Parents Struggle With First Grade

A few days ago, on the first day of the school year, Limor and Ilan Sherfeisen accompanied their 6-year-old daughter, Omer, to the Katzenelson School in Givatayim. With the other parents, they went into the classroom at 7:45 A.M. and Omer became acclimated to first grade. At 8:30 A.M., the ceremony marking the start of the school year started and the second-grade students greeted their new schoolmates and, after a morning snack break, a math lesson started. Omer's first day at school had begun.

"I wasn't excited and I didn't even cry," she said proudly. It did, however, seem that the excitement had not skipped over her parents. "There's nothing you can do. It's an event that you just can't get used to, even with a third child," says Limor.

"I don't want to stay another year in kindergarten," says Omer, "I want to learn so that I'll be able to read by myself and not need anyone else. I'm ready, I can now draw some of the vowels for the letters." She runs to the home computer, types in the words "Snoopy's Games" and is engrossed by the games site.

Omer acquired basic reading, writing and math skills in kindergarten, but in the last weeks of the summer vacation, Limor and Ilan, like many other parents, decided to get her more prepared for first grade by getting a private tutor, who came once or twice a week and taught her Hebrew and math. So on the wall of her room there are cards pasted on with large circles drawn on them with the numbers from 1 to 10 that Omer uses to solve math problems by hopping among them.

Ilan is sure that in addition to taking the first steps in kindergarten, a large part of Omer's knowledge was actually accumulated at home by constantly reading children's books and also from her older siblings, Amit and Adi, who bought her assorted workbooks. Ilan says that every week for the last two years he went to the municipal library and thanks to a special arrangement with the librarian, brought home a stack of seven little books. He says that reading one book a day before bedtime has become a daily ritual.

In Givatayim, the junior high schools are part of the elementary schools. In an attempt to instill confidence in the younger students, the grades in Omer's school were placed on different floors so that grades one to three are on the second floor, the fourth grade is in the classrooms outside the main building and the older grades, grades six, seven and eight, are on the third floor, and the principal's office and teachers' room is on the first floor.

Another way the school deals with the issue of missing confidence is dividing the times of the longer breaks. So while the children in the lower grades are having their mid-morning snack, the older kids go out to the yard. Fifteen minutes later, they switch.

In the days preceding the school year, Omer's designated teacher organized a get-acquainted meeting, first with the parents and afterward with the pupils themselves. Apparently Limor and Ilan's experiences with Omer's older siblings have had an effect: fewer questions and less pressure.

Unlike the trend in recent years in which parents intervene heavily in everything that happens at school, Limor says, "I don't like the parents who try to get involved in everything. It's not just that we are both very busy with work, but also because we trust the teachers and have faith in the system. Certainly the parents have to oversee and sometimes get involved, but you have to give the teachers credit. The bottom line is that I believe in them."