Parent’s Checklist: Creating and Maintaining a Positive Relationship with Your Child’s Teacher

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Today’s technological advances make getting and keeping in touch with your child’s teacher easier than ever. Like everyone else these days, teachers are never too far from their cell phones, and some are more than happy to share their contact information with their students and their students’ parents. Keeping the flow of communication open between you and your child’s teacher is an essential element of your child’s success in school. The following are some guidelines about staying in touch with your child’s teacher.

  • Pick your mode of communication. Teachers have email addresses, phones in their room, and certain periods of time during the school day when they are available to take calls and conference with parents. Some will even give out their personal phone numbers, and some might even be open to texting. Ask your child’s teacher which modes of communication he or she is willing to engage in and/or prefers, and then pick one that is most convenient and reliable for you.
  • Be respectful of teachers’ time. Understand that teachers are busy. While they might have 30 to 90 minutes of “planning” time each school day, as well as time before and after school, this time is often spent grading papers, planning lessons, and meeting with committees and other teachers. Therefore, if you want to meet with your child’s teacher, it’s important to plan ahead and make an appointment whenever possible. This is also the best practice for a phone conversation that you anticipate will be lengthy.
  • Be prepared with an agenda. Make the most of your conversation with your child’s teacher by having a list of questions or concerns. This will help keep off-topic conversations to a minimum and will cut down on distractions. Also, if your child is struggling in school, teacher conferences can be stressful for both parents and teachers; therefore, having a well-organized agenda for the conference can help alleviate on-the-spot anxiety for everyone.
  • Present a “united front” for your child. You probably remember a few teachers over the years of your own schooling whose personalities and teaching styles did not mesh well with your own. As a parent, you are likely to encounter teachers who approach the art of teaching in a way with which you or your child might not be comfortable. Nevertheless, it’s important to remain respectful and polite to your child’s teacher, especially in front of your child. Criticizing or complaining about your child’s teacher can leave your child feeling confused about his loyalties and possibly unmotivated to put forth his best effort in the classroom. If you are at odds with your child’s teacher for any reason, be sure to discuss these matters privately (but respectfully) with him or her—not in front of your child.
  • Show that you’re on the same team. If your child is struggling in school academically or behaviorally, ask your child’s teacher what you can do at home that will support his or her efforts in the classroom. If your child is learning material in a way that is different from how you learned it, ask her teacher to explain it to you so that you can then present the material at home in the same way. Mothers and fathers (and stepparents) often have to “be on the same page” when parenting their children, and a similar team approach between you and your child’s teacher can be just as effective in ensuring your child’s success and motivation in school.
  • Check your child’s backpack every day. Ideally, you will encourage your child to share with you any information from the school or from his teacher with little to no prompting or reminders from you. Realistically, the best you might hope for is that your child will present you with his book bag or backpack daily so you can sift through it to find any graded work or notes from the teacher. In any case, it is important to keep your eyes out for notes from the school or teacher communicating important details. Many students these days utilize a school-provided “agenda” or small planning calendar in which they write down assignments and upcoming dates for projects or tests. Teachers also often write notes home to parents in the agenda. Sometimes parents are asked to review the child’s agenda daily and sign off that they did so.

In sum, consistent, positive, and respectful communication with your child’s teacher is an essential element to ensure your child’s motivation and success in school. Parents and teachers must work together as a team to create the best educational experience possible for their children and students.

© 2013 Sunny Im-Wang, PsyD


Ready or Not? Here Comes Kindergarten!

By Sunny Im-Wang, PsyD

Happy friends

Today’s parents likely remember kindergarten as a year they learned to share toys, separate from their caregivers, and sit on the floor for weekly show-and-tell sessions. They probably also learned the names of all the letters, as well as the sounds some of them make. As the standards for public school curriculum have become more and more rigorous across the country, however, five-year-olds are now expected to master a variety of literacy and arithmetic skills that were once not taught until first grade. Today, being “ready” for kindergarten means that a child already possesses the behavioral, emotional, and academic skills that they were once taught during this first crucial year of formal education.

Most children in the United States are eligible to enroll in kindergarten if their fifth birthdays occur before state-specific “cut-off” dates that typically fall sometime in the month of September (Saluja, G., et al., 2000). Some enter school after having attended a high-quality preschool with its own strong pre-academic curriculum, but some do not. Some children’s parents have been reading to them nightly since they were infants; some have not. Some children have been raised in a household with several siblings, or in a very large extended family. These children have more than likely learned to take turns, share, and socialize effectively with others. The “only child,” in contrast, might have had very little interaction with the world outside his or her parents. Despite these differences, all five-year-olds are all expected, more or less, to enter a formal education environment, sit quietly at a desk or table for an extended period of time, and listen attentively to a relative stranger as she or he teaches literacy and numeracy skills. Obviously, the playing field is not going to be level for each and every child.

