My oldest son starting Kindergarten opened up a whole new realm in the parenting world. Before this, there had been baby books and calls to the pediatrician and really most things could be solved with a healthy dose of mom instinct. School was different. I was going to have to learn a lot of lessons the hard way. Happily, we made it through the year but looking back, I wish I had known some things.
1. Walk Away
The first day was rough. We had been talking about starting kindergarten all summer and he was excited! When we walked into his classroom, he found his cubby and hung up his backpack and he started coloring his picture. My husband and I shared a glance…this was easy!
Everything changed as we leaned down to give him a good-bye hug. He started crying and begging us to take him with us. He didn’t want to miss us. His teacher came straight over and distracted him while we snuck out and that was when the first lesson hit us: you have to be ready to walk away. That wasn’t the last time we had to walk away. There were misunderstandings with friends, falls on the playground and struggles to finish worksheets as fast as his tablemate. We did our best to equip him with the tools and the confidence he needed to handle these situations, but he was on his own.
2. Seek Out Information
My son’s teacher was amazing, involved and loving, but she had 24 other students that she was responsible for. Pre-K had come with weekly reports and a chat with his teacher each day as she loaded him in the car. Kindergarten had report cards every nine weeks. We realized that if we wanted to know if he was turning in his homework, and if he had actually lost his lunch box or just wasn’t bringing it home, we had to send an email to the teacher.
Our big things weren’t the same as her big things and we had to make an effort to stay involved. My son is perfectly content to avoid any conversation about school whatsoever. When asked to tell about his day, he would happily tell us, “My favorite part was when you picked me up” EVERY SINGLE DAY. We discovered that asking him specific questions was the only way we were getting answers out of him. Questions like “what did you play at recess?” and “which center did you choose?” were more effective.
3. Set Them Up For Success
A few days before school started, my son was wearing one of his new pairs of shorts we got him for school. He came out of the bathroom nearly in tears because these shorts had a clasp instead of the snap he was used to. We had not even thought to look at what kind of clasp the shorts had, and if he hadn’t worn them that morning, his breakdown might have happened in the school bathroom in front of 12 other boys. A backpack they can open and close will save the teacher from having to load their bag. Kindergartners aren’t always self-sufficient and they are going to be on their own all day, so making sure they have shoes, pants, jackets, lunchboxes and backpacks they can work on their own will eliminate some of their stress and make their teacher’s life a little easier.
4. Train Them For Lunch
My son is a slow eater, and after visiting him for lunch one day we learned that he only had a short time to eat. We worked on weekends to find healthy foods that he could eat quickly. We made sure that all of the containers we used were easy to open, because while there is a “lunch helper”, they have to raise their hands and wait for her to come. We also had to really work on mealtimes being for food first and fun second.
5. Things Are About to Change
The most important lesson we learned is to enjoy the time we have with our kids. School days are long, they come home and have to do homework and there is dinner to make and the kids need time to be kids and before you know it, the day is over. The snuggly mornings in pajamas making pancakes together have to wait until the weekend now and staying up late to read one more story does too.
Kids change so much in a year and when this school year is over, they will seem so different and so much bigger than they do right now. So write down the funny things they say. Feel the way they fit in your lap and remember the way their head still smells faintly like a baby. Read them books, because by the end of the year they might be reading on their own. And enjoy your last few months of being able to drive quietly past Christie’s Toy Box without them yelling that they want to visit that toy store.