On the first day of Kindergarten, my mama gave to me….

When my oldest daughter was born, most people marveled at how she so detailedly resembled her dad, but as time has gone on, she’s grown into this smart, witty, beautiful blonde-haired little wonder girl who tends to look more like me — and I don’t mind one little bit! Of course, the more she grows, the more I realize that she takes after her mama in more than just looks.

Just like mama, she likes information. And a plan. Surprises or changes to that plan are, well, not her favorite thing (unless the surprise involves ice cream, because let’s be honest, who doesn’t like ice cream?). She likes to know what’s coming so that she can get her head around it and know exactly what to expect.

Boy, is life going to challenge that ideal a time or two…..

…..but I digress.

My (uh-hmm), I mean her need for a plan brings with it a strong urge to prepare for her very next “first”: her first day of kindergarten. So, to help us both, I reached out to my village: a host of wonderful teachers who I count as friends, colleagues and family. I asked them a host of questions, most of which centered on one main concerns: “What’s the best thing that I can do when I bring my kiddo to her first day of school?”

Their answers were so immensely helpful, so I thought I’d compile them for anyone else who is also wondering how to make this new-school-adventure as wonderful as possible!

So here goes….

Is there anything specific I should do leading up to the big day?

Probably the most notable advice I got about preparing kids for what’s coming can be summed up in one word: practicality. This is a new place, with new people, and a new schedule, so be sure that your kiddo knows what’s going to happen and how to complete even the simplest of tasks.

Mrs. L. reminds parents to “…prepare them on the days beforehand, not the morning of. Make sure they know the schedule: when you’ll be back to pick them up or to meet the bus.” Mrs. P. got even more practical, recommending that you “…make sure that all school supplies fit into their backpacks. Practice opening and closing lunch boxes/ tupperware, getting straws into juice boxes, opening milk cartons, and anything else they might need for lunch time.”

As for health and wellness, Mr. J. agrees with studies like this one, arguing that “kids should start going to bed a bit earlier,” and Mrs. B. reminds all parents to “make sure that you kiddos eat a decent breakfast — especially if they’re used to ‘grazing’ on snacks whenever they feel hungry! (Have them eat) something with a lot of protein and minimal sugar so that it sticks with them and they don’t ‘crash’ and hour into the school day….It can be a long time from that first bell to noon!”

What about the morning of?

Once all of that preparation is complete, you will inevitably arrive at the moment we have been anticipating (dreading?) all summer: the moment we bring our children into the classroom, and leave them there.

Talk about heart-wrenching…and exciting….all at the same time!

Well, if you’re having conflicting emotions, it’s reasonable to think that your kiddo might be too. But there are ways of bring your child to class that are helpful, and ways that are not.

“The best thing a parent can do,” Mrs. B. says, “is to bring the student to school, take a picture, get him/her settled quickly, give a quick kiss goodbye, and leave!” “You want them to know that they’ve got this,” Mrs. S. adds, “and that there’s nothing to be afraid of. Don’t hover, and don’t cry in the classroom. The parents who do are showing their kids that school is scary or untrustworthy. There’s a fine line, so give a hug goodbye and a quick ‘I love you.’ Then? Out the door! The teacher will show them the rest!”

But my kid is nervous about being away from me every day! Is there anything I should do to help him/her to feel secure?

Mrs. B. has a few insights on this one: “Your kiddos are nervous because you are nervous. Start talking up how it is expected that a child goes to kindergarten, how well he/she is going to do, etc. Don’t hover! And don’t try to go ahead of your kid to prepare a nice, smooth path so as not to upset him/her. Realize that doing that communicates to your child that he/she is not capable — and that will only add to the nerves!”Instead, talk through the day beforehand, emphasizing how much fun school will be, what is in his/her lunch, and the new friends he/she will make.

Miss T. agrees!

She urges parents to “…be SO excited! Point out and discuss all of the amazing things that you see in the school and classroom. If you have the chance, go to an open house and ask your child to look for his/her favorite things — the things that breed excitement. Then, talk about those things! If you don’t have an open house, ask your child what he/she is looking forward to, and tell him/her what you’re excited about. This helps to clarify expectations, as well as to point out all of the wonderful learning that is about to take place. It’ll probably also provide ample time for your child to express any concerns that he/she may have so that you can begin to work through them.”

