Set Expectations for Elementary School

Parents of kindergartners must know how students should perform in a new school setting.

Topics: Early Childhood, Pre-K–3, Family and Stakeholder Engagement

New parents search high and low for the best day care for their children. They make visits, seek referrals, phone friends, and review the ratings on a variety of websites. Ideally, their little ones have a wonderful first few years. But in the blink of an eye, five years have passed, and it’s time for “big school.”

Parents are often excited and nervous, eagerly anticipating their child’s transition to kindergarten. How should school leaders support parents and children as they enter kindergarten and a formal school setting? That’s the question principals face with the start of each school year.

Young learners enter school with a wide array of experiences. Some have been to school-based pre-kindergarten classes, some have been at home with family, and others have been in day care for several years.

The education of young learners is now a highly specialized system of curriculum, instruction, and assessment. The depth of understanding of what schooling takes has expanded exponentially. High-quality education is a partnership between parents and school teams.

Parents are key to student success, and some are more confident in their ability to support their child academically than others. Based on my experience, there are three things school leaders must consider when seeking to create successful transitions for children and parents.

1. Frequent Communication With Parents

Communication is essential. In the transition phase, there can’t be enough phone calls and conferences. Parents must be equipped with information, and they need just as much time—likely more—to process the move as their children do.

Principals and teachers should support parents through meetings, newsletters, text messages, websites, and conferences. During the spring semester prior to kindergarten, offer open house sessions so children can visit classrooms. This will give the children and their parents a chance to experience the size of the school, see the hallways, and walk to the classrooms. Parents then can have meaningful conversations about the new school.

Conduct orientation sessions before the school year begins. Visits before the start of the school year can reduce first-day jitters. Once school begins, consider offering parent support sessions (academic and/or behavioral) on a monthly basis.

2. Time to Learn Expectations

Parents and young learners need time to learn the expectations of the new school setting, academic and otherwise. While many young learners are coming in from one-room learning settings, most schools have expectations for the classroom, hallway, restroom, playground, and bus.

School staffs should conduct an in-person meeting to share the school’s protocols and schedules. Give parents and children time to practice new learning and review school expectations in the home. If parents know the school’s expectations, they can support their child in learning and meeting those expectations.

The stage must be set for students to understand the consequences of appropriate and inappropriate behavior, and students need time to learn such expectations in a nonpunitive manner and setting. Especially in the early elementary grades, educators must partner with parents in training students how to function with their classmates.

3. Methods of Discipline

Schools have defined systems to guide student behavior. Unfortunately, those systems might be only partially aligned with at-home or early child care settings; students might not be accustomed to the single-request verbal cues of the K–5 school. To guide teachers and staff in setting the stage for success in the K–5 learning environment, principals can:

  • Introduce expectations incrementally. Students need time to understand what’s expected.
  • Start with safety. Students need to be taught quickly to stay safe in the new environment.
  • Continue to the classrooms. Share procedures for transitions, completing work, and so on.
  • Practice expectations. It takes time to learn the many expectations of a school setting.

The goal of the transition is simple: the success of the child. When principals and teachers work in collaboration with parents, children can make an excellent start on their school experience. Principals must help staff in setting the stage for student education alongside parent training, and parents are eager to learn the tools school leaders can provide.

The success of young learners is the ultimate priority, and a great beginning in school behavior can lead to a strong academic career.

Capucine Torrey Robinson is elementary services director for Madison County (Mississippi) Schools and a past president of the Mississippi Early Childhood Association and the Mississippi Association of Elementary School Administrators.