Thirteen days. That’s all that stands between summer and, for us, the start of kindergarten.
It seems like eons ago that my son’s amazing preschool had an evening program about the transition to kindergarten. At the teachers’ suggestion, we tested lunchbox containers to make sure he could operate them independently. We also took their advice and empowered my son to choose his own backpack, which should arrive in the mail today. We have been lucky to attend several playdates at the school for incoming kindergarteners and have attended their fall festival and book fair, so hopefully he will be a little familiar with his surroundings. Looking back at my notes (yes, I was shocked I could find them!), one thing I do still need to do is talk about the importance of asking for help so that he is comfortable speaking up about what he needs.
Various friends and acquaintances have been subjected to my paranoid questions about the start of school. As a mom who was lucky enough to stay at home since my son was a year old, kindergarten will be as much of a transition for me as it will be for him (moms who work out of the home, you probably already have a lot of this down to an art). As questions spun through my mind, I recently had a realization: Heidi and Shannon, who write for LiveMom and are work at home moms, have both been through this before! Heidi has four kids: her two oldest (a girl and a boy) are well past kindergarten, but her second youngest will start school this fall. Shannon’s daughter will enter first grade this fall, so (hopefully) she can sympathize a bit with my neuroses. So they became my next
victims kindergarten advisers. Check out their answers to my questions below, and don’t forget to enter our back to school giveaway at the bottom!
Nicole: Let’s talk about the morning routine, which seems to be the thing I hear about most. Did you start “practicing” getting out of the door early before school started? If so, how early did you start? Besides doing everything you can the night before (packing lunches, putting out clothes, etc.) what tips do you have about developing a schedule for mornings?
Heidi: All of my kids have woken up at 6 a.m. since birth. I spent the first five years of their lives being disgruntled about it only to realize what a blessing it was when they hit Kindergarten! They are up and chipper at the crack of dawn every morning. We do make the lunches and sign all the homework papers etc. the night before. And the kids pick their own outfits (which may explain a few things, if you’ve seen my boys). So mornings are really just about eating breakfast, brushing teeth and heading off to school. The only person that is going to need practice waking up early is me. I may need to work on that chipper part too.
Shannon: We didn’t practice, and although we had good intentions of waking up right on time the week before, we didn’t follow through every morning. What I’ve found is that the first week of school, everyone is sleepy in the morning and tired at the end of the day, but the excitement gets the kiddo through the week. By week two, schedules are fixed and everyone’s getting used to it. So this year, I’m not going to worry about preparing and just let the first week do its thing.
Nicole: Beyond required school supplies, a backpack and lunchbox, what things (if any) do you recommend having on hand for the first month of kindergarten?
Heidi: Depending on the school district, you may need a nap mat. Also, if you have a young Texan who is used to wearing casual footwear, you may need to invest in some good running shoes. My kids can’t wear flip flops to school and on P.E. days they aren’t allowed to wear Crocs. As far as information you may want to have on hand, here are some questions you may need to find the answers to: Can my child bring a snack and if so, what kinds of food and drink are acceptable? What is the system for buying lunch? What is the bus route? What are the drop off and pickup policies?
Shannon: Easy things for the lunchbox — I started the year with a box of those frozen, crustless PB&J sandwiches, even though that’s not something I’d usually buy. They were lifesavers, though, the time or two I forgot to pack her lunch the night before. And unless you’re a real morning person, always pack lunch the night before!
Nicole: What should you expect from your kindergartner during the first day? The first few weeks? (i.e., should I stock up on wine now?)
Heidi: I think the biggest shock is how tired your child will be at the end of the day. Even if you are fortunate enough to have a child who no longer naps, it’s just a long day and kids are expected to behave for so many hours. When they come home, they can melt down from exhaustion. I recommend throwing ideology about screen time out the window for a few weeks and letting your child have some downtime as soon as they walk in the door. You don’t need to ask about their day right then. Just hand them a snack, turn on the TV and let them decompress. When my daughter, now eleven, started Kindergarten, I made the mistake of thinking, “She’s had a long, hard day. We should go out and do something fun.” And oh boy did that ever backfire. She was just too tired to cope. She also couldn’t deal with her younger brother, who was thrilled to have her home again. We had to give her a wide berth for awhile.
Shannon: I think it depends on the kid. I’d heard how much kindergarten wipes them out, but my kid wasn’t too fazed by it all. She was excited and appropriately tired at night, but fine in that realm. The thing I was most surprised by was the “Lord of the Flies” atmosphere on the playground. I think that in the beginning, a lot of those kids are having trouble adjusting and lash out at whomever is nearby. That tapered off after two or three months, but in the beginning, the hitting and other physical stuff at recess was kind of intense.
Nicole: I’ve read that you should consider limiting extracurricular activities at the start of the school year, but I’m thinking about starting soccer for the fall to reconnect with friends who won’t be going to the same school. What are your thoughts?
Heidi: I would agree that it’s probably a good idea to skip extracurricular activities for the fall. Give your son a chance to settle in, see how much, if any, homework he’s getting, how early he needs to go to bed to function, how much downtime he needs after school. You can always add in extra fun a few months down the line.
