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As a kindergarten teacher, my days are spent creating ways to help my little ones meet the academic goals set before them in new and engaging ways. I have always believed in the importance of teaching social skills and emotional regulation along with the academic standards. However, my primary focus was always the academic success of my students. This summer, I had the opportunity to teach in a classroom where these priorities were flipped.

Through a school readiness program called KITS, I was hired to teach a group of soon-to-be kindergarteners the skills necessary to have a successful start to kindergarten. Although literacy and numeracy are taught, the KITS curriculum places the social/emotional development of the children at the forefront of the daily lessons and activities. In KITS, every part of the day is embedded with clear instruction and multiple opportunities for students to practice skills such as taking turns, handling disappointment appropriately, asking a friend to play, and what it looks like to be a good listener.

Children are taught these skills through positive reinforcement. KITS sets students up for successful social interactions and school behaviors and then praises them for their success. Students are able to experience pride in their behavior that motivates them to continue making good choices. The social/emotional skills taught through KITS provide a solid foundation for learning. In kindergarten, the biggest obstacle to students’ thriving academically is behavior. Students who do not have the appropriate social skills in place can struggle to listen to instruction, follow directions, and work with their peers. Only with these social skills in place, can academic lessons be effective.

Because the students in my KITS classroom were able to develop these social/emotional skills prior to the beginning of the school year, I was able to confidently send this group of students into their kindergarten classrooms knowing that they had the skills and confidence ready to shine in school. As I continued to teach my KITS students on Saturdays throughout the fall, I was able to hear from their parents and teachers about the smooth transition each of them had into their first year of school. Students from the KITS program truly did stand out in their classrooms.

As school resumed in the fall with my own group of kindergarteners, I had a new resolve to give every student in my classroom the same skills that my KITS students possessed. Witnessing how powerful it is to place emotional and social learning as the first priority has changed the way that I begin the school year within my classroom. I increased the amount of time spent practicing and developing social skills and classroom procedures. The result has been a group of students who now know how to solve peer conflict in positive ways, handle disappointment, follow multi-step directions, and listen to instruction. Now that we are well into the school year, we are able to focus each day on the exciting learning that we get to do without behavior distracting from the days’ lessons. I am thankful for the experience that KITS has given me. I was able to learn and grow alongside my students and am a better teacher because of this experience.

Mrs. Tara Richner teaches Kindergarten at Mt. Vernon Elementary in Springfield, OR.

Getting ready to transition your kiddo to kindergarten? Sign-up for a free KITS class this summer!

Find out more about the Kids in Transition to School Program.