August 31, 2008

Pre-Kindergarten Program Eases Kids into the Real Thing

By Kevin Butler

LAKEWOOD - Kindergarten teacher Hito Zapata sat before a group of about 35 students at Riley Elementary School last week.

"Have you had a wonderful week?" he asked them.

"Yes!" they replied enthusiastically.

"So are you all excited and ready for school?" he followed up.

The students gave another resounding "Yes!"

Only the students were not in school yet. They were taking part in a special program, occurring a week before classes start, designed to prepare incoming kindergartners for the experience of going to class.

The four-day program, which ended Thursday, aims to ease children's transition to kindergarten by familiarizing them with the campus and acquainting them with the classroom experience.

As part of the program, Zapata read several books introducing children to the concept of school, including one featuring the popular children's character Clifford the Big Red Dog.

Students also were introduced to the playground and took part in songs and games.

Zapata's colleague - teacher Majella Maas - on Thursday taught them shapes by showing them a picture of the shape and then asking them to mimic it.

"Take your finger," she told them. "I want you to draw a triangle on your forehead."

The children dutifully followed at 650-student James Whitcomb Riley school, at 3319 Sandwood St. in Lakewood. The school, part of the Long Beach Unified School District, starts its academic year with classes on Wednesday.

Maas said some incoming kindergarten children, especially those with no pre-

school experience, aren't in the habit of dealing with a teacher.

She recalled from her teaching experience that one new kindergartner sat down with his back to her.

"At that point, they don't even know, 'oh, turn around and look at the teacher,"' she said.

Parents accompany their children to the program, allowing them to get familiar with the school, Maas said.

"It's a good contact for parents," she added.

In addition to teaching content such as shapes and colors, Maas and Zapata also aimed to get children familiar with basic concepts such as getting in an orderly line, sitting with crossed legs and raising their hands.

Christin Casdorph, who came Thursday to watch her 5-year-old nephew, said the program was "fabulous."

Casdorph, a former teacher, said the program offers "a gradual transition for the children."

Although the program lasts only about 90 minutes each day, "it gets them used to the whole concept of school," she said.

All incoming kindergarten children are eligible for the program, which occurs for four days only on the week prior to the start of school.

Parents can have their children attend as many days as they want.

Suzanne Dave said she hopes the program will make school a less nerve-racking prospect for her 4-year-old son, Sherwin Myles.

"He's excited about (school)," she said. "But he's kind of shy, so I think this kind of opens him up more, a program like this."

Importantly, the program also eases children's transition to kindergarten, perhaps reducing the emotional upset students feel when arriving to a school for the first time and saying goodbye to parents, Maas said.

By connecting with a teacher and enjoying games and activities, children in the program will see that school can be fun, Maas said.

"They know that someone other than their parents can make them happy," she said.




ABC Unified: Thursday

Bellflower Unified: Thursday

Downey Unified: Thursday

Long Beach Unified: Wednesday

Norwalk-La Mirada Unified: Thursday

Paramount Unified: In session since

Aug. 25


ABC Unified: 562-926-5566

Bellflower Unified: 562-866-9011

Downey Unified: 562-469-6500

Long Beach Unified: 562-997-8000

Norwalk-La Mirada Unified: 562-868-0431

Paramount Unified: 562-602-6000

Is my child ready for kindergarten?

To be eligible to enroll in kindergarten, children must be at least 5 years old by Dec. 2, according to state law.

[email protected], 562-499-1308

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