I was a kindergarten teacher in both public and private schools before I became a mom. These are my top tips for starting kindergarten on the right foot and setting a positive tone for the whole school year!
1. Visit the School
Almost all schools will have a time that kindergarten (and other new-to-the-school families) can visit before school starts. Call to check and if you don't see anything scheduled ask! Schools and teachers might be willing to accommodate your needs to ease any first day jitters. You may also ask to visit (and enjoy) the playground before the first day to create some excitement ahead of time!
2. Wait to Purchase School Supplies (or Ask Ahead)
You may be asked to purchase supplies or bring nothing at all to school. Different districts may provide school supply lists but unfortunately individual teachers sometimes have different requests from what is noted.
When I taught kindergarten families didn't need to supply anything except a backpack (which was optional) but we still had some issues where students wanted to bring their new pencils, crayons, and folders to school. Our classrooms had tables instead of desks so we didn't have a place for them to store their new supplies leaving them quite disappointed on the first day. We also had cubbies that could not accommodate rolling backpacks (on wheels) and folders that needed the space of a regular sized backpack (when some parents had purchased adorable mini-backpacks for their kinders). We tried to communicate this to parents as early as we could but every year we had some disappointed children who had already gone shopping.
When in doubt, ask or wait until after the first week unless you are told to send your child with specific items on the first day. Stick to school shopping for new clothing, but please don't buy shoes that play music! Teachers everywhere are wondering why such a thing even exists!
3. Get Enough Sleep
Five year olds need 10 to 12 hours of sleep each night. Excitement, anxiety, and change in routine will likely make this a difficult goal to achieve in the first week of school. Add to that the crash that comes with being in a new educational environment and you can expect several exhausted meltdowns (from everyone!) as you adjust to starting school. You can help by beginning your typical bedtime wind down routine a bit early a few weeks before school starts and sticking to schedules on the weekends! Don't be surprised if your kindergartener needs naps on the weekend too to catch up! (Try to avoid them in the late afternoon or evening on a school day if you are full day Kindergarten. It's better to head to bed early and sleep through the whole night!)
4. Provide Healthy Foods
Developing brains and bodies need fuel! Stock up on healthy favorites that you know your child will eat for breakfast and after school snacks. A carb paired with a protein is a great boost to maintain blood sugar levels which also result in after school tantrums when they dip and spike! Leave plenty of time in your morning routine for breakfast and/or pack a snack to eat at the bus stop too!
5. Prep the Night Before
Do as much as you can to prepare for hectic mornings the night before:
Lay out clothing that you both agree on.
Make sure shoes and backpacks are at the door and ready to go.
Gather library books and sneakers for gym class as you talk about tomorrow's schedule.
Have homework packed and ready. (Your "homework" too, since there is a lot of paperwork when your child starts school!)
Try to maintain this schedule not just for the first day or first week but for the whole school year! The next day try to stay calm, cheerful, and prepared as you give kind reminders about the time left before you need to depart. No one likes to start their day off with hurried arguing!
6. Practice Teacher's Name
Your kindergartener will feel confident and proud to call his or her teacher by name while other students are calling her "teacher" and "mom" for at least the first month! This is also a safety issue as your child arrives to school and navigates the hallways. Most kindergarten students are accompanied by caring adults as they get used to finding their classrooms but in case your child is unsure everyone will be relieved when he knows his teacher's name!
7. Wait to Share Specifics
Please do not share details about your child, voice concerns, or jokingly warn the school about your child's behavior at Meet the Teacher Night or Open House. Her teacher needs time to get to know these 20-some new faces (and the parents they belong with) on her own before discussing specifics with you. There is also the issue of confidentiality so these concerns are better discussed on the phone, via email, or at your first (private) parent/teacher conference. Of course, if your child has a physical need (like an allergy or diagnosis) or an emotional concern (like a tricky family situation or anxiety) then you can definitely reach out before school starts but do so privately (via letter, phone call, or email) at a time when the teacher isn't overwhelmed with so many other distractions.
8. Remember Everyone is Transitioning
The bus will likely run late, the cafeteria money may take awhile to be credited to your account, and the school secretaries are going to be swamped with angry phone calls, questions at pick up and drop off, and fielding these concerns for teachers and administration as well. Take a deep breath and realize that everyone is transitioning together. While your child is the number one priority to both you and the school, other issues will most likely iron themselves out during the first few weeks of the year. If, at that time, there is still an issue that causes concern then by all means speak up as your child's advocate. Just please don't expect everything to go off flawlessly the first day (or the second if the first day is perfect)!
9. Have a Drop Zone
When your child gets home she is going to be tired, hungry, overwhelmed, and ready to crash into your loving arms to excitedly report about her day or just quietly process it all alone for awhile. Both of these reactions are acceptable and typical! You can help by having an organized drop zone for her shoes, backpack, and papers. Together you can sort both the papers that stay home and the ones that need to be returned but hand over some of the responsibility for these important items to your child.
10. Start Responsibilities on Day One
If you want your child to be the one in charge of his own backpack and folder (and trust me you do and so does his teacher) then try to establish that duty from the beginning of the school year. When homework is done (right after school, after some play time, or after dinner) can be adjusted for each family's unique schedule but if his name is on his folder then he should be the one placing it in the drop zone and packing it back up for tomorrow.
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