The birthday party was in full swing. Our daughter's pool was full of kids - splashing, throwing, and yelling. They were having a ball.
The adults were sitting around the pool, engaged in conversation and keeping an eye on the kids. None of us adults had brought our bathing suits. We knew that the pool would be the domain of the young'uns that day. No relaxing swim for us.
The conversation at our table was drawn to how education has changed through the years. We all reminisced about our experiences in first grade - learning to read, making friends, and figuring out what school was all about.
Being the oldest person at the party, I reminded everyone that there was no such thing as Kindergarten when I started school in 1946. Sure, other schools in bigger towns and cities might have had Kindergarten, but not Mauch Chunk, PA.
My first school experience was in the first grade classroom of my cousin - Louisa Cresci Freed. She was a great teacher, but a formidable woman who didn't take anything from anyone. She was scary. The first day of school is scary enough, but she made it worse. One of my fellow classmates got so frightened that he peed in his pants and his Mom had to bring dry clothes for him.
My first grade experience was fine. I learned a lot from Cousin Louisa. From that time on, I was an avid reader. She brought out the student in me. Even though my Mom had three daughters, she had found time to help me learn some basics before I went to first grade - the alphabet, numbers, colors, and writing my name.
At the table around my daughter's pool, one of the young mothers asked me, "What should my children know before they go to Kindergarten?" My first reaction was to tell her this - "Visit your elementary school and ask for a copy of the Kindergarten curriculum." She apparently wanted a more specific answer, so I added, "The alphabet, numbers, colors, and writing their names."
When I worked as a principal at an elementary school, I was privileged to work with some of the finest teachers I ever knew. My Kindergarten teachers were excellent. They took the raw material sent to them from a variety of homes and helped all their kids learn a lot.
Sometimes that was not an easy task. One particular little girl came to Kindergarten knowing only 3 letters of the alphabet - HBO. Some didn't know how to spell their names. Others knew numbers up to 10 and that was all. But, my K teachers were not defeated by this. They worked hard and brought those children great distances in the 9 months of school.
A great many parents are worrying this summer. They wonder if their little darlings are going to have a positive experience in school. They want to prepare the kids in the right way but aren't sure how.
So, here are some suggestions for those parents who might be willing to take advice about getting your child ready for school.
1. Don't worry too much about backpacks, clothing, and supplies. If you buy those things ahead of time, the teacher may want something different. Wait until you get a list from the school.
2. Make sure your child is definitely potty trained. Nothing disturbs a teacher more than a child who poops his pants.
3. Your child should be able to write his name in block letters.
4. He should know all the letters of the alphabet.
5. He should be able to recognize all the numbers from 1 to 100.
6. He should know some basic nursery rhymes and songs.
7. He should be able to recognize basic colors.
And, probably most important - he should be obedient and quick to follow directions. His listening skills should be well-developed. He should understand the concept of sharing.
In 1946, going to first grade was a trauma for many children. Now, first graders are well settled into the school routines. Now, it's the Kindergarten children (or Pre-K kids) who have the butterflies on the first day of school. Whatever a parent can do to make that day easier is a good thing.
If you would like to contact Dr. Smith, she can be reached at her e mail address: email@example.com or in care of this newspaper.