By Vicki Little
At our elementary school, we have a boo-hoo/woo-hoo tea for the kindergarten parents each year. The first year I was involved I was very confused, but it quickly became clear. There were some moms there (like me) that were sitting in a chair sobbing that our baby was in school now. Others were relaxed and smiling and enjoying their freedom. Thus, some of us were boo-hooing and some of us were woo-hooing. Regardless of your particular feelings about your child starting kindergarten, you are probably feeling at least a little bit of nervousness and nostalgia. Here is some advice from seasoned school moms on that first big year.
1) Prepare yourself first, then prepare your child: This is kind of like putting on your oxygen mask first. You can’t calm your child’s fears while you are stressing out. You will have a hard time answering their questions if you are wondering where the bathroom will be and if they will be okay. If you can, meet the kindergarten team and the principal, and take a tour of the school. Be sure to go to any back to school activities, and ask as many questions as you need to. I am pretty sure that I asked so many questions that my son’s kindergarten teacher immediately labelled me as “that mom”, but my expectations were clearly set at the beginning and we got along well after that. Once you feel comfortable, you will be able to talk to your child and calm their fears. And, hopefully, you will even be able to get them excited about their new adventure!
2) Set the routine early and be consistent: Schedules are going to be tight and having a consistent routine will make things easier on both you and your child. Communicate your schedule clearly and in a way that your youngster can understand. On those first few days, if everyone else is going home and they are in the aftercare line they may not understand you will be back after work to get them, so you need to make sure they understand what will be happening during their day (and you wouldn’t believe how many kids think they are going on the bus or to aftercare when their parents are picking them up, colored stickers on a calendar may help them remember). Keeping their little bodies on a schedule will help them get used to the bedtime routine as well, and there will be less of an argument when you tell them it is time to put down the toys and eat dinner.
3) Don’t put too many expectations on your child: This is hard to do, especially if you have had the “bright” child in preschool. You know what they are capable of and you know how smart they are. And even if you are on the other side of things, you may be worried that your child will be so far behind that they will never catch up to the rest of the class. Rest assured, kindergarten is the time of great change and growth and maybe you will have the best reader in class or maybe you won’t. But they will all get what they need, and they should show a year’s growth from the point of where they entered the school.
4) Let them go just a little bit: This is one of the hardest things to do, but your child needs a little bit of breathing room to grow and become their own person. I am not saying you have to let them walk to school by themselves, but if you are the only mom that is walking them into the classroom and then you walk by the door fifteen times a day to make sure they are okay you need to let up a bit. And if they are playing on the playground after school, encourage them to find a new friend to play with instead of asking you to swing them. If they come home and ask for cheese instead of oranges, and they don’t have allergies and it is healthy, say okay! Maybe their new BFF eats string cheese and they are expanding their horizons a bit. It may hurt, but if they don’t run up to you and jump in your arms after school, it is because they are feeling big and brave. That is not only okay, but it is a good thing.
5) Stay on top of things: As I mentioned earlier, as a general rule you should see a years growth in your child’s learning from the beginning to the end of the year. Become familiar with the reading level they are on, how much of the alphabet they know, what sight words they have learned etc. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or schedule a meeting with their teacher. But don’t expect to get your questions answered at the beginning of school each day. Many parents try to catch the teacher at this time, but it isn’t the best way to get a full and attentive answer. You would be better off to ask through email or make an appointment.
6) Ask about their day, every day: If your child is anything like mine, you will get more “oh, it was okay, Tommy ate a booger on the playground” than you will get actual answers with substance about their day. But the more you ask, the more normal it will become. By the end of the year, you just may find that they are offering up information about their day before you even have a chance to ask. It just becomes a part of your regular routine. And don’t be afraid to ask different questions. They are so busy and their minds are constantly going all day. They may have forgotten that they learned a new song! So if you hear them humming a new tune, ask right then what they are singing! And be sure to ask who their friends are and who they played with at recess.
7) Meet other parents and get involved: I am not saying that you have to be the new PTO president, but if you do have the time to volunteer in the classroom it is a great way to see how the teacher interacts with the students and meet your child’s friends. Getting to know other parents before and after school and at events is a great way to find someone to carpool with, schedule play dates with, and you may even find new friend yourself. Make friends with someone at after care so those times when you are running late and need to pick up dinner you will have someone you can call. I was surprised to find that each year a new “mini-community” starts. The parents that know each other and the children all watch out for each other and keep each other informed and safe. Many times, I will send pictures of other mom’s kiddo’s to them when they had to work during a field trip. In turn they would take my son to Cub Scouts. This will go a LONG way to easing anxiety and fears for both you and your child.
8) Enjoy it while you can: This is one of the best years of elementary school. The homework is easy, the drama is limited, the kids are cute and innocent. The changes you will see in your child will be huge and you will be filled with pride. And soon you will have to dig through colorful artwork to find your fridge. But they quickly grow and change, and before you know it you will be the seasoned mom on the playground.
What advice do you have for new kindergartner moms?
Vicki Little is a work-at-home mom with two young kids. A Colorado native, she is the Publisher and Editor of Macaroni Kid Aurora and Downtown Denver. When she isn’t writing or trying to keep up with her kids she can be found volunteering, reading, or enjoying a bottle of wine with friends.
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Photo by: Sean Lancaster