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Lenn gives kindergarten ‘first-days’ advice

Emily Lenn, new principal at A.L. Lotts Elementary School, can appreciate the anxieties of new parents sending their children off to school for the first time. Or letting the baby go.

“It’s hard for them to let go, especially if it’s their first or their last (child),” said Lenn, an educator for more than 30 years and most recently the principal at Farragut Primary School the past seven years. “It’s sometimes hard for them to part with the baby (the last, or youngest child) because they’ve been with that baby and they know it’s their last one going to kindergarten. It’s an emotional event for them.

“I think one of the most important things is for the parent to feel confident about it,” Lenn added, “because a lot of times the parents are more nervous than the children. It’s important if they can impart to the child that this is a wonderful, exciting thing for them to be doing. I know they (parents) are nervous, but if they could try to hide that, that would be really good.”

In addition to personal tips, Lenn outlined what A.L. Lotts is doing to ease the transition of kindergarten for both child and parent.

“In kindergarten we have what is called staggered enrollment,” Lenn said of the “get-to-know” session where a small group of young students, usually about four, meet once a week for the first two weeks with their teacher. “And they’ll just be there until noon, and that gives the teacher time to get to know them easily on a one-to-one basis, with just that small number of children. It’s not so overwhelming for the child to come in and have just three or four other little faces there. And it’s much less intimidating, too.

“So they make that transition very quickly because they have just a small group of children and the teacher, and they get a lot of teacher time that way,” Lenn added. “The teacher can quickly get to know the children.”

The first day is spent “just acclimating them to the school, to the classroom and to the types of things they’ll be doing in kindergarten,” Lenn said. “Then the second day they go, the teacher gives a little screening to find out the levels of the children, what they already know coming in. That helps the teacher plan for the group.

“And then after each little group has been twice, they have all of them come,” she added. “By the time they’ve been there twice, the teacher has a pretty good idea of what her group already knows, and the children have had a chance to get to know a handful of children already, and so they find those few little friends they’ve already made. And then it’s not quite as overwhelming when they have all of them there.”

The cafeteria routine is one example of the “staggered enrollment” acclimation.

“It gives the teacher a chance to take them to the cafeteria and show them how that works, and they get to eat lunch, and it shows them how to pick up their tray and get their food and their milk and pay the lady,” Lenn said. “It is very helpful.”

Based on her experience as principal at Farragut Primary School the past seven years, Lenn said the adjustments for kindergarten students “is almost immediate for most of them. Most of them have been to pre-school, and a lot of them go to Sunday School. Most of them are accustomed to being in groups. And it doesn’t take them long.

“Often we’ll have one or two that’ll take a little longer than the others, but most of them adjust very, very quickly,” she added.

The veteran educator said both FPS and A.L. Lotts will have a kindergarten open house event the day before school starts.

“That gives parents an opportunity to come and see the school,” Lenn said. “Kindergarten teachers send out a letter a few weeks before school starts informing them of who the teacher is and just telling them general information. They send a supply list so the parents will know what to purchase.”

“Kindergarten roundup” is an orientation process for the parents of kindergarten children to prepare a few months ahead for the start of the next school year. Taking place each April, “it’s kind of like an open house and registration primarily for kindergarten parents,” Lenn said. “They come and they can bring their children, and we have rooms open for them to visit, and teachers for them to visit, so they ask a lot of their questions then.

“And that helps to get them familiar with the school and familiar with some things they want to know,” she added. “We give them a little orientation booklet. So many parents have so many of their questions answered on the front end.”

Lenn said it’s important for a child to have pre-kindergarten socialization experiences. “I think if a child has not been in any group whatsoever, not in Sunday School, not in Bible School or pre-school or anything, it would be more obvious, I think, that that child has not had the socialization that the other ones have had,” she said.

Responsible for 13 classes and approximately 275 kindergarten students during the 2003-04 school year at FPS, Lenn estimates she’ll oversee approximately 160 to 175 in her first year at A.L. Lotts.

A teacher or administrator since 1970, Lenn said it’s important to let kindergarten students get involved in school-time decision-making, and to make sure they form good habits.

“If the child gets to pick out some of his or her school supplies, backpack, things like that, that helps them get excited about school,” she said. “Get in a routine for bedtime, establish good breakfast and bedtime habits. Those are important for doing well in school. And set aside a little time for parent and child each evening to read together. Have a set time to do that.

“And spend time with your children, they’re not children very long.”

A.L. Lotts kindergarten runs from 7:45 a.m. to 1 p.m. except on the two orientation days during the first two weeks of school, which ends at 11:15 a.m. on the first orientation day of the first week, and at noon on the second orientation day during the second week.


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