“Mommy, when I go to kindergarten, do I have to eat lunch there?” asked my wide-eyed 5-year-old daughter over breakfast one morning in early June. All my upbeat assurances of how fun and social the lunchroom would be, how I would pack her special treats and how we would still eat breakfast and dinner together as a family fell to deaf ears as I watched her face slowly crumple. And then, the tearful wail – “BUT I LOVE eating at home WITH YOU!” This broke my resolve, which in turn affected my rowdy (yet sensitive) 3-year-old son. By the time my husband walked through the kitchen to say goodbye on his way to work, he found a curious scene of all three of us crying over our Cheerios. And so it was – the reality of kindergarten finally hit me.
Since I made it through the registration process without shedding a tear, I had been vacillating between feeling proud and wondering what is wrong with me. Now, as my daughter agonizes on how she will get her “cucumbers with salt” each day, I struggle with how I will be releasing my precious daughter out into the world. I fear that, although she has been the center of my universe for five years, soon I may no longer be hers. As she enters the realm of school activities, homework and broken friendships, I feel an inevitable demotion from the role of “Best Director” in her life, to “Supporting Actor in a Mini-Series.”
I do not plan to fall apart at the seams when my daughter passes through those double doors on the first day (still have the aforementioned rowdy son to keep me busy), but I do feel the significance of that day for all of us and want to be as prepared as I can. For help, I turned to three groups of people in a great position to offer advice: A school counselor, a teacher and parents who have been there. They shared these tips on how we can all be better prepared for grade school, whether you have a kindergartener or sixth grader.
Tips from Parents:
• Have your child bring a handwritten card, drawing or an apple for the teacher on the first day. Children love to give, and in their little minds this gesture will be truly special. (Added perk … teachers will love the thoughtfulness.)
• Try to put aside any anxiety you may have. Although this is naturally a challenge as parents, your child’s aura is supported by you. If you’re acting nervous or scared on the first day of school, that could rub off on your child.
• Prepare for the early morning wake-ups the week before school starts. Summer bedtimes tend to get later and later, so avoid a rude awakening on the first day by conditioning them the week before.
• Reach out to the other parents in the class. Neighborhood classmates become an invaluable support system and often result in lifelong friendships.
• Let your child pick out their own supplies. A new backpack, lunchbox or water bottle can be a very exciting purchase.
• Let them pick out their first-day-of-school outfit. These little things give them an identity when they are away from home.
Tips from a School Counselor:
• Before the first day of school, attend everything you can, (open house, conferences). Not only does it create excitement for the kids, but it builds familiarity with their surroundings.
• If your child has separation issues the first few days, say goodbye, make the break and leave. Show your child that you have confidence that the school will take care of them. Lingering during a traumatic breakdown will not help the situation, and most of the time, once the parents leave, kids do just fine there with their friends. If this does go on for a couple of days, it is important to stay consistent and remind yourself that it is a phase that will pass.
• When you pick up your child after school, start with a positive, specific conversation starter. Many times, the first thing parents say focuses on something negative that happened previously, such as “Did so-and-so bother you again today?” which can feed a negative attitude. Start instead with “Tell me what game you played at recess, and who did you play with?” Or, “Tell me a way that you helped a friend today.” Both encourage your child by making them feel important and needed at school by others.
• In general, if you have a problem, go to the classroom teacher first. They will bring in the principal or school counselor if necessary. Also, give teachers and counselors your preferred contact method. Do you prefer email or a call? Remember that if issues arise during the school day, teachers aren’t going to be easily available to talk while they are busy with other students. Most teachers do their calling outside of class hours.
Tips from a Teacher:
• It is okay for your child to struggle: Don’t hover. Children learn from mistakes, not from being perfect.
• Foster independence. Make them responsible for packing and unpacking their backpacks and helping to pack their lunch.
• Even after your child is able to read to you, continue to read to your child twice as much as you think is necessary. Show your child what reading looks like by reading in the world around you – magazines, recipes, websites and street signs.
• Becoming writers is a big focus of schools, so practice creative storytelling at home. Encouraging children to retell family events gets their minds working and thinking in a sequential order.
It’s natural for the new school year to be met with both apprehension and excitement. Growing up in my family, whenever somebody was going to do something new and maybe a bit scary, instead of saying “Good luck,” we always lovingly quoted The Princess Bride … “Have fun storming the castle!”
About the author: Katie Soyka is a mom, photographer (and soon to be kinder roommom!) Living in McKinney. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.