Kaylah White, 6, a kindergartner at Suder Elementary shows off her writing skills. She has been writing her name since before kindergarten. (Staff Photo: Johnny Jackson)
JONESBORO — Kaylah White battled sleep as she told about her trip to see the alligators.
“They have sharp things on their backs,” declared the 6-year-old.
White is a kindergartner at Suder Elementary, and she had just returned with her class from a field trip to Noah’s Ark Animal Rehabilitation Center in Locust Grove.
The nonprofit animal sanctuary is an inexpensive chance for children to actively learn about wildlife and nature, said Kathy Pate, the school’s kindergarten chair and one of the field trip supervisors.
Pate spoke about the trip as an opportunity parents have to engage their children in the learning process. That engagement, she said, is something parents should be doing with their children at birth.
She emphasized the parents’ role in preface to Clayton County Public Schools’ upcoming kindergarten registration event May 12-16. The event takes place at each elementary school daily, from 8 a.m. until 11:30 a.m., and between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.
Suder Elementary was abuzz Thursday closing out a day of standardized testing with after-school activities — children participating in the Campus Kids program, preschoolers making conversation as they waited in the hall, teachers gathering for a meeting in the commons area and students watering the courtyard garden.
Kaylah White sat in a room drawing with her mother Yolanda White, who is also a fourth-grade teacher at the school.
The youngster — who routinely asked, even at 6, what careers most interest her — said Thursday she wants to be a police officer when she grows up.
“She’s changed it four times this year,” said her mother. Her daughter’s list of career options has grown quickly from being a teacher or doctor.
Pate said that sort of engagement is vital for students to develop the type of confidence that will inspire them in the classroom.
She offered more advice for parents with young children, particularly those who will be registering their would-be kindergartners in May.
Parents should provide enriching experiences consistently to children by talking to them and asking them questions about the world around them, she said.
“Inconsistencies definitely have a long-term negative affect,” said Pate. “It’s very helpful if parents have been reading to children on a daily basis. And have them express themselves with crayons, pencils and paints — something other than a remote control.”
Pate said she had her children write in journals when they were smaller to help build their self-confidence and increase the likelihood they would want to participate in activities at school.
“Celebrate your children’s accomplishments and make them feel important,” she said. “I don’t know if parents listen enough to their children.”
Pate said parents should be ready to be regularly involved and take ownership of their children’s education. She said children need to see that their parents value education and see it as a priority.
Demonstrated responsibility is infectious too. She said parents who make sure kids consistently have what they need, such as school supplies and the proper school uniform, tend to raise more confident students.
Yolanda White agreed.
She said parents are the primary examples for their children and contribute most to their development.
“We have the children between 7:15 and 2:15 and that’s not enough,” she said. “I teach fourth grade, so by the time they get to me, I see the effects of that preparation.”
White said some students come to her reading above grade level, while others have fallen behind a grade level, in some cases, because consistency waned those hours and days students were not in a classroom.
Pate said parents can start now preparing their children for kindergarten. She said students should know most of their letters and sounds and be able to count to 10.
“Kindergarten is no longer the place you learn about letters,” said Pate. “We go through them but we really go through them at a fast pace. We start reading at the beginning of the year.”
She said the increased rigor in schools has successful students reading with fluency some 200 sight words before they leave kindergarten.
Pate advises parents get involved in reading programs available at the public library and use routine trips to the store or wherever else as learning opportunities.
White said she used flash cards and Uno playing cards with her children when they were 3, turning her lessons on colors and numbers into a game.
“I made it fun,” said White. “Make it a game so they see learning can be fun.”
Pate said those efforts now lay the ground work for success in the future and result in those students eventually growing into autonomous learners.
“As a teacher, it does make my job easier if I know the parent is involved and supportive,” said Pate. “And it makes a big difference with the child.”