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May 30, 2007

Saying Goodbye

This time of year we begin the process of transitioning from pre-k to kindergarten.  We must prepare our students for the move out of Pre-k 114 and the reality that many of the adults and peers they have come to know may not be moving on with them.

My class started this process earlier than usual, because Ms. Bimba, the woman who comes each week to work with the children on social skills, had her last day today.  Saying goodbye is not easy for many people, both young and old.  How we handle goodbyes for young children can be particularly delicate depending on their emotional development and past experiences.

Here are some ways we facilitate the process in Pre-k 114:

1.    Start Early – We leave enough time to prepare students, mentally, for change. We engage students in a dialogue, plan special events like the pizza party we had for Ms. Bimba, and give students other outlets to express themselves.  Our conversation with the children about Ms. Bimba’s departure began a week before she left, and we have already started our conversations about the larger transition to kindergarten.
2.    Invite Expression of Feelings in Many Forms – Children, like adults, express feelings in different ways.  For Ms. Bimba’s departure, we not only discussed our feelings but wrote, sang, and danced about them, too.  We focused the conversation on how we felt about Ms. Bimba throughout the year, not just about our feelings about her leaving.
3.    Integrate Transition Process into other aspects of the Curriculum – Thinking  strategically, we incorporate “saying goodbye” activities into other lessons.  For instance, we did a whole-class letter to Ms. Bimba using interactive writing,  explored water color paints to make a piece of art for Ms. Bimba, and read a book with similar “goodbye” themes to help the children practice relating the characters’ experiences to their own lives.
4.    Consider Individual Children and their experiences – Some children have a particularly difficult time with goodbyes because of their own experiences with adults or other children having to leave them (e.g., I’ve had students separated from family members because of custody issues and incarceration).  We think proactively about how to help these children deal with their feelings; for example, we recognize that some may not like to talk about such experiences in a large group.

We as educators must ask ourselves, what messages are we sending to children during transitions like these and what are they taking away from the process?  My children have a sense that sometimes people we care about cannot stay and that it’s okay to feel angry or sad.  They also have ways of constructively dealing with those feelings, whether it be writing the person departing a letter or talking about the fun things we did with that person.  As they move forward to kindergarten and beyond, they will need these tools to remain calm and focused, even in times of change.

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Comments

Each year we have a few students leave during the year. This gives us a jumping off point to get ready for the end of the year. I often talk about when they (the student) will leave me and how I might handle it. Our students often change schools many times during their formative years that it is important to start early and ease into the change.

Thanks, Kathleen. I think it's important for advocates and others interested in pre-k to understand the transient nature of many of our young student populations and the impact such instability can have on the emotional development of children. I am glad that teachers such as you are proactive about helping children deal with those situations.

Sophia

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