I sat at the Kindergarten orientation and wondered how long I could keep my sunglasses on without seeming weird. The problem was that mere mention of my baby attending Kindergarten seemed to send me into a tear tailspin. So there I sat on the metal folding chair watching a presentation called, “Are You Ready For Kindergarten?” Only I wish there had been a section just for us parents, like an insider’s perspective on what parents should know. Unfortunately, there wasn’t, so I spent my child’s Kindergarten year, figuring all this stuff out. But along the way I wrote some ideas down, so here is my list for you, the 10 things Kindergarten parents need to know.
- It’s okay to cry.
I know. You want to hide behind the sunglasses, pretend you are just fine, but this is really hard. No one ever tells you how hard this is, so friends, know that it really is okay to cry. This is your baby, the one you swear you were just changing their diapers, yep, that baby is now going to school. This time marks an end and a new beginning. We mamas are sentimental about this and should be. So cry when you take the first-day picture, cry when you do your first drop off, cry in your minivan and cry into your coffee at work. It’s okay to cry.
- Get your child a durable backpack and open it every night.
Your child will surely try to convince you to buy the character backpack that every child at Target is fawning over. Unfortunately, many of those backpack straps end up looking like shredded yarn mid-year. If you can, try and find a durable pack online that is big enough for to hold winter gear as well as lunches and books. And when this great backpack returns home every night, open it. That may seem like a no-brainer but anyone who has struggled with an evening pickup and the shuffle to get dinner ready knows that backpacks can get forgotten. My advice is to make a habit of opening it right when you get home so you don’t miss an important note about bringing something to school tomorrow or the half-eaten container of yogurt that somehow made it home.
- It’s okay to not sign your child up for a ton of activities.
This is a new transition time for everyone so don’t logjam your schedule with a mired of athletics and extracurricular activities. Your child will be tired and lugging them each night to something new will not leave time for them to relax or spend time with you in the evening.
- Pay attention to the school calendar.
Whether you receive a copy of the school calendar or get it online, pay attention to it. This means stop what you are doing now and put all the dates in your personal calendar. All of the dates, not just half the year because you know you will forget to eventually do the rest. Then assess the situation on those dates, lock in your sitters or child care now and avoid last-minute scrambles. Also important are the long holiday breaks, during preschool you could pull your child out for a family vacation at any time, now the situation is very different. Check your school’s absence policy because a few unapproved days for a family vacation may be problematic now.
- Allow time for your child to decompress and do something quiet when they get home.
You may remember from preschool that the time when you pick up your children tends to be a high-stress, melt-down period. I’ve been told that this is likely happening because your child has been holding it together all day and finally it is time to release. Unfortunately, as parents the moment we have been waiting all day for, is not exactly the deep conversation and loving interaction we hoped for. So instead of asking, “How was school today?” allow space for them to decompress. Give them time to play outside, color, play in their room, use technology and then when they are ready, they will engage with you. It’s also important that you are open to these opportunities so shut your phone off at pick up, don’t schedule activities if you can on weeknights and sit down together for dinner when it’s possible.
- Attend conferences, be on time and don’t go over your allotted time.
We all love our children deeply but going over your allotted time takes away from the next appointment and throws the teacher’s whole schedule off. Be on time, have a list of pre-planned questions and if you start down a path of discussion that warrants more time, follow-up with an email to schedule an additional meeting.
- Figure out a system to save, organize or throw away your child’s art and projects.
There will be so much paper coming home you literally won’t know what to do with it unless you have a plan. There will be activity flyers, notes about fundraising, homework, sick notices, completed worksheets and beautiful artwork. Find a system that works for you and your child to organize and save special projects as well as keep informed about important dates.
- Establish Lunch Plan.
Whether your child will bring a lunch from home or participate in the hot lunch program, you need a lunch plan. As in a plan, established by you and your child that determines what they will do and when. In our house, I let my daughter bring a lunch from home one day a week. And she was in charge of packing that lunch (under my supervision). Figure out what works best in your family, if making lunches stresses you out, maybe hot lunch is the best option or if your child is a picky eater and you worry about them eating, make the lunch with them at home. Just don’t go willy-nilly, have a plan.
- Get to know your child’s friends.
Who are the kids that your child shares the day with? What type of friend is your child? Ask your child’s teacher and the after-school care providers. Stay after school to let your child play on the playground and meet the other children. When you child gets invited to a play date or birthday party, ask the parent if you can meet up beforehand at school. Allow your child to have a play date or birthday party with friends from school. Your child’s friends can be a strong force that surrounds them each day and encourages them to love and engage at school, find out who these great kids are.
- Go on field trips and visit for lunch.
Try and go on one field trip each year and visit a couple times a year for lunch. It is a great way to get to know your child’s teacher and have some impromptu conversations. But most importantly, your child will feel special and your child will make you feel special. They will hold your hand, beg you to sit next to them and ask you to do all the activities with them. Those moments that feel fleeting right now, are there for the taking, it is just a new situation. Don’t miss these opportunities.