September is synonymous with “back to school,” but in the 4-year-old class at our Escalera Head Start, Lead Teacher Katherine Beltran and Assistant Teacher Saptashikha Chowdhury have been actively preparing their students for September since June. That’s because all of their students will be entering kindergarten this fall.
It’s a big transition, Ms. Katherine notes, and the children may have a lot of apprehensions about being in a new school with new teachers, classmates, routines, and expectations.
Ms. Katherine and her staff began by introducing the children to one of the classic stories of metamorphosis — that of the caterpillar turning into a butterfly — but with a twist: They had the students act out the transformation themselves, starting by scrunching up into a ball to represent the egg, wiggling like a caterpillar, crouching down to mimic the chrysalis stage, and culminating in the butterfly yoga pose, which the children had already learned.
“Movement is the best way to reinforce concepts and ideas with children because it helps them retain moreinformation,” Ms. Katherine explains.
She and her staff coupled this activity with another physical exercise. Each child took a piece of string with the instruction that they could wiggle and squiggle and change the string into different images to make a picture on the floor. Once they shared with the class what they created, they got to change the picture again — and again.
“I talked to the children about how they changed the shape of the string into many interesting and new pictures,” Ms. Katherine explains, “and how going to a new school is a big change. Like the string, they’ll still be the people they are, but they’ll be able to change and grow.”
A favorite activity of both staff and children is “Then and Now”: The students brought in photos of themselves as babies and then looked in a mirror to look at themselves now. They each drew a self-portrait and dictated to the teachers how they have grown.
“Some of them focused on how they have physically changed,” says Ms. Katherine. “They noted they have longer hair or grew taller. Others focused on what they can do now that they couldn’t before — like ride a bicycle or write their name.”
The transformation theme culminated in June with a walk to neighborhood schools where many of the children will be attending kindergarten in the fall. They were lucky enough to meet with Justin, a former Escalera student and rising first grader, and his teacher.
When they returned from the trip, Ms. Katherine asked them how they think kindergarten will be the same as pre-K — and how it will be different.
One student, Dylan, said, “We will have center time like in pre-k,” while his classmate Reyna noted, “We’re going to have lunch in kindergarten but no nap.”
Jael pointed out, “We are going to have new teachers and friends.”
Emily spoke for a lot of her friends when she said, “I’m a little scared I won’t know how to read and learn in kindergarten.”
“That’s okay,” Ms. Katherine told them. “When you first came here, you didn’t know how to write your name. And now you do!”
This prompted the children to recall what they had learned in the past year, and think about all they are capable of learning in the year ahead.
Reading books like The Night Before Kindergarten, written by Natasha Wing and illustrated by Julie Durrell, gave them a glimpse into the more tangible aspects of what to expect come September, and Kindergarten, Here I Come!, written by D.J. Steinberg and illustrated by Mark Chambers, provided a fun and easy-to-understand overview of the all the experiences that await them as kindergartners.
“It is always tough to say goodbye,” notes Ms. Katherine, “but by the end, they were excited and ready.”
This month, Ms. Katherine and her staff are busy preparing for a different transition: getting their incoming four-year-old students ready for pre-K. Ms. Katherine and Ms. Saptashikha personally makes home visits for every student who will be starting her 4-year-old class next month.
“I introduce myself to the children and the parents and tell them what’s going to happen in the year ahead,” Ms. Katherine explains. “Then when they come to class on the first day, they see a familiar face and recognize things we talked about.”
Summers are a blast at The Child Center, but we can’t wait for September!