Six years ago I walked into the kindergarten yard with one excited and nervous new kindergartener, a 2.5 year-old, and a 1-year-old. I was a wreck. My littles were running around the playground, I felt frazzled with so many kids, and when it came time to say goodbye, my kindergartener didn’t really want to go in.
He cried. I cried.
The teacher said, “I’ll handle it, don’t worry.” The door closed, and I dragged my littles off the playground and cried the whole way home.
It wasn’t the happy “goodbye” transition I’d been expecting or planning for.
I didn’t cry at preschool drop off and neither did he.
I had been completely ready to let him go for kindergarten, but then when the moment came, he got really emotional and overwhelmed. And so did I.
I had been an elementary school teacher. I knew this drill. I’d done it again and again with other people’s kids for years. I knew everything would be fine, but I still bawled like a baby the whole way home that day… dragging my little circus behind me.
Fortunately, the teacher, sensing my distress, had one of the office staff email me a few minutes later and tell me not to worry, my son was ok and having a great time in kindergarten. He’d stopped crying a minute or two after I’d left. It all worked out. Phew!
Now, I have walked three kids across the kindergarten yard for their first day of school (I feel old!).
Over the years, I’ve learned some simple things that can make the transition and the first day/few weeks a little bit less emotional… so I thought I would share them with you.
If you're not in this stage yet, pass this info along to someone who is or pin it for later!
13 Tips for First Time Kindergarten Parents
1. Plan for the emotions.
Even if you or your kiddo have never cried at a separation before, plan for emotions, expect them. If they don’t happen, great. If they do, acknowledge them, and move through them. It isn’t bad to cry. It’s actually a sign of a healthy attachment. Have a plan for something fun you’re going to do after school together and focus on that. Some of these tips for dealing with separation anxiety can also be super useful for kids of all ages who struggle with leaving.
Your child may also have no problem going to school. The start of the day might be amazing... and then once he's in your car at the end of the day, tantrums or crying starts.
Plan for it. It is exhausting to hold it all together for a full day or half day. Try not to have anything scheduled after school if you can help it... especially for the first week or so.
Let your child come home and play! Most kindergartens are not like they once were. Kids have much less time to play now in kinder than when I started teaching almost 20 years ago.
You can even help your child create a special "calm down" end of the day plan. Have some relaxing activities ready for them to do when they get home.
Some kids won't be affected at all with this new transition, but others will be.
2. When you pick up your child from kindergarten, pack a healthy snack and a water bottle and have it in the car (or in your bag) to give to them right away.
Recess is so short. The playground is new and fun, and having friends to sit with is distracting. Your kindergartener might not eat much at snack time. After a long first day of a lot of listening and new routines, they will also be exhausted emotionally and physically. Have a snack and drink ready the second you see them. When they have a bit of an energy crash from holding it all together all day, this little help can be a lifesaver.
3. Take a photo of every paper that comes home. Save it to your phone photo album/cloud storage, Google Drive, Dropbox, or whatever.
The hardest thing for me about kindergarten is the paperwork. Many teachers prefer to send home papers with information on them versus emails or posting them on a class website. My routine now is to look through my child’s folder every time it comes home and snap a photo of every important piece of paper from the school. Calendars, permission slips, class lists, supply info, teacher contact info and schedules, etc. These have come in hand hundreds of times when I can’t remember information, other parents can’t, or I’ve forgotten to put something on my calendar. While you are snapping photos of everything, make sure to put any important dates on your calendar asap as well.
4. Take “Back to School” pictures the day before.
This tip really makes the first day so much less stressful. Try on any outfits early and snap photos the day before. This will give you less to think about on the morning of the first day (if you’re like me and love having “back to school” photos). You can still take pics on the first day, but you’ll feel less worried about getting them “right.” Trying on clothes a few days before can also help you make sure that everyone’s clothing decisions are set before the morning of.
5. Don’t stress about bringing the teachers anything on the first day...
Teachers will still like you (and your child) if you don’t bring anything on the first day. It is a thoughtful gesture to bring something for sure... but instead you could decide to be the parent that shows up midway through October or November or March or April with needed supplies or volunteer time... when all of the energetic parents have died out. That is still ok. There is no right or wrong way to start the year, so don't feel guilty not bringing anything for the teacher.
For some kids, having an item to bring to their teacher can help alleviate their stress and give them something “to do” on that first day. If this is your child, help them do this discreetly. It doesn’t need to be big or showy or grandiose in front of everyone.
For other kids, seeing people bring gifts when their family didn’t bring one… can cause them anxiety and feel like their teacher won’t like them as much as another child because they didn’t bring anything.
We’ve been on both sides of this… so now, if we do plan to bring something for the teacher, we bring it at the end of the first day (and give it privately), not at the beginning of the day… when all of those emotions are rushing around.
6. Make friends with an “experienced” parent.
When my oldest started kindergarten, an “experienced” mom took me under her wing. Now, as an experienced mom myself, I try to look out for new parents and check in, ask questions, introduce myself, and answer any questions they need. Look around for a parent who has been at the school for awhile who has a positive, helpful, and friendly attitude. This is your person to ask questions… especially those questions you might think are dumb. There is a lot of “lingo” within schools and traditions that you don’t understand sometimes when you are new. There is no wrong question and sometimes it is easier to ask another parent than to bother the teacher.
