PORTSMOUTH — There were some anxious faces in Vicky Flaherty’s kindergarten classroom at Hathaway School last week, but not for long.
“It’s OK to be a little nervous on the first day of school, but on your first day you’re also going to make new friends,” Ms. Flaherty told her students last Thursday during kindergarten orientation, which was held in anticipation of the opening of schools on Tuesday.
A toy microphone was passed around as students introduced themselves. After that, they took a tour of the school and then went on a brief bus ride.
The annual orientation is valuable in allowing new students and parents to get acquainted with the school and its schedule, said Hathaway Principal Suzanne Madden.
“It’s a good chance for the students to see their classroom, meet their teacher, know where they’re going to go, know where the cafeteria is, where where the gym, art and music room is,” she said. “And for the parents who aren’t familiar with the school, they get to meet the teacher and see where the offices are and just get a feel for the school.”
This year’s a little different, of course, because the district is debuting its all-day kindergarten program that was approved by the School Committee in late March. There are four kindergarten classrooms at Hathaway and another three at Melville.
“People seem excited,” said Ms. Madden. “I think at first, some parents said it was hard to get used to the idea of all-day kindergarten, and it happened in the spring so some parents already had their hearts set on spending one last year with their child.”
Sean Butler, whose son is in Ms. Flaherty’s classroom — Ethan’s new classmates serenaded him with “Happy Birthday” because the boy turned 6 on Friday — said it will take a little time adjusting to seeing his son spend all day in school.
“This is our first child in school, so I think it’s going to be a little difficult,” said Sean Butler, who attended orientation with his wife, Shira. “But he’s been going to preschool, so he’s used to the whole process.”
“Next step, college,” joked Ms. Butler. “He’ll be fine.”
For Heather Emsley, an all-day kindergarten program was a must for her daughter Sophia, 5. “I’m delighted. She was going to go to Portsmouth only if she went to full-day K,” said Ms. Emsley.
Ms. Madden assured parents that their children will be well cared for.
“We’ve created a schedule that will meet the developmental needs of our students,” she said. “All our students will have recess before lunch this year, which gives them a chance to burn off their energy and build up an appetite. The kindergarteners will have a second recess in the afternoon, plus there’s time built in during the day for them to have movement breaks and have time to interact with each other and with the materials as part of their learning experience.”
Not all of the new furniture for kindergarten classrooms arrived in time for the first day, but it will be here soon, she said. “We have tables and chairs that we borrowed from Newport — we’re all set,” she said.
Advice for parents
After her students were taken on a tour of the building, Ms. Flaherty shared advice with the parents and went over some classroom rules. Among them: Nuts aren’t allowed in the classroom; there’s a designated spot in the cafeteria for that. She also discouraged parents from letting their kids wear necklaces, bracelets or watches as they often can distract children from their work.
Parents should always read to their children at home, and ask them how their day at school went, said Ms. Flaherty. “It’s good to ask your kids specific questions when they get home, like, ‘What story did you read today?’ or, “Who did you play with?'” she said.
Each day will be academically rich, she said, but students will also have plenty of free time. “We will always have literacy, we’ll always have math, we’ll always have science,” she said, adding there will also be yoga and an open circle. “We’ll talk about how we get along with each other.”
She added: “You don’t have to worry about your child. They will be safe. I love children — and I love you, too.”
Ms. Flaherty said parents seem to be happy about an all-day program. “And I am, too, because now I get to know the children better. Before, we had 42 kids, and now we have 21.”