and recharge. And so, Next Steps, I would really, strongly advise you not “go to greater lengths” to contact this coach on her vacation in order to follow up about your daughter’s cheerleading audition. The timing of your school transfer and attempt to secure a spot on the cheer team wasn’t well-aligned with end-of-year closing procedures, and that’s not your fault or even a problem, necessarily—but I do think it means you need to have reasonable expectations for how much accommodation and response to expect right now. You completed the requests that were asked of you and your documents are submitted with timestamps; I don’t think you have any reason to expect the coach will dismiss your daughter on some kind of paperwork technicality when the cheer season picks up again. Most teachers start getting back into school mode at least two weeks before the new year begins, if not earlier. Feel free to check back in once August rolls around, but until then? Let the coach exorcise this school year in peace.
—Ms. Bauer (middle and high school teacher, New York)
Our rising first grader has had a really hard time with the pandemic and had severe behavior problems, requiring medication and ongoing therapy. He does not have a firm diagnosis, but it is some kind of emotional dysregulation. A major trigger for him in class last year was boredom.
To help with his boredom, he got hooked on a math game, Prodigy, through school. He has now completed what this game calls second grade math. I can’t imagine it has a full math curriculum, so I think he’s probably getting an unbalanced education from this, but he is showing an aptitude for more difficult math.
Should we try to round out his education this summer, so that he could maybe advance in math? Part of the reason I’m worrying is because in addition to his boredom, he also frequently overestimates how well he knows things and gets frustrated when he has to do stuff he thinks he already knows. I worry that with his somewhat advanced knowledge, we might be setting a trap for his first grade teacher, where he knows some aspects of math really, really well so gets bored in math (and then acts out), but he still has gaps in his knowledge so he still needs the first grade math curriculum.
Should we try to figure out what some math advancement would look like (and if so, how), or should we just let things be and see how they play out in first grade?
First, congratulations on finding an outlet for your son’s boredom. I think it’s fine to explore opportunities that will help your son grow over the summer. Just be sure to keep it light. I would recommend a program like Kumon or Sylvan. Having tutored at Sylvan in the past, I think it’s great for kids who want a little extra challenge. The key here is to expose him to as much as possible in a less structured way. This way he can pick and choose the topics or skills he wants to focus on while also being exposed to new concepts with an adult who can help fill in his knowledge gaps in the process.
I don’t think you really need to worry about setting up his teacher for next year. Teachers are very accustomed to teaching kids at different levels, and it doesn’t sound like your son will need any enrichment out of the ordinary. I’d just have some very clear and honest conversations about what his experience was last year and how he’ll likely need a bit more of a challenge in math. Flagging this for his teacher will give them an opportunity to develop a support plan for your son early on. Another important thing would be sharing whatever self-regulation tactics your son has learned in therapy with his new teacher. That way they’ll have a few tools if your son starts to get bored during class.
—Mr. Hersey (second grade teacher, Washington)
My child is a fifth grader with ADHD who is leaving the elementary school where she’s been a student since kindergarten and being promoted to sixth grade and middle school. We’ve had a wonderful relationship with her teachers and team members this year, and I’d like to set up the same environment for success in middle school.
We have her IEP transition meeting coming up, and I rarely have questions, but want very much to be sure that my spouse and I maximize our time with the child-study team reps at the middle school.
What are the top five questions you’d like to have from parents who are participating in an IEP transition meeting? For middle school teachers specifically: What kind of information about my child/my child’s IEP is useful for you to learn when school begins so we can work together as a team, rather than being at cross purposes all year? I was considering making up kind of a face-sheet (suggested on an ADHD resource site) but wonder if that’s too much?
—Making the Most
These are great questions. I’m not sure I can suggest a standard set of five questions guaranteed to ensure a successful meeting, because I think the most productive IEP meeting will be personal to your kid, her teachers, and the school she’s entering. However, there are a couple of topics to address that will be important in representing your daughter’s individual strengths and needs through this transition.
First, the shift from elementary school to middle school is a whopper, and will probably feature multiple, considerable structural changes to the system your daughter has grown accustomed to. She’ll have many teachers, all of whom will have different expectations, workloads, organizational strategies, and management styles. She’ll change location and mental focus every forty-five minutes or so, and the end of each period will be punctuated by a bustling transition that might have her traveling all over the building. Middle schoolers also have to adjust to a much more limited “home base” than their elementary school classroom, and become much more responsible for managing themselves, including an increased reliance on backpacks, binders, planners, and locker space to store and organize their belongings and materials. These new elements and skills can be pretty overwhelming for plenty of kids, but if your daughter, like many students with ADHD, has executive functioning challenges, they could impede her confidence and academic success. Knowing that, I would go to your meeting prepared with some thoughts on which parts of this transition might especially function as quicksand for her, and use the time to explore how to support her with the team. (Do they offer a more structured study hall or learning lab period that provides guidance and support with time and task management? Can she have regular check-ins with a resource teacher to co-organize her storage spaces? Can her classroom teachers provide visual calendars or schedules?)
Next, your daughter’s IEP will follow her from elementary to middle school—but the language in the document is often very standardized and generic. (Preferential seating, frequent breaks, and checks for understanding are just a few of the boilerplate accommodations for students with ADHD.) It will be helpful if you can interpret your daughter’s history with those accommodations, and add your perspective on how you’ve seen teachers successfully apply them. Virtually every IEP written for a student with ADHD will require preferential seating, but what does preferential mean for your daughter? Does she need to be close to the teacher? Away from the window or the door? Alone? Seated in a group? Sharing how to make the accommodations most impactful will set your daughter and her teachers up for success in working together.
Finally, I think there’s a lot to be gained by helping the teachers get a general sense of your daughter as an individual. Do certain times of day or certain types of tasks tend to be more challenging than others? What type of teacher interactions does she respond well to? Rising sixth graders fall all over the map socially—how are her relationships with her peers? Is she barreling headlong into teenagerhood, or does she still seem childlike to you? You can also simply share more about what makes her tick. Is she into horses? KPop? Dungeons & Dragons? Help them get to know her like you do.
As to your last question, while the “face sheets” or one-pagers you’ll see online have definitely not made their way into common practice, I don’t see them as an especially effective tool (though I recognize the good intentions of wanting to represent your child!). But! I’ve also heard other teachers say they’re an amazing idea and they’d love to receive one!. So…..YMMV on those, basically.
I hope your meeting is productive and positive and that your daughter transitions into middle school as smoothly as anyone can.
—Ms. Bauer (middle and high school teacher, New York)
More Advice from Slate
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