I am doing this again now as I move into the middle school years with my oldest. I have identified other middle school parents who have done it a few times and I have been asking them tons of questions- everything from what to store in gym lockers to how drop off works.
7. Volunteer for something, but brace yourself.
When Back to School Night rolls around, you might be tempted to leave everything blank and not volunteer for anything since you’re new. I would argue that you will have a better experience as a new kindergarten parent if you jump in and volunteer for something.
You don’t have to volunteer for everything, or anything big. Just volunteer to help stuff folders or help at the class party (not be in charge of it). Start small if the idea of helping is overwhelming to you. You can always volunteer for more later.
One of the best ways to get to know your child’s teacher, friends, and feel connected at their new school is by helping out in some way.
Also, don’t be afraid to reach out to the teacher if the volunteering opportunities offered don’t work with your schedule. He/she may be willing to be flexible and let you help on other days not listed. She may also have stuff you can help her with from the comfort of your own living room (like cutting), if you have small children and it is hard to get away to help in the classroom. Just ask!
8. Show up!
As much as you can, show up every day at the beginning and end of the day and chat with other kindergarten parents and greet your child. This can be a challenge for working parents, but if you can do this at all for the first few weeks of school, I challenge you to try it. Relationships are forged in those short few minutes when you are standing around waiting to drop off and pick up. You may also find that those first few moments after pick up are times when your kiddo needs to connect with you the most.
Your son can also point out his new friend and you can chat with his mom and schedule a playdate. The teacher might linger a bit to chit chat and you can get to know her better. Spontaneous park playdate plans might come together. Don’t be afraid of making idle chit chat with people. Pick a few questions to ask and keep your phone put away.
Each school will be different in how kindergarten drop off/pick up works, but where we live you have to walk the kids to the classroom door and pick them up everyday there too. It would be much easier to have a carpool lane and just drop them off… or have them take a bus home, but the moments of personal interactions on a daily basis with other parents is one of the main times we’ve connected with other parents at our school… so I actually love it!
Along with showing up daily, show up for school events as often as you are able to. Participating in your school community is the #1 way to start feeling like you are part of it. Each time you show up for an event at your school, you’re supporting the people that volunteered to put the event together and they are grateful!
9. Ask a lot of questions.
It is ok to ask the teacher, other parents, and the office staff questions. Ask a lot. When you are new, take advantage of that! Even if you’re a former teacher and think you know “the drill,” don’t be afraid to ask questions. I always like to look like I know what I am doing, and I wish I would’ve asked more questions when my kids were younger. When you are asking for help, be polite. Make the office staff your best friends! They can be lifesavers if you have a good relationship with them!
10. Make a storage plan for schoolwork/artwork.
Artwork and other items start coming home pretty early into the school year. Make a plan for how you will store things. We always start out the year with a large plastic storage tub (underbed box). Each child has one with their name on it. We put all items in the box that seem special and then we sort through them and purge less important ones midway and at the end of the year. This box gets added to each year until the child moves into middle school. You will thank yourself at the end of the year if you have a system before the school year starts.
11. Optional- Start a tradition to have a “Back to School tradition.”
Your Back to School tradition doesn’t have to be a feast… and it doesn’t have to take a lot of work or be fancy… and it doesn’t have to be the same thing every year. You don’t have to pick one thing and stick to it forever. Just decide that each year you’ll have some sort of special Back to School ‘thing” that is special for your family… and do it.
We do a Back to School Book Breakfast every year. We put out all of our children’s books about school on the kitchen table and then while the kids eat muffins and yogurt on the first day of school, I read them several books about the first day of school. We keep the meal simple and fun! I usually decorate with the same banner every year. It is so easy and I love it!
We also have a Back to School Party for each of our kids when they are entering kindergarten. It is a fun way to celebrate. Here was Andrew's Kindergarten Will Be a Blast Rocket party, Catie's Back to School Animal Party, and Ryan's Kindergarten Will be a Splash party.
12. Wait to buy any back to school supplies!
Before you buy your child a new backpack or awesome new pencils or lunch bag, do a little research. Check your school's website or office to make sure you are buying what your child needs and is allowed to bring to school. Some schools are very specific about the types of backpacks and materials that are allowed. For example, our school provides school bags for kindergarteners because they don't have enough cubby space. They also ask for kids not to bring big lunchboxes/bags.
I was so happy I hadn't gone out and purchased anything ahead of time... my son would've been crushed if we'd gotten something super special and then he couldn't bring it on the first day. Always check first.
13. Arrive early on the first day!
This may seem like a no-brainer, but always give yourself extra time. So many parents bring their kids on the first day so it can be super crowded and busy in parking lots. At our school, you can go into your classroom a few minutes early to look around. I love to make sure we are early so that I can meet the teacher, take some pictures, and help my son become acclimated as best I can, before it is time for parents to leave.
Do you have any other tips or pieces of advice for new kindergarten parents?
If you are an "experienced" kindergarten parent, do any of these tips jive with you? Have any others to add?
First time kindergarten parents, do you have any other questions?
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