Early childhood learning requires more than knowing the alphabet

By Robin Miller • Last Updated 11:48 am on Monday, January 23, 2012

Karen Gostomski’s afternoon preschoolers at Vestaburg Elementary School enjoy circle time. — Daily News/Robin Miller

Unfortunately, children don’t come with instruction manuals.

Parents eventually learn that preparing children for school involves more than teaching them to write their names or tie their shoes.

Teaching confidence and security are equally important in transitioning kids to a school setting.

This transition is often more difficult for parents than children, according to Karen Gostomski, a preschool teacher at Vestaburg Elementary School.

Parents are allowed to come into her classroom until everyone is comfortable about making the separation. Gostomski remembers a student who reached that comfort level well before his mother.

The boy was ready to begin his school day, Gostomski said. His readiness became very apparent as he told his mother to leave and pushed her toward the door.

“Children rarely have as much trouble leaving their parents compared to how hard it is for parents to leave their children,” Gostomski said. “Giving kids the autonomy to venture out is providing them with strength for a lifetime.”

Build security to break down walls

The best way to help children feel safe and build relationships is to set a standard for behavior and expectations on the very first day of school, according to Gostomski.

She uses the first two to three weeks to establish routine, practice rules, develop a relationship and enforce behavior expectations.

“I also make sure to give hugs, loves and lots and lots of praise,” Gostomski said.  “We model the positive expectation, downplay the negative, experience preschool and learn together.”

Impromptu lessons are common among preschoolers.

Gostomski had a few anatomy lessons in her lifetime. But nothing could have prepared her for the lesson of “the big head.”

One morning, a student ran into her classroom crying hysterically. Between the boy’s sobs, he relayed a message his dad had given him at the bus stop, “Son, you have a big head.”

“Are you sure he said you had a big head?” Gostomski asked, trying not to giggle. “You’re 4. Look around you. Look at your friends in our room. You all have big heads. That’s what makes you special.”

Once this young boy looked around the classroom at all the other big heads, he overcame his insecurity — so much that he admired his big head in the mirror the rest of the day, Gostomski said.

Great Start

The Montcalm Great Start Collaborative helps children feel secure and advocates programs to prepare them for school and life. It connects parents and caregivers to resources to address specific needs.

“We collaborate with other human services in the county to make services more accessible to parents,” said Evi Petersen, program coordinator for Montcalm Great Start. “We also provide training opportunities for parents and childcare providers.”

The Great Start Parent Coalition, a group of parent volunteers, rallies to keep early childhood programs in communities.

Shannon Kilduff, a parent from Sidney and a member of the Great Start Parent Coalition, has three children under the age of five at home. She strongly supports programs and education for preschool-age kids.

“I believe early childhood education is important,” Kilduff said. “And if the state cuts these programs, we need to have training accessible to childcare providers so they may take on the role of preschool teachers.”

Her children attend many activities promoted by Great Start, including Play, Learn and Read at the Flat River Community Library in Greenville, Head Start at Montcalm Community College and other activities.

The Great Start Parent Coalition’s next monthly meeting is from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at Lakeview Community Church Jan. 23. The church is at 8980 W. Howard City-Edmore Road in Lakeview. The group will discuss ways to prepare children for success in school and life. Attendance is free and child care and food will be provided.

To register for the meeting, call (616) 225-6146 or go to www.greatstartmontcalm.org for more information.

If you go…

What: Parent Coalition meeting.
When: 5:30 to 7 p.m. today.
Where: Lakeview Community Church, 8980 W. Howard City-Edmore Road.
Child care and food will be providedCorrespondent Robin Miller is an Edmore resident.

Tips to prepare children for school

• Be consistent about rules and discipline.
• Develop a routine and stay organized.
• Monitor television, video game and Internet use.
• Make time for physical fitness.
• Practice making healthy food choices.
• Be firm about bedtime.
• Discuss feelings, excitements and concerns.
• Compliment achievements.
• Read to your child as much as possible.
• Teach respect of others’ belongings and personal space.
• Encourage good personal hygiene, especially hand washing.
• Show a positive attitude about school.
• Validate insecurities and feelings of nervousness about school.
• Visit the school, classroom and teacher before school starts.
• Organize play dates with classmates and their parents.

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