I don’t know if starting kindergarten for the first time is more stressful for the children or their parents! There is much more that goes along with this milestone than just walking into school on the very first morning. This is the first year in the last three that I haven’t had to worry about anything kindergarten related, so I figured I could share a few tips about the whole experience for any first timers.
*Please keep in mind that all my advice is purely from my own personal experiences and I realize that many kindergarten experiences can be different. I also consulted a family member, who has been a NEISD elementary school counselor for more than 10 years, while writing this piece.
General Communication Tips Before The First Day
- Find your school’s website and bookmark it. You will be able to stay very up-to-date with regular visits. In fact, most teachers have their own pages they update as well.
- Take time now to look at the school’s calendar. Make note of holidays and early dismissal days or they will sneak up on you. Also, look for the PTA calendar or general upcoming activities list to be able to plan for the next 2-3 months.
- Some schools have Facebook pages and school districts have Facebook or Twitter pages which are a good supplemental method of seeing reminders for upcoming school events, holidays, or even “ice day” announcements.
- Most schools have a Parent Orientation or Back to School Night within the first two weeks of school where you come (usually without your children) to get to know your child’s teacher, the classroom expectations, homework policies, class schedules, and other extremely helpful information. So mark your calendar now.
- Within 1 week of school starting, most teachers will call each student’s main phone number in their registration file to introduce themselves. The first year, we made the mistake of putting down our home number, which we never answer, therefore, we missed the call. If you don’t receive a call, there should be lots of staff greeting you at “Meet The Teacher Night” or the first day of school who will point you in the correct direction. *** Don’t be alarmed if you haven’t received a call yet, most teacher’s just got their student list and are making calls throughout the week.***
- Official school district elementary school supply lists are available at most office supply stores, HEBs, Wal-Marts and Targets near the school supply aisles. You can also find these on your school district’s website. If taking your kids to pick out supplies sounds stressful (which it can be if they are cranky or the aisles are picked through and crowded), you can easily go buy all the basics alone and then take them to pick out the more exciting and personal items such as their school supply boxes and folders.
- Do they share school supplies in kindergarten? This is dependent on the kindergarten teacher. You could wait until “Meet The Teacher Night” and ask if they share or have “community” crayons or glue.
- Do you label their school supplies? Yes, I do, but this is not required. I am a big fan of labeling most items if your child’s teacher doesn’t have them share supplies. Over the last few years, I have purchased personalized small stickers for my children’s items, such as notebooks, markers, scissors, etc. This is one of the least expensive places on Etsy to order simple labels. I label absolutely everything and even invested in these other kind of vinyl clothing labels that I can use on water bottles, clothing tags or anything. Another option that I have used for years are these blank stickers from Martha Stewart (available at Staples) that can withstand being washed tons of times on normal cycles. I use them for water bottles, jackets, hats and pretty much anything else that can possibly disconnect from one’s body while at school! If you have ever seen an elementary school’s “Lost and Found” come April of each school year, you will know why I label everything with these semi-permanent stickers.
- Plastic folders hold up better than the paper ones.
- Open house or “Meet The Teacher Night,” the week before school starts, is a great time to bring your school supplies to your child’s new room. I learned to get there a few minutes early and to go to the school’s Spirit Store table first while no one is in line. Both years my children were in kindergarten, the line to buy your child his or her school T-shirt was thirty minutes long if you plan to hit it on your way out of the building.
- Realistically, your kindergartener really has no need for a large or even full size backpack. There are no large text books that need to be transported back and forth. In fact, in our two years of experience, they only needed to carry their lunchbox and a single folder back and forth daily. With my average sized kids, we didn’t move up to a regular sized backpack until entering 2nd grade and never felt like the smaller and more proportionately sized bags were too small (12″ x 15″ size.) But if you already have a regular sized backpack, then no big deal!
- Many schools really dislike or have banned wheely backpacks.
- If teachers could, many may ask parents to be thoughtful when buying clothes for their young kindergarten students to wear to school. The first week of school isn’t the best time for your little one to be wearing their first ever pair of self-tie shoes if they haven’t fully learned to tie them yet. It’s hard for the teachers to have to tie 20+ pairs of shoes. Perhaps your child can practice the first half of the year at home and then at the Christmas break, he or she might be ready to graduate from the slip-on or velcro styled shoes. A similar point could be made with brand new shorts or pants that have zippers and buttons that small fingers haven’t learned to fasten yet. For the sake of the teachers, please stick with the pull on style until they have mastered dressing themselves. Another benefit is that your child won’t be embarrassed having to ask for help all the time.
- To help save you an unexpected trip to school in the middle of your day, you may want to pack your child a full extra outfit complete with underwear to keep at the bottom of his backpack or in his cubby at school. Besides the occasional accident that could still occur, there could be the time his neighbor’s chocolate milk flies across the lunch table or your little one happens to be the first one down the playground slide after an afternoon rain shower. To keep from getting a call from the school nurse with your child begging for dry, clean clothes, save time and send a set to leave at school.
The First Day (Separation Anxiety)
If you or your little one is a little nervous about going off to school for the first time, then here are a few tips.
- One of the most highly recommend books for separation anxiety is The Kissing Hand. This sweet story will help calm your apprehensive child who is scared of leaving home on the first day of school.