Shannon: If your son has already done soccer, then I think it’s fine. It may not be the time, however, to start something totally new. There’s a big adjustment period. It also depends on how high-energy your kid is. Twenty minutes of recess a day plus P.E. twice a week is not nearly enough physical activity for a lot of kids, especially when they’re not used to sitting as much as they have to in kinder, so having an outlet like soccer might be just what they need. Just make sure he also has time to play at home some, too.
Nicole: I want to be an advocate for my child, but respect that the teacher has many other parents to deal with. How did you first approach your child’s teacher?
Heidi: I always approach a new teacher with an offer to help. First, I bring in extra school supplies, in case there are students who don’t have enough. Then, I ask if the teacher has a wish list. I give my email address and tell them to let me know what their needs are. Some teachers just want donations, others ask for you to volunteer. Either way, you start off on the right foot if you’re communicating, “I’m here to help. Just ask!”
Shannon: This was much trickier to navigate than I thought it would be, but when I needed to really communicate and be heard — and get a response — I found that e-mail was a great vehicle for both of us. I could put my concerns in an e-mail and send it off, and she was usually good about either replying in a day or two, or letting me know that she’d need some time to think about my concerns and would get back to me when she had. I was always respectful in tone and often thanked her for her work or related something good my child had said at home about her, so I think that helped us have a good relationship, even when we had some touchy things to discuss.
Nicole: How easy was it for you to meet other parents and families? I’m envisioning it being much different than in preschool where mostly work-at-home parents picked up and there was lingering and conversations, and wonder how friendships are fostered if you just hear about new friends through your kids’ filter.
Heidi: I would encourage you to accept any birthday invitations that come your son’s way. You meet a lot of parents at those parties! There are also parent friends to be made in the PTA/PTO or by volunteering in the library. I’ve also met other parents just by hanging out at the school playground for a little while after school. It may not be in your comfort zone to start chatting up strangers, but other parents can be your best source of information about what’s going on at the school. I found it very intimidating at first, but now some of my closest friends are the parents of my kids’ school friends.
Shannon: It was easy to meet new parents IF they came to pick up their kids, although there wasn’t much lingering early in the year. That came later, as people got more comfortable with schedules. However, if your kid gets close to to another student whose parents both work, it can be harder to meet them. Their kid probably goes to an afterschool program or a grandparent’s or friend’s house, so it gets trickier to meet them and try to get the kids together outside of school. However, talking to parents after school is how I learned about most of the things I might not have heard about otherwise, from when picture day was moved to who the first-grade teachers would be for the coming year.
Nicole: Any other suggestions? Anything to suggest for soon-to-be “empty nesters”?
Heidi: I’d recommend volunteering in the classroom if you can swing it with your schedule. It makes such a huge difference knowing the other kids in your child’s class by name, so you know who they’re talking about when they tell you about their day. I used to crack up when my daughter would pray every night, “And God, PLEASE help ____ to behave tomorrow!” Because I knew the rascal she was talking about. Volunteering also helps to build a relationship with your child’s teacher. Even tagging along as a parent volunteer on a field trip, or attending a class party will give you great insight into your child’s new school life.
Shannon: Try to give yourself a few minutes before pick-up to stop what you’re doing and relax, breathe, center yourself however best works for you, because your new kindergartener is going to need you to be present for him when you pick him up. The times that I was flying around doing stuff and getting to pick-up by the seat of the pants were the times when it was harder for both of us to reconnect. Set an alarm on your phone for 20 minutes before pick-up so you can not only center yourself, but also remind yourself about pick-up! I only forgot her once, and only for a few minutes, but I’ve rarely felt worse in my life!
Wise, wise words! Thanks to Heidi and Shannon for easing my mind a bit.
Without further ado, onto our giveaway!
Hallmark has developed several products to help parents encourage and build confidence in their kids. Our lucky winner will receive:
- a three card pack from Hallmark’s Kids Collection, which addresses topics for young children, including nerves about school and positive reinforcement for hard work, as well as topics for tweens/teens, such as peer pressure and choosing friends wisely.
- Lunchbox Notes ($6.95 value), 50 tear-off notes which are perfect for tucking in a lunchbox to let your child know you’re by their side even after they get on the school bus.
- A recordable storybook ($29.95 value), which allows you to record your voice so your little one can read along with you even if you’re far away.
But wait, there’s more! Our winner will also receive a WordLock® Text Lock. Students will no longer need to remember long numerical locker combinations and can instead use the easy-to-remember three-letter phrases that they are already using such as L-O-L, F-B-I or O-M-G. The new, secure WordLock® Text Lock ($5.99 value) makes it possible to have an easy to remember personal word combination. With a revolutionary new design and feel, the Text Lock comes preset with a three letter password that is in line with today’s lingo and easy to remember. WordLock Text Locks are now available at several retailers nationwide including Walgreens, Walmart, Office Max, ACE Hardware and Dick’s Sporting Goods and online at WordLock.com and Amazon.com.
How to enter:
For your chance to win the Back-to-School Prize Package, simply fill out the form below. Under the comments field, share a tip for how to ease the transition into kindergarten. Giveaway closes at 11:59PM CST on Monday, August 15th. One entry per person, please. The winner will be chosen by random.org and notified by email.
Disclosure: LiveMom was not compensated for hosting this giveaway, although we received a sample prize package.
Written by: Nicole Basham