Get your cameras ready, because the first day of kindergarten is one you will be looking back on for the rest of your life. Even if your child has attended pre-school, there is nothing quite as frightening and tear jerking as watching your 5-year-old walk off to school with a book bag that is almost as big as they are. This is where their educational career, and life away from the tender arms of mom and dad begin. Some kids look forward to it with animated excitement, while many others are literally torn to pieces about leaving their parents for an entire day. Sadly, this day is bittersweet for mom and dad.
Chances are if you looked out in the parking lot, you wouldn’t be the only parent hanging out hoping to catch a glimpse of your child on the playground. Your worry about them fitting in with the other kids, whether their teacher will treat them well, whether they will cry, become hungry, or miss you terribly. You worry whether they are ready to attend school, if they will be ‘normal’ and learn at the same pace as the other kids. You also feel somehow saddened that you were silently and secretly waiting for this day, only to find that once it is upon you, you are sad. Just yesterday, they were a baby and today, they are taking their first steps into the great big world where the umbrella of your protection cannot cover.
It is important to know what to expect. Most schools offer an orientation. It is a good idea to attend it and allow your child to familiarize themselves with the classroom and the teacher. Depending on your situation, your child may not know anyone in their class or they may know many of them. If your child is nervous, look at the class list and try to find someone that they know. You can also ask the teacher if your child could sit with someone they know as well to ease the unfamiliarity. If you have questions about what their day entails, make sure that you discuss them with the teacher. Kindergarten teachers are normally very adept at telling parents what they need to hear. However, it is also their job to take your child’s hand away from yours so to speak. If you feel as if the teacher doesn’t seem to want you around beyond the orientation, know that sometimes that is best for the child. While you may want to get a job at the school where you can keep an eye on your kid, this can often make things more difficult.
Kindergarten teachers are accustomed to children crying and hanging on to their mom and dads as if they are clinging to a life preserver. This won’t make you feel very good about sending them to school, but most kids adjust once they know mom and dad are gone. Peaking in the windows and hanging out actually sends your child the message that you are apprehensive and can make their anxiety worse. There are also parents whose children seem to gallop off without skipping a beat, making mom and dad feel like they have somehow failed their child. After all, how can they leave you so easily? Rest assured the differences are often just a matter of personality and experience. While it may feel good to have your child miss you, it is excruciating to see your child writhing with fear about letting go of your hand.
It is important for parents to prepare their child for the first day of kindergarten. Make sure that you talk about it long before the big day arrives. Choose books, movies and other media that your child can relate to about going off to school. Present the whole idea of kindergarten as one of adventure, where you child will be learning tons of new skills, doing fun things all day long, eating cool snacks. You should also allow your child to be involved in picking out book bags, lunch boxes and some clothes that they love to wear to school. Be very careful to hide your own uneasiness about your child starting school, lest you show them that you are worried. Kids really do thrive in the organized and controlled environment of a classroom, and chances are you will see more growth during this year of their life than in any other.
If your child is nervous or upset about starting school – or is extremely clingy, you may want to spend some time getting them used to you not being around before the big day. Some kids, especially those who have stayed home with mom or dad, can feel threatened at the core of their existence about the separation. They worry, unrealistically of course – that you won’t pick them up or that something will happen to you when they are not with you. This is completely natural. It may take a little more time for this child to adjust to school – but eventually they will. Don’t be devastated if by Halloween, they are still crying about going to school. If this is the case, talk to the teacher and see how they act once they are. You might be very surprised that during the day they behave as if they are completely happy, especially once you are a safe distance away.
The first day of Kindergarten is a big experience for children. The curriculum is not based simply on learning how to read or write, but also about socializing children and teaching them how to be independent of their parents. Sure, they are still just little kids – your babies. Still, you should encourage them to grow away from you and make decisions on their own. When parents are genuinely happy to see their children grow up and away, the children thrive. If you cling too tightly, you stifle many of the opportunities for them to mature. Try to find the middle ground between happiness and sadness so you can walk your child to the door that opens the rest of their life.