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The new first grade

Students in Jennifer Sneed’s kindergarten class at Chocowinity Primary School — (from left) Drew Cox, C’Nya Holloway, Savannah Phelps, Trey Corey, Maya Brant, Caleb Overton and Cayden Pake — sing and act out a song about everyday skills like brushing teeth and wearing seatbelts during music class Tuesday. (WDN Photo/Vail Stewart Rumley)

Kindergarten is the new first grade.

That’s how Jennifer Sneed tells it, and she’s been teaching the smallest grade at Chocowinity Primary School for the past nine years. According to Sneed, kindergarten is no longer the napping and game-playing idyll of yesterday — it’s work.

Recent changes in school curriculum have amped up the learning for kindergarteners, as focus has shifted to a more rigorous academic standard.

“They learn a whole lot more than parents think they do,” said Sneed. “By the time they leave kindergarten, they’re adding and subtracting, reading and writing.”

The increased role of academics in a child’s first year of school is one reason why school officials are trying to get the word out: parents need to help their children with schoolwork. The more children know before their first day of school, the easier their transition into the academic life will be.

“They should know the basic colors and shapes,” said Sneed, listing the “need-to-know” elements that will help prepare children for the work of kindergarten. “They should recognize their first name (spelled out), and really should be able to write it. And if parents really want to get ahead, they can teach them the names of the letters.”

The suggested prep work isn’t limited solely to academics. While emphasis has moved in that direction, kindergarten is just as much about the learning of critical social skills. For a kindergartener, that means knowing how to share, to follow rules and directions and to pay attention, keeping on task for 10 to 15 minutes at a time.

According to Sneed, finding activities outside the home that will expose a child to new situations and environments will smooth the way into the classroom setting, as well.

Kindergarten’s not all hard work and drudgery, according to two of Sneed’s students, Cayden Pake and Savannah Phelps (both of whom can spell their first and last names).

When asked how he liked kindergarten, Cayden replied, “It was fun.” He likes numbers, especially counting numbers, and he can count to 100.

For Savannah, “specials” (art, music and gym classes) count among her favorites, with painting at the top of her list.

Nearing the completion of their first school year, Cayden, Savannah and the rest of their class are long past the early days of learning routine — where book bags are stored and how to sharpen pencils. Now, they’re studying connections, how characters and situations in the stories they hear relate to their own lives and the larger world around them. The literacy-based curriculum boosts the children’s comprehension, and it is sowing the seeds of critical thinking.

While this class is preparing to move on to the next level, Sneed recommends that parents at home be preparing their soon-to-be kindergarteners to take the big step into school. To assist in the process, Chocowinity Primary School will be holding an orientation in May for children and parents.

Registration for kindergarten at Chocowinity Primary School will be held from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. April 23 and April 24. For more information, call the school at 252-946-3881.