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New to School: 7 Tips From the Secret Society of Kindergarten
When our eldest daughter started kindergarten, my husband and I were so excited. We were so geared up, so ready with our camera and video, and surging pride. We had done it! We had made it through the sleepless babyhood, pea-smeared toddler years, and the endless probing questions of a curious and demanding preschooler. Our bank account had survived, and so had our marriage. We thought smugly as she disappeared into the kindergarten classroom with her humungous backpack and sweet, slightly teary face, from here on out, it will be easy.
You’ve got to love a parent’s ignorance.
No doubt, kindergarten is a magical time. When you prepare for your child to start school, you embark on a beautiful journey—formal education shapes your child into the person he or she will become.
Our daughter’s first year of school was, in many ways, magical. We witnessed her try new things, do new things and learn new things. But there were surprises we didn’t expect, and it took us awhile to learn the ropes.
Now that I’m about to send my second daughter to kindergarten, I feel like I’m the senior on campus as opposed to the trembling, clueless freshman. I still have a lot to learn about parenting my kids through their school years, but now I’m going in as a member of the club.
Here are 7 truths from my experience inside the secret society of kindergarten:
1. They’ll be tired. Probably. Your child, even if he or she has spent full days in preschool or daycare, will be required to do a level of work at school they’ve never experienced before. Tasks like sitting still at a desk, following directions, lining up to go outside and back inside, up to the library, down to the gym. If you pick them up hoping for a full report about the intricacies of their day and all they do is grunt, suck their thumb or demand Goldfish, don’t take it personally. Early bedtimes, routines, full meals, down time and a few months to get used to it all will help.
2. They’ll be tested. Literally. This might be hard to believe, but kindergarten is not like it was when we were small. Sure, they might learn to tie their shoes, but they’re also starting a complex curriculum of reading, comprehension work, fractions, and telling time. And in many districts, including the Seattle Public Schools, kindergarteners will be tested; some as early as October. Results may be used to evaluate a child’s eligibility for specialized streams, such as advanced learning.
Some standardized tests are computerized. If you haven’t introduced your child to computer games and to the functioning of a mouse, I highly suggest you do. Whatever you personally think of this, I am telling you that your kindergartener will need to be computer-literate.
3. Your school needs you. The (nearly) invisible power behind many a school is its parents. From Day 1, or before, you will be approached a million different ways with earnest requests for help—money, volunteer hours, supplies. You will be shocked, and then amazed, by the efforts that everyday parents like yourself put into making schools better places for teachers and children. You will be tempted, pressured and compelled to give your time and maybe your money. Do what you can. Your contribution makes the entire school a better place for all its children.
4. But don’t be a martyr. You can’t do it all. No single parent—indeed, not 100 parents—can fill the endless needy bucket of a school. Choose your spots wisely. Kindergarten parents are the newest and easiest souls to pounce on, and pounce those experienced parents and PTA members will. This is not a bad thing. But pace yourself, dear kindergarten parent. Think about where your skills, time and money could be best put to use and don’t overcommit.
5. You don’t have to keep all that art (but you’ll have to keep most of it). There will soon be a Mississippi River’s worth of artwork flowing into your home. This arts-and-crafts tsunami (popsicle-stick boats, origami cranes, finger-paint mazes, trip-inducing string balls, gluey glue things) will carry on for many years. Develop a system, my kindergarten parent apprentice. Binders, steamer trunks, wallpaper—just come up with something. Fast.
6. They need you to let go. When my daughter started kindergarten, she was a shy young thing. Gregarious, even earsplitting when among close friends and family, she shrunk back a bit when thrust into the large, intimidating world of elementary school.
What my daughter needed most to boost her confidence was for me to let go. You can’t sit next to them in the cafeteria, or raise their hand for them in class. They have to walk this road alone, and you have to let them. Because that is how they grow.
7. But they need you to hang on, too. Ask questions, even when the answers are “nothing,” or “I dunno.” Ask who talks the loudest, chases the girls, brings interesting things for lunch. Find out what terrifies them. The big kids? The big halls? Losing a library book?
Open a line of communication with their teacher and school staff. Learn the other parents’ names, even if you’re busy rushing off to work. Know their friends. Their magical journey starts now, and this is your ‘in’ to their new world. Take it while you can.
Do you have any ‘truths’ to share with other moms trying to guide their children through the first weeks of kindergarten? Please add them to my list!
In between glue-stick runs and coffee binges, Natalie Singer-Velush is the web editor of ParentMap. She lives in Seattle with her husband and two school-aged daughters.