Since kindergarten teachers are the ones who will be molding and shaping the minds of our budding students, it makes sense to ask them what characteristics they believe makes a child “ready” for kindergarten. Hains, et al. (1989) asked teachers almost two decades ago what characteristics made a child “ready” for kindergarten, and the following were deemed most important:

  • Being able to identify at least four colors
  • Being able to identify major body parts
  • Being able to respond to one’s first name
  • Being able to respond appropriately to essential warning words

A few years later, 75 percent of kindergarten teachers polled felt the top 3 “readiness” characteristics were for a child to be in good physical health, to have the ability to verbally communicate wants and needs, and to be curious and enthusiastic about participating in new activities (Heaviside & Farris, 1993). Fifty percent of the same group of teachers felt that behavioral control, empathy, and being able to take turns and share were also important skills for students to possess prior to entering kindergarten. Academic skills, such as holding a pencil, knowledge of the alphabet, and ability to count were ranked as less important “readiness” skills, both by teachers in these earlier studies as well as more recent ones (Dockett & Perry, 2003).

Parents can help foster these non-academic kindergarten readiness skills via the following guidelines and suggestions.

  • Have a structured, daily routine for your child, including morning wake-up times, meals, playtime, and naps.
  • Encourage your child to dress him or herself independently, as well as take care of his or her own needs in the bathroom.
  • Encourage your child to listen quietly while others are speaking.
  • Involve your child in activities with other children that require sharing, following rules, and/or taking turns.
  • Give your child the freedom to play by him or herself with minimal supervision from you, as long as he or she is in a safe environment.

While teachers might view academic skills as less essential to readiness for kindergarten, the bottom line is that in this era of increasing rigorous standards in public education, no child can be “too prepared” for kindergarten. It is therefore essential that parents engage in as many activities that promote academic readiness in reading and math as they can (Rafoth, et al, 2004). Most reading experts these days agree that developing a skill called phonological awareness is the most important predictor of later success with reading. Phonological awareness is the understanding of the way words sound, including identifying beginning and ending sounds in words as well as words that rhyme.

The following activities can help facilitate this skill, and can also be fun for children.

  • Read nursery rhymes.
  • Sing songs and clap your hands along with the rhythm.
  • Draw his or her attention to words that rhyme or “sound the same” in everyday life.
  • Play games where the object is to find items that begin or end with the same sounds.

The push for reading readiness tends to overshadow math skills during kindergarten; however, students are still generally expected to be able to verbally count, recognize numerals, and understand quantity.

The following activities are simple things parents can do with their children to get their minds ready for math:

  • Working with puzzles
  • Identifying basic shapes (circle, square, triangle, and rectangle)
  • Counting to 10, including counting objects (one-to-one correspondence)

Of course, many of these skills, both academic and nonacademic, are covered in preschool and daycare settings. Many large-scale research studies have shown that high-quality preschool experiences positively influence children’s kindergarten readiness. Parents who choose to enroll their children in preschool should look for the following characteristics when choosing a center:

  • Children stay engaged in a variety of hands-on activities throughout the day.
  • Children receive both individual attention and group instruction.
  • Children produce work that is frequently sent home or put on display in the classroom.
  • Children are allowed time outside for unstructured playtime.
  • Children are frequently exposed to pre-academic skills such as the alphabet, numbers, shapes, and colors.
  • Children are read to by their teachers daily.

Kindergarten is an important first year in a student’s educational career. These days students are expected to come to school ready to learn, and those who have been taught some of the skills discussed above will clearly be at an advantage over those who have not. Whether parents choose to enroll their child in a high-quality preschool or do the legwork themselves, it is certainly possible to get a child “school ready” prior to their first day of school.

© 2013 Sunny Im-Wang, PsyD
Dockett, S., & Perry, B.(2003). The transition to school: What’s important? Educational Leadership, 60(7), 30-33.
Hains, A. H., Fowler, S. A., Schwartz, I. S., Kottwitz, E., & Rosenhoetter, S.(1989). A comparison of preschool and kindergarten teacher expectations for school readiness. Early Childhood Research Quarterly,4, 75-88.
Heaviside, S., & Farris, S.(1993). Public school kindergarten teachers’ views on children’s readiness for school. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics.
Rafoth, M.A., Buchenauer, E. L., Crissman, K. K., & Halko, J. L. (2004). School readiness – preparing children for kindergarten and beyond: Information for parents. NASP School and Home. Retrieved from
Ramey, S. L., Ramey, C. T., & Lanzi, R. G.(2004). The transition t school: Building on preschool foundations and preparing for lifelong learning. In E. Zigler & S. J. Styfco (Eds.), The Head Start Debtes. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.
Saluja, G., Scott-Little, C., & Clifford, R. M.(2000). Readiness for school: A survey of state    policies and definitions. Early Childhood Research & Practice, 2(2). Available at