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OPS Superintendent Cheryl Logan, right, eats lunch with kindergartners at Field Club Elementary on Aug. 15 in Omaha. 

As the school year starts, moms and dads are sending their children off to kindergarten. It seems like the expectations for what kids should know and be able to do academically have become increasingly high. Gone are the days where kindergarten is just about play and naptime.

Kindergarten teacher Nichole Munch, who lives in Bellevue, said children entering kindergarten are now expected to come in with some basic reading and writing skills. Munch said that students should be able to write their name using correct capitalization, write all letters and numbers to 25 and count to at least 25. Students should also know all letters and sounds, as well as colors and shapes.

The list of must-know skills can be overwhelming for students and parents alike. As a parent of a former kindergartner who did not enter school as a thriving reader and writer (but who now loves to read and write), I’d argue that there is only one characteristic that incoming kindergartners need.

And that is kindness.

The only thing students must know before entering school is how to “be kind and respectful,” said Jason Everett, blended learning coordinator for ESU10.

For many teachers and educational professionals, the focus is kindness. This is especially important this year, as many local school districts have participated in a #BEKIND campaign, which challenges teachers, students and parents to fight against bullying both online and in person by embracing kindness.

“I have come to realize the emotional and social (skills are) just as important as the academic readiness (skills),” said preschool teacher Ann Waller of Bellevue.

Social skills that focus on kindness and manners, as well as following basic directions from adults, are often more important than academic skills.

“If students come to kindergarten with some social-emotional skills, the love of learning is instilled (and) then academics will come,” said instructional coach and former kindergarten teacher, Lisa Keene, who lives in Bellevue.

The message for parents? Don’t worry if your child doesn’t quite have all the academic skills they are expected to know and learn at age 5 or 6. Teachers will work hard to help your child in reading, writing and other content areas. They’ll also emphasize what really matters — kindness.

Just like you can do at home.

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Jen Schneider is a local middle school teacher and mom to two children.

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