Should I purchase a cell phone or an Apple watch (or some similar device) for my child? Or perhaps let him/her bring a special trinket or stuffed animal to the first day?

Still feeling nervous about leaving your little one at school all day? I get it. Me too. And the temptation to create some sort of tether (technological or otherwise) is great. So this is a question I pondered. And honestly? It’s a tough one because I quickly learned that there is a pretty even split between the parents who purchase these devices because they are nervous, and those who purchase them because their child is nervous. Either way, the answer to this question was unanimous: don’t do it.

“In most schools/classrooms,” Mrs. B. recounts, “these devices are not allowed. If a child needs a phone, there is one available to him/her in the office.” The heart behind this admonition — which all 6 of my responders affirmed — is simple: teach your child that school is a safe space, and that there are adults there (namely, his/her teacher) who can help to solve problems. “We (teachers) are responsible for what is happening with our students,” Miss T. reminds us, “and if there is a real emergency, we will always let the parents know. Kindergarten teachers are especially sensitive to their kids’ needs as new students, and showing your kids that you have confidence in their teachers is important.”

But what about a special gift or trinket? Some way for my kiddo to remember me and that I am coming back at the end of the day?

The answer was once again unanimous: skip it.

“Toys in backpacks eventually come out,” Mrs. S. notes, “and sentimental jewelry or anything like that can easily become lost or a distraction. The more normalcy you can create for your child, the better. Instead, choose something fun to do with your kiddo to celebrate. Take your daughter to get her nails done,  or maybe a special design in your son’s haircut.”

Is there anything I should know about relating positively with my child’s teacher on that first day?

Of course, one key to feeling more at ease is to know and trust your child’s teacher. And, Mrs. J. provided probably the most insightful answer to this question, saying, “I think it is good to remember that teachers are feeling similar emotions to their students. ‘Will my students like me? Will I make a good impression on them?’

“That first encounter is one of the most important of the whole year; it is the BEST time to connect with my students before the learning even begins. It helps them to know that they are safe, that I as their teacher have been preparing for their arrival, that I (hopefully) will remember their name from the open house, etc. However, what normally keeps me from making that impression with my students is all of the questions I get from the parents. So, instead of bombarding your child’s teacher, take time to write your questions down, place them on the teacher’s desk, and ask for a response via email later in the day.”

Should I bring the teacher a gift on the first day?

Of course, gifts aren’t necessary or required; however, they can provide a special way for your child to connect with his/her teacher or give you a chance to show advanced appreciation for all of the work your teacher has done to prepare for that first day. And, because the first day of school can be like running a marathon, Mrs. S. suggests getting the teacher a coffee or pastry (even if it will likely be consumed cold, hours late). Want to be more practical? Consider classroom supplies like kleenex, “teacher” pens, sticky notes, or something useful for the classroom.

What should I expect at the end of the day? 

Of course, in wrapping up, it’s important to recognize that the day will end as quickly (and hopefully, as easily) as it begins. But is the ending of the day something we should worry too much about?

Mrs. S. thinks so, explaining that “…it is common for kids to meltdown, not want to talk about their day, or/and be extremely tired. They need a snack and some ‘quiet’ time. Kindergarten is not the kindergarten we remember. (Your kiddos) are working really hard all day long. Socializing and playing is still work for kindergartners. At dinner ask questions like ‘Who did you play with today?’ ‘What are you learning in math?’ ‘What story did your teacher read to you?’ If you ask ‘How was your day?’ or ‘What did you do today?’ you won’t get a solid answer. I know it might be tempting to immediately want to know about their day, but give them some time and don’t bombard them with your questions.”

In all, it’s most important to remember that starting school is a rite of passage that we all go through, and as a parent, you are well-equipped to help your kiddo through that transition with (ease?) thoughtful consideration and, dare is say it? Excitement!

So here’s to you, mom! Keep those first-day-of school pictures coming! Because whether your kiddo takes after you or dad, the wonderful reality is that the whole wide world is opening up in some pretty marvelous ways. And none of us want to miss one second!

 

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