- Try taping a picture of your family or their favorite pet inside their supply box or lunch box. This gesture can help give her something to look at while she is at school.
- After spending as much time as your want getting them comfortable in their new room at “Meet The Teacher Night,” it is recommended not to linger in the room the first morning of school. Some schools, including ours, don’t allow any parents to enter the class room the first morning. I must admit, instead of chaos, the teacher was waiting for them at the doorway and facilitating calm goodbyes. I took pictures, hugged my child and then peacefully walked my daughter to her new assigned seat. All the kids looked relaxed and at ease.
- The biggest advice is to be positive in the weeks leading up to the first day and especially the morning you drop your child off at school. Even if you are dying inside, your sweet little one will do much better if you try to contain your emotions until after you leave the classroom. Try hard to give her independence and tell her how excited and happy you are for her. Let the last thing they see of you be your smiling face!
- Note: Some schools do a “Boo Hoo” or “Tacos and Tears” type breakfast in the library or cafeteria specifically for kindergarten parents to go after they have made the first drop off. This is a nice place to meet other parents in similar situations. (Check your school’s website.)
- Some recommend packing your child’s lunch for the first day or even week. With so many new things being thrown at them, adding “mastering the lunch line” with hundreds of other 5 and 6 year olds can be daunting and if the line is moving extremely slow, it does reduce the amount of time they have to eat their lunch.
- It took me months to realize that my kids could quickly buy milk on the days that I packed a lunch for them, so you don’t have to worry about keeping a drink from home cold in their lunch boxes.
- Be aware, though, that they will have the options to buy flavored milks such as strawberry and chocolate as well as regular. I had to have a talk with my children and set the expectations about what I wanted them to choose.
- Eating lunch with your child is something that many parents look forward to, but if your child is clingy and unsure about going off to school, you may want to consider holding off eating with them until they have gained confidence in their new environment and schedule.
- Remember most kindergarteners eat around 10:30-11 AM, so some teachers will ask you to pack a small, healthy and mess-free snack to have around 1:30 or 2. If not, just know they will be ready for a snack upon dismissal, wherever they go.
Finding Out How Their Day Was
It’s completely normal to want to find out everything thing about your child’s first day. Try hard to lower your expectations when asking the big question, “How was your first day of school?” Chances are that he or she will be wiped out, both physically and emotionally.
- Try not to be so vague with questions. Ask things like, “What was your favorite part of the day?” I will always remember my son’s response after the very first day, “Exercising in the gym where they played music, rolling a dice and getting to draw cards to see what exercises I could do!” (I’m guessing P.E.!?)
- Each night during dinner time, we do “Best and Worst.” We go around the table and each tell the very best thing and worst thing that happened to us today. Try not to dwell on “bad” and use this simple technique to get the conversation started. At first, my husband and I would lead by example for them to learn how to it and soon they were quickly fighting over who got to talk first.
- Leave time at bedtime to cuddle and talk. Many times, after a book is read, I find this is the “magic moment” when my quiet child really wants to open up.
- There will be tons of forms that come home the first day of school for you to fill out and return. Prepare yourself! Last year, having two sets to fill out caused serious cramping of the hand.
- Be prepared to have your checkbook open. Here are just some of the common items to be prepared for:
- Lunch money for the cafeteria. Many times you can make a deposit on-line for a fee. You also can put money in at “Meet The Teacher Night” or send a check with your child in a clearly marked envelope.
- PTA Dues (small amount)
- School Directory
- School fundraisers
- School sanctioned notebooks used to communicate back and forth with parents and teachers
- Field Trip money
- Spirit items such as a school T-shirt that many schools wear every Friday
Volunteering At School
This was a very important topic for me when my kids started kindergarten and I jumped in with both feet that first year. It’s important to know there are two ways to volunteer – at the actual school campus OR behind the scenes in a more high level PTA Board role. Both are critical to the success of schools. I heard about joining the PTA Board and figured it was the best way to get my feet wet so I took on the school’s directory, as well as the monthly board meeting that came with the position. In hindsight, a red flag could have been that I was the only board member with only a kindergarten aged student. I am and will always be a BIG supporter of the PTA, as it is this Parent Teacher Organization that puts on MANY of the school’s events that are the most exciting for the children, such as Bike Rodeo, W.A.T.C.H. DOGs, Red Ribbon Week and Teacher Appreciation events. However, as a working mom, I am limited on the time I can volunteer and during my first year, I spent 40 hours working on the school’s directory at home in my office, having no time left to spend at the actual school campus with my child. I learned that I will always be a financial supporter by joining PTA and attending meetings but while my kids are young and so excited to see me volunteering at their school, I want to actually be present on campus and with my child’s room and teacher. I now choose to do monthly cafeteria duty because I believe there truly is no better way to offer help at the school than when the teachers get to have their brief thirty minute break and 300 kids need help opening their milk and ketchup packets. The second year, I also decided to volunteer as assistant room parent helping organize the classroom parties. (You can volunteer for things like this usually by filling out the forms that come home the first week of school or at your child’s Parent Orientation within the first 2 weeks of school starting.) Yet, another idea to help is to reach out to your child’s teacher, after the first couple of weeks have settled down, and tell them you are open to helping in any manner they need – putting up bulletin boards, reading to the children while they do testing or helping them make copies.