The chatty ones made friends. The shy ones clung to their mothers. And the eager ones couldn't wait to come back.

Incoming kindergartners at Worthington's Evening Street Elementary got their first glimpse of school recently, about five months ahead of schedule. They listened to a story, drew pictures of themselves, built towers with blocks and played house with toy kitchenware.

The teachers, meanwhile, monitored the group, watching everything from how the kids interacted with one another, to how well they knew their ABCs.

Many schools throughout Franklin County take similar approaches to help parents and teachers prepare children for kindergarten--and also to ease kids' jitters and get them excited about school.

"We make notes on what our children will need in the fall," kindergarten teacher Vickey Stewart said. "Every year is different."

At Westerville's Huber Ridge Elementary, teachers visit incoming kindergartners and their parents at home, observing the kids to gauge their motor and language skills. Those who might need more help will get to attend school for three weeks this summer, beefing up on reading and writing skills.

Canal Winchester, Gahanna-Jefferson and Groveport Madison school districts hold gatherings so future students and parents can meet teachers and other staff members and get acclimated to the building.

Teachers say the events also allow parents to connect with other parents and learn what they can do to help their kids during the summer.

"I always say to the parents, 'We're not testing them. I will not find the valedictorian today,'" said Bev Downing, principal at Canal Winchester's Indian Trails Elementary. "Some parents are brand-new. They are nervous, too."

Over the years, teachers have been able to identify a few kids in the sessions who were not ready for kindergarten. Schools can't prevent children from starting kindergarten, but teachers recommended that some stay in preschool another year.

"The whole basis is to set the child up for success," Stewart said. "If you can help a child and a parent have a successful kindergarten year, you have helped that child in the road to learning."

At Evening Street, kids spent an hour playing while their parents met with the principal and the guidance counselor. Attendance was not mandatory, but most of the parents came, Stewart said.

Each activity had a purpose. Kids identified numbers and the letters in their name. They drew pictures of themselves and used scissors to cut paper on a dotted line to show their fine-motor skills. They listened to a story and answered questions as the teachers watched how well they were paying attention. They played with dolls and toys to show teachers how well they interact with one another.

Meanwhile, the nurse screened each child's hearing and vision, while a speech therapist listened to the kids as they played with one another. Afterward, teachers and staff members processed the information and followed up with parents.

With two kids already at Evening Street, Carla Maxwell was familiar with the process before bringing her youngest daughter, Audrey. But the session was worthwhile for the 5-year-old, she said. "She was hoping that this was her first day," Maxwell said.

Preparing for school

Worthington kindergarten teachers say parents can use these tips to help their children work on a variety of skills during the summer:

FINE MOTOR
•Practice hand-eye coordination.
•Have the child practice dressing himself.

LANGUAGE
•Discourage baby talk. Encourage your child to call things by their proper names.
•Play "I Spy." Take turns describing and guessing objects.

LISTENING AND AUDITORY
•Teach your child to remember what she hears.
•Give the child a set of cards numbered from 1 to 9. Call a series of three numbers and ask the child to form that sequence with her cards. Vary the activity by using pictures, letters and words. Gradually increase the length of the sequence.

SOCIAL
•Teach your child not to interrupt.
•Discuss expectations, role-play, talk about possible problems and celebrate his accomplishments.

VOCABULARY
•Teach your child the meaning of words.
•Have the child play "Simon Says" games involving over, under, between, center, outside, etc.

SOURCE: Worthington Schools