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Taking baby steps towards school
Trepidation and maybe a few tears are to be expected on the first-ever day of school — and that’s just the parents.
Imagine how a four- or five-year-old feels being thrust into a new environment where there are strangers and structured days.
This anxiety is palpable among school administrators who see this scenario play out every September: parents milling about the doorway of the classroom, making sure their child is adjusting well.
With that in mind, the West Vancouver School District is rolling out a district-wide, gradual entry approach to kindergarten this September. The first-time students will begin classes on Sept. 4, one day later than the rest of their elementary school counterparts.
“We want to give the little ones and their parents an opportunity to come when that initial buzz has somewhat started to settle,” said Sandra-Lynn Shortall, the principal of early learning for the WVSD.
There will be a relaxed format for the first four days: the kindergarten students will be split into two smaller groups and attend school for shorter periods of time.
“We break it up into smaller individual groups so teachers can have that gift of one-on-one time with the students,” explained Shortall.
Some early learning research shows that gradual entry for kindergarten can improve student learning, self-regulation and enhance social-emotional development over the long run. The program is also designed to incorporate parent involvement.
“Parents are their kids’ first teachers, and so because of that it’s critically important to welcome them into the learning environment,” said Shortall.
Perhaps most importantly, the gradual entry model mitigates separation anxiety, which is comforting for Shortall, whose own daughter starts kindergarten next year.
“[Separation is] part of natural human development. Gradual entry provides a space for that buffer zone if it’s not happening naturally,” said Shortall.
Gradual entry kindergarten is not a new concept, with the program already well established in the North Vancouver School District.
In another effort to help students become acclimatized to a new school, the WVSD also hosts a Welcome to Kindergarten program every spring.
Shortall believes the school district is recognizing the notion of school readiness is changing.
“Rather than asking, ‘Is the child ready for school’, we are asking, ‘Is the school ready for the child,’” said Shortall.