Understanding that Kindergarten – Grade 5 Journey

With Kindergarten Sign-ups and Orientations filling up calendars across the country, I thought I’d take a moment to share some perspective that I wish I had when my oldest daughter entered Kindergarten. And if you’re a parent with older kids still trying to make sense of it all, it’s never too late.

Your child’s journey through elementary school is like a winding river. Back and forth, up and down, rarely a straight line. The ebb and flow of this river represents your child’s learning from that first day of Kindergarten through the last day of 5th Grade. His to embrace, explore and call his own while you - mama or papa bear – walk along the shoreline offering a wave of encouragement, comforting words and a guiding hand when needed. Each child’s journey meanders in a different way. Some kids sail right through the crooked channels, others stop at every interesting point while still others need a life vest or a buoy to help them stay afloat. Just as each river is unique, so is each child.

Your child’s journey is as social as it is academic. As emotional as it is physical. There will be friends and classmates along the river who will influence your child’s thoughts and behaviors – leaving you interesting moments to teach and learn. Those moments won’t always be easy. There will also be teachers along this journey who inspire and ignite your child to create, to invent, to think and to dream. There will be other teachers who serve to strengthen your child’s resilience and teach them coping skills you never knew they had. Never forget you are your child’s first and most influential teacher. And, remember, if you stack your praise on effort, the grades will follow.

The current beneath your child’s river – the magic that moves it along – is reading. Every river begins with a source. The deeper your child’s spring  – the world of words and books that you provide – the sooner your child will begin to read and move confidently along her journey. Create a waterfall of words. The more time you spend reading to your child and sharing stories, talking and explaining what you’re doing as you do it, the stronger her current will be. Reading, curiosity and discipline make the foundation for a successful journey through school – and a lifetime of learning. The more you interact with your children about what they’re reading or what they’re seeing, the more questions you ask, the more of a thinker they will become. It’s never too early – or too late – to start.

Learning to read is like learning to walk. Your child’s body and brain prepared for months, coaxing and practicing before that first step happened. Just as your child first learned to sit, crawl, stand, then discover his legs and take that first step, reading also happens in stages. But it takes years, not months, for the reading synapses to gel in the brain. Some children read their first words at 4, others at 6 or 7. Reading to your kids every day for at least 20-30 minutes will make a big difference in their ability to connect letters to sounds, then sounds to words and words to meaning. So read to them often. When they start to read themselves, take turns reading to each other. Let them catch you reading. Go to the library. And keep reading to them long after you think they’re too old. They may not say it, but they love being close to you. They love the rhythm of your voice. They love picturing a movie in their mind.

Children learn to learn along this river. With positive encouragement at home and at school, a five-year-olds’ curiosity will blossom into a grade five love-of-learning. There will be highs and lows throughout this journey and a foot to show for it all – give or take an inch or two. There will be tears. There will be joy. There will be challenges. There will be moments you’ll treasure – and some that you’d like to forget. Days will grow into months. And months quickly turn to years. Through it all, I’ve learned that if you go along for the ride and guide and nudge when needed, and not pull or push your child through their river, you are much more likely to experience – and appreciate – the joy.

It is a winding river, indeed. Embrace the ebb and flow of your child’s journey. The banks where you stand will soon be overcrowded with friends and coaches and electronic devices that become more influential than you. You have six short years and they go fast. Read often. Be on the banks. Enjoy.


  1. mikenzie says:

    Everything you have said is extremely wise, and I love the river metaphor which reminds me of that classic Frank Sinatra song, My Way. Each child enters their school and does it ‘their way’ with the guiding, nudging support of caring parents.

    Thank you for sharing!

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