This week I dropped off my big girl at school for her first day of first grade.
What a difference a year makes.
Sure, it was a bit chaotic, as first days tend to be, but gone was the anxiety (mostly mine) that accompanied the start of kindergarten.
I know that we only have one year of “real school” under our belts, but the experience is fresh enough that I feel compelled to share what I learned last year to help alleviate any worries new kindergarten mamas might have.
I emphasize what I learned because I was never really worried about how my daughter would do in this new phase (but if you are, here are some tips for that). No, what kept me up at night were all the unknowns. I had questions about uniforms and getting to school (especially on time!) and lunch schedules, among other things. Motherhood is often all about the logistics, and I was struggling with not having all the information I thought I needed.
Kindergarten Pro-tip #1: Find other parents with experience at the school who can answer questions throughout the year, especially at the beginning.
What helped tremendously was having other moms I could go to with these questions, moms who had older kids at the same school who could answer these questions quickly and authoritatively. Parents don’t get as much face time with teachers in elementary school and beyond, which can be quite an adjustment after the daily chats and detailed reports of preschool. Since I didn’t want to bother the teacher with every little question (seriously, teachers have more important things to do than confirm that next Friday is an out-of-uniform day), it was useful to have alternative resources.
Kindergarten Pro-tip #2: Don’t be a stranger at the school; take advantage of at least a few of the many opportunities to get involved.
Another way I was able to stay in the loop was to attend PTO (Parent-Teacher Organization) meetings. Through these meetings, I found out about events that appeared on the school calendar that I didn’t have a clue about. It was a small enough setting that I could ask questions if I needed to, and I was even able to volunteer for some of these activities. (Word of caution, though: don’t sign up for too much too fast. It’s okay to ease into the life of the school; there is plenty of time to get involved.)
I was also able to take advantage of the school’s open invitation to have lunch with my daughter occasionally. It was always fun to surprise her, but an added benefit was that I was able to match some faces with names of both classmates and teachers. I even learned where the school’s lost and found was located during one of these lunches, which was clutch because my daughter managed to lose the same sweater at least three times. (Side note: label any outerwear–sweaters, jackets, coats, etc.–because it all looks the same.)
Kindergarten Pro-tip #3: Observe the culture of the school to determine the best pick-up/drop-off strategy.
My daughter attends our neighborhood school, which is less than a mile from our house. This is awesome, and we love it. It does mean, however, that riding the bus is not an option, which is generally not a problem because most days we ride bikes to and from school, and occasionally we walk. On the days we have to drive, however, I do what many families do and always park a block or two away so that I can avoid the dreaded car line. It really is quicker. I know the car line is the only option at many schools (please accept my sympathies), but I’ve heard that being at the beginning (getting there early) or the end (yes, that means getting there late) of the line is the best way to navigate that mess.
In addition, when filling out one of many forms at the beginning of the year, I listed several neighbors and friends as trusted individuals who could pick up my daughter at the end of the day. It was a relief to know there was a back-up plan in place in case something unexpected came up.
Kindergarten Pro-tip #4: Don’t stress about homework; it’s only kindergarten.
I may cringe saying it, but kindergarten really is the new first grade. One major change is homework. Honestly, homework at this stage is really just practice for future grades, but it can still be a bit of a shock. My first-born, rule-following daughter (mostly) enjoyed doing her homework, so fortunately getting her to complete it was not a struggle for us. However, I kept in mind what her teacher said at the beginning of the year, which was something along the lines of “If homework is taking too long is or is frustrating, just read a book together.” I really took this to heart, and there were some weeks at the end of the year that my daughter didn’t turn in all of her homework (gasp!).
It was–and is–really important to me that my daughter have some downtime after school to decompress and play (especially since kindergartners don’t take naps at her school). For that reason, homework time doesn’t usually happen until after dinner…and sometimes not at all that day. As a teacher and a rule-follower myself, I can’t advocate for not doing homework entirely, but I do think that a work-life balance is important, even for kids.