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Shiny, Happy Kindergarteners: Five Tips for Your Child’s First Day of School

Tuesday, September 02, 2014


Photo credit: Dan Previte on Flickr. (Image cropped) 

“Mommy, I’m so scared.”

That’s what my daughter whispered just as the bell rang on her first day. Hard as it was, I looked Violet in the eye, told her I loved her and she’d be OK, gave her a hug and walked out the door. 

Lucky for me, she stayed in her seat. Plenty of kids make a break for it. One spunky girl I know actually tried to walk herself home. Others kick and scream or hide under a desk.

Wherever your child ends up on the “how-did-she-do-at-drop-off?” spectrum this Friday (Sept. 5 is the first day for most PPS kindergarteners), the five tips below should help make the transition a smoother one.

1. Be a Listener

Of course, you’ll want to tell your child all about kindergarten, from finger painting to free-choice time to making new friends.

But in your excitement to detail the ins and outs of school, be sure to stop talking and really listen your child.

Is he looking forward to it? (Maybe not.)

What does he think is will be like? (One of my sons told me he wouldn’t miss me because I’d be there everyday—I’m glad we cleared that up beforehand!)

Does she have any questions? 

Once you know what’s on their minds, resist steamrolling those concerns. Your sensible solutions won’t necessarily erase the trepidation (“I won’t know anyone;” “What if I have an accident?” or “Will my teacher be nice?”). Encourage them to brainstorm their own ideas before you share yours. This builds problem-solving skills and confidence and can illuminate deeper issues.

My 5-year-old, Noah, (my fourth to attend kindergarten) told me he was sad he couldn’t play with sticks at school. To me, a non-issue, but discussing this “dilemma” revealed his worry about following the new rules correctly.

2. Be Zen 

Don’t get caught in the comparison trap. Kindergarteners come in at all levels of social and academic readiness and the vast majority do fine—eventually. My daughter (now entering sixth grade) didn’t read at all in kindergarten. Now, she’s a speed reader who devours every book in sight.

Kindergarteners will pick up on your worries and make them their own: Did she get the best teacher? Is she ready for this? Will she make friends?

Make every effort to let those thoughts go. 

“It is a big change, but demonstrate confidence, even though you may be sad or nervous about the big school change, so your child sees it as a positive next step in their growing up,” advises veteran Bridlemile kindergarten teacher Ann Gooselaw.

"If you’re calm, your son or daughter is likely to be, too."

3. Be early 

Nothing breeds stress like scrambling to beat the tardy bell.

“Be on time,” says Kevin Bacon, Boise-Eliot/Humboldt principal and an educator for 28 years. “No one wants to be the kid walking in late.” 

Start getting them on the school-time schedule now. Set the alarm at least 15 minutes before you planned to—getting ready always takes more time than you think. 

All parents know that groggy and hungry equals cranky. Add in first-day angst and you’re in for trouble.

Avoid these triggers by having their favorite (ideally healthy) breakfast options on hand. 

Gooselaw recommends parents “have things ready by the front door the night before bed each school night so there is no rush or worry in the mornings when you're trying to get out the door.”

The fewer tasks you have to accomplish before school the better. Consider having them sleep in their clothes to save time.

Creating a check list (with pictures) can help kids move through their “morning jobs” more efficiently

4. Be Independent

Make sure your child can function independently at school. This means elastic-waisted pants, shorts or skirts, slip on or Velcro shoes, hair well secured, extra layers that come on and off easily. Give her a refresher on bathroom basics—yes, I mean wiping, making it to the toilet on time and washing those hands. Have him practice opening and closing his backpack, lunchbag (unless buying school lunch) and everything in them.
Yes, help will be available but many kids won’t ask for it. A water spill or exploded yogurt cup or a sticky zipper can quickly send your child’s day south. It takes tons of willpower for her to be “on” all day, so make it easier by eliminating these potential frustrations. 

Keep lunch-packing simple so she can get down to the business of eating. All but the most disciplined will abandon food in favor of the play structure the moment recess is an option, so even if she can open a tricky item, the time it takes isn’t worth it.

Plus, they NEVER throw anything away, so keep in mind that sticky wrappers, mushy plums and half-eaten viscous items will be put back in the bag, coating everything in slime. 

Introduce your child to the other adults at school to whom he can turn in times of distress (such as a lost tooth, a bloody knee, hurt feelings, a missing sweatshirt or to get a tardy slip).

These include the principal, school secretary, nurse, counselor or custodian. 

5. Be Consistent

Set up a goodbye routine and stick to it. Pick something to say (“Goodbye, sweetie pie”) that will cue your child that you are really leaving. Practice at home. If you say you’ll leave when the bell rings, stick with it—whether there are tears or not. 

If you suspect the drop off will be traumatic, make a plan with your child’s teacher for what to do should things go awry.

Trust me, they have seen it all before and are fully capable of calming and comforting your kindergartener. Turn down the pleas for one more hug or one more minute, extract your clinging, sobbing child from your leg (all the while smiling patiently, encouragingly) and leave as planned.

Lingering ALWAYS makes it worse. And don’t look back! 

Instead, enjoy the freedom of sending your child to school and come up with a way to celebrate this special milestone. Anything will do, but at my house we’re planning an ice cream and cookie party because, like most kindergarteners, mine has a sweet tooth.

Sarah Van Buskirk is a writer and mother of five children. 

Homepage Photo Credit: daystar297 via Compfight cc


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