By Leslie Crawford, Senior Editor
I don’t know why, but nobody tells you, the parent, anything about kindergarten. Or at least the things that matter.
For each of my children, one now an entering high school sophomore and the other an entering second grader, when the first day of school arrived, it felt like an enormous slap from the universe. Over-sized monster youth looming over my tiny child. Bureaucratic rules. A sea of unfamiliar faces. Your child’s strange new symptoms: tummy aches, insomnia, sudden preoccupation about matching hairclips. It was more difficult in ways I hadn’t expected. Here are a few things I wished someone had told me on how to make the first days easier:
1. Sneak a peak
If you say that someone at GreatSchools told you to do this I’ll deny it, but show up the week before school begins. That’s the lovely, calm time when teachers are setting up their classrooms and the loud hoards haven’t arrived. Give your child the insider tour: shaking the teachers hand and maybe even locating her coat hook, the bathroom, and her desk. Take time to stroll around the playground and talk about all the fun she’ll be having on the monkey bars.
2. Talk about school…but not too much
Don’t overtalk and get all anxiousy and blathering, filling their heads with your worries or anxieties that would never occur to them (“Don’t be nervous about all those big kids…”) Do talk through what their day might be like and how to make friends. Read books about the first day of school. Tell them stories about your own spectacular first day of kindergarten or a good detail from some first day experience.
3. Celebrate...but don’t overdo it
Few rites-of-passage, aside from graduating high school and college, are as big academic markers as the first day of kindergarten, so you want to mark it for your child to signal the importance. The night before, have a family dinner with cake. Cake is important. Give a little speech about how proud you are about this new adventure. But don’t go overboard: we’re not sending kids off to battle. A few photos the first day of school are OK. But curb the extended emotional farewell. And when the moment comes to say goodbye? Do. Not. Cry. And if you must fall apart, hide behind the flagpole. Your kindergartner gets to cry, you get to provide comfort, not confusion.
4. Be a kindergarten matchmaker
You might have done this when your child was getting ready to go to preschool and this technique is a keeper. Unless your child has buddies in the same class, don’t wait to set up a couple of play dates. You could even email the teacher and tell her a bit about your child and ask if there might be kids who might be a good match for your child. (Extra tip: If you know an older child already attending the school, ask him if he can look out for your child and be his school buddy.)
5. It’s not over after the first day
Hate to be a downer, but the first day of kindergarten is in no way the hard part! In fact, your child might come skipping out of school, sporting a “First-day-of-school” glittery crown, chattering about snacks he never gets at home and how everyone loves his new light-up sneakers. The hard part is the seventh day of school (statistically proven) when it’s sunk in that he’ll be going to school for the rest of his life. It’s also by the seventh day that he’ll be utterly exhausted because he still hasn’t adjusted to waking up early and getting to bed early (unless you prepared your child for back-to-school maximum health). Your child needs your extra support as he builds up his school muscles to deal with the emotional and physical demands that big-kid school entails.
6. This isn’t your kindergarten
Chances are that your child’s kindergarten is a lot different from when you were a kindergartner. There are no naps. For better or worse, academic pressure and standards have increased at most elementary schools since the days when you were blithely smearing paint and playing dress up. Today’s kindergarteners spend more time learning to read and write and do math. Most have homework. So do your best to learn what your teacher expects from your child so you won’t be blindsided from the rigors of kindergarten, circa 2013.
7. Don’t be shy…make new friends
It’s a dirty little secret few parents are privvy to until school begins, but it’s all too easy to experience total school recall so you’re terrified of the parent cliques. Time to be the confident grown-up you now are and introduce yourself to that little circle of laughing moms over there, no matter how intimidating they look. These people will be your support system for the next few years and just as you child will be adapting to a new world of people, it’s inevitable that you will too. The sooner you do, the better.Follow @LeslieMCrawford