Parents and the P.E.D.

Last month I wrote about what I believe is the missing puzzle piece for addressing New Mexico’s educational crisis. Parents, too often, are unaware of what their children need beyond food, shelter, clothing and love as their busy brains develop.

Play is the work of childhood and what a small child learns during play will be the foundation for all future learning. Positive experiences and conversations with their main caregivers suit young brains best. But parents need to know how that translates into daily interactions with their children and what to look for when choosing a childcare setting.

An inspection of the Public Education Department of New Mexico (PED) website reveals many pages of performance standards for every grade in school as well as for early childhood caregivers and preschool educators. There is not room for me to address all of these in one column but I would like to share with you an informal and incomplete peek at what kindergarten teachers tell me are the skills necessary to succeed during the first months of school.

At the beginning of kindergarten, students are expected to be able to hold a pencil, use scissors, take turns and share, say “Please” and “Thank you,” wait to speak without interrupting, stay focused on a task for five to ten minutes, stay engaged and cooperate for at least 10 minutes when listening to a story or participating in a group activity.

Expectations for communication skills include taking turns in conversation, speaking in complete sentences, organizing thoughts to tell about events in the order they occurred, and speaking intelligently using conventional words and grammar.

They will be expected to dictate and write about events, look at a picture in a book and use it to tell part of the story, recognize that groups of letters separated by spaces are words, explain what authors and illustrators do, identify the characters, setting, and main events of a story, and differentiate between fiction, non-fiction, and poetry.

When it comes to numbers, they need to be ready to count aloud and recognize number words in speech, write numbers from 0-20, use a number to identify a set of objects, compare numbers to sets of objects, recognize triangles, circles, and squares and sort them into groups, recognize similarities in sizes, shapes and colors, sort and classify objects into different categories and count the members of each group.

Beginning Reading skills include recognizing many upper and lowercase letters, printing some of them including their own names, identifying sounds at the beginning of words, generating rhyming words, and sounding-out words into syllables.

By Thanksgiving, in some schools, teachers are required to have collected enough data on a child’s performance to inform parents that their child is at risk for repeating kindergarten. The sad truth is that this encounter with the teacher is likely to be the first time that parent has heard of these expectations.

As a reader of this column your response may very well be, “My child/grandchild/ niece can do all those things and more.” But, the response of most parents in NM is more likely to be surprise and dismay, “How am I supposed to prepare my child to do all that?”

The answer is as simple as playing, singing, and reading with children from the very start. Ninety percent of human brain development occurs during the first five years of life. All the neural connections for future learning are in place long before a child enters school. The foundation for all learning comes from the kind of experiences parents provide. First Teacher/Primer Maestro classes provide the opportunity for parents of three to five year olds to become pro-active. Parents learn how they can play easily and joyously with their young children to set them up for success. Thanks to support from the Stocker Foundation, and Daniel’s Fund these classes are currently being offered free in Las Cruces, Hatch and Sunland Park. Alejandra Ortega is coordinating new classes; she can help you find a class near you, or organize a class for parents in your neighborhood. Contact her by email at: