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March 27, 2008

Spring Fever

Every teacher is familiar with the term "spring fever," typically referring to pent up energy from being stuck inside during the winter months. My own theory of spring fever has evolved over the years. I now believe spring fever in pre-k is really kindergarten anxiety, and this anxiety is actually separation anxiety. The prospect of the unknown is scary for my students, just as it was in the beginning of their pre-k year, and this fear causes them to act out.

I begin to notice the first signs of spring fever kindergarten anxiety every year between Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day. I see small changes in my students such as crying over little things, more complaints of illness (mostly "my tummy hurts"), and shorter tempers. For most pre-k students in my class this is their first school experience, and they have no frame of reference for changing grades. Most believe that they will be in my class forever, and I will be their one and only teacher. It’s often heartbreaking when the realization strikes them that this isn’t the case at all. It’s important to ease them into this inevitable transition as carefully as possible.

To break the ice gently I start saying things like, "Yes, Jose, that’s what good kindergarteners do." Or, "You’re going to make a great kindergartener Isabel!" I don’t elaborate at first; I just make the statement and move on like nothing happened. When dealing with four year olds you have to work these things in s-l-o-w-l-y, like introducing them to a new vegetable. Of course, somebody always catches on eventually, and I break the news. This year’s conversation when like this:

Jose: We’re not in kindergarten, we’re in pre-k!

Me: Yes, Jose, that’s true, you are in pre-k right now, but soon you will be kindergarteners.

Jose: How?

Me: Well, soon the school year will be over. (I gesture to the months of the year chart they are familiar with.) Then, we will have a long summer vacation, and when you will come back from summer vacation in August you will go to a new class called kindergarten.

Several students comment that they have a brother or sister who went to kindergarten.

Maria: Why?

Me: Well, when you start to get bigger you change teachers every year and you go to a new classroom, with a new teacher, and you learn new things.

Cesar: Where are you going?

Me: I’m not going anywhere, I’ll be right here and you can come and visit me before and after school.

Many students nod their heads, as they have seen my various visitors come in before and after school.

The conversation went on for at least 20 minutes more as various students asked questions about what kindergarten would be like and who their teachers would be and where I would be. I never plan when we will have this conversation; I always let it occur spontaneously. Soon afterwards, we take a walk down the kindergarten hallway, and I point out the classrooms. I feel that by allowing them to ask me questions and being very open about the whole process it helps ease their fears.

Another activity we do to ease their fears is to write down what we know about kindergarten and questions we have in a KWL chart. The K stands for what you already know, the W represents what you want to learn, and the L is for what you learned. We add to our chart each day as the students come up with new ideas.

Some of the things they knew about kindergarten just from being in the same building every day were:

  • Kindergarteners eat in the cafeteria just like pre-k.
  • Kindergarteners go to music, art, and PE!
  • Kindergarteners have recess on the big playground.

Some of the things they wanted to learn were:

  • Where do they go after school? (Some kindergartners go to our after school program.)
  • What are the kindergarten teacher’s names?
  • Do they have blocks, puzzles, or dress-up?

Soon, we will take our list of things we want to learn and turn them into a letter we will send to a kindergarten class. This will give us practice forming questions, and the kindergartners will get to practice their writing skills. When we get the letters back, we will record the responses in the L column of our chart.

Karissa’s recent post about her student’s struggles with the transition to kindergarten reminded me of how lucky we are to be on a pre-k through 5th grade campus; it will make the physical transition to kindergarten much easier for my students. Most will remain in the same building for seven years, and I will see them in the cafeteria and the hallways every single day. I feel much more connected to my students knowing I will see them for many years to come.

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