6 Things You Need to Know About Starting Kindergarten
Starting kindergarten is a huge, highly anticipated milestone for many kids – and parents. For a lot of us, it’s our first interaction with the school system since we were kids, and things have changed considerably!
My oldest just finished his kindergarten year. We had the benefit of some wonderful veteran parents who gave us some insight on what to expect, but even still there were a few things that caught us off guard. If you have a little one who will be going to kindergarten this year, here are 6 things you need to know.
1. Prepare for big emotions
Starting kindergarten is a big transition – for your child, and for you! Prepare to deal with some big feelings as the first day approaches.
In the days and weeks leading up the first day, your child may be nervous. They might be anxious about separating from you, and going to a new school filled with unfamiliar faces.
Your little one may also be excited. They might be eager to follow in the footsteps of an older sibling or friend, and impatient for the first day to arrive.
In all likelihood, they’ll have a mix of conflicting emotions. It’s difficult to predict how your child will react, and how they will process those big emotions on the first day.
Our school showed parents a great video about helping your child navigate the first day of kindergarten, which I’ve embedded below. The concepts in the video aren’t new, but they are a great reminder of the little things you can do to help build your child’s confidence and make that first day a little bit easier.
2. Life skills are the most important
Every child comes into kindergarten at a different level – academically and developmentally. The academic expectations for children entering kindergarten will vary widely depending on where you live. However, in our experience, life skills were the most important.
To the extent that your child is developmentally able to, work on developing their independent life skills leading up to the big day.
Your child should be able to go to the bathroom independently. This means being able to manipulate any buttons or zippers (or stick with pull-on pants), wipe, flush, and wash without being reminded.
They should be able to get dressed and undressed for outside play. Again, make sure they can handle the zippers or buttons on their coat, and are able to put on any gloves, mittens or hats. Work on their ability to tie their own shoes, or buy slip on shoes that they’re able to get on and off themselves (we love these ones).
Have a few picnics over the summer to ensure they can handle their lunch independently. Buy containers that are easy for them to open on their own – these ones are great. If you send juice boxes, make sure they’re able to get the straw out of the wrapper and inserted into the drink.
Work on instilling responsibility for their own belongings and space. They’ll be responsible for making sure they come home with the stuff – sweaters, gloves, hats, etc. – that they brought to school. They’ll have to pack up their own lunch, and clean up their desk. I’ve mentioned before that my oldest is responsible for making sure he has everything he needs for school each day (his lunch, library books, etc.), and for emptying out his backpack when he gets home after school. The sooner you start these types of routines, the better.
Finally, make sure you label everything! Lunch box, containers, water bottles, ice packs, shoes, clothes, sweaters, jackets, mittens, hats, etc. They will inevitably misplace items, and if they’re labelled you have a much better chance of getting them back! We use (and love!) Mabel’s Labels.
3. They will be exhausted
My children have been in some form of childcare for most of their lives, so they’re used to long days. When people warned me that my son would be exhausted when he started kindergarten I figured it wouldn’t be that bad. Boy, was I wrong!
New routines, new friends, new expectations, and less downtime than they’re used to equals very tired kids at the end of the day. Give your new kindergartener time to decompress and relax when they get home. I highly recommend avoiding scheduled activities on weekdays for at least the first few months. We also bumped my son’s bedtime earlier, and it remained there for the entire year.
4. Communication with the school may be different than what you’re used to
This one is specific to your school and your teacher, as well as what you’re used to. After four years of daycare, I was used to a quick check-in with his teacher each day at drop-off and pick-up.
The dynamic of kindergarten versus daycare makes daily check-ins impractical. The teacher is juggling 20 or so kids, who are all being picked up or dropped off at the same time. There’s no time for a check-in with each parent every day.
While there’s less informal communication with the teacher each day, I was amazed at how much formal reporting there was. Our school district uses an app for reporting to parents, and my son’s teacher posts photos or samples of work almost daily. Things have definitely changed since my kindergarten days!
5. Brace yourself for information (& paper) overload!
Every single day, my kindergartener brings home a bag filled with school work, permission slips, home reading, and newsletters. We receive regular emails from his teacher, the school, and the parent advisory council, and text messages from our school and school district. There are theme days, special events, hot lunch orders, home reading, library days, professional days, and field trips to keep track of. This all adds up to a lot of information and paper to process and organize! Check out this post for some of the strategies I use to stay organized, and this post for the system I use to organize my kids’ school papers.
6. They turn into a “big kid”
Before you know it, the school year will be over, and your nervous little one from the first day will be replaced by a confident, independent big kid. The difference between the beginning of the year and the end of the year is striking, especially because it seems to pass in the blink of an eye.
Your child will have new friends, experience new things, and begin to establish their own life, separate and apart from you. It’s exciting to watch them learn and experience new things, but I’d be lying if I said it’s not bittersweet.
Watching my children grow and change always fills me with mixed emotions, but I’m trying to make a conscious effort to focus on the positive. My son’s world has expanded hugely since he started kindergarten. He’s learning so much, and has an insatiable desire to learn more. He’s able to do and understand so much more. And, so far, he isn’t too cool for a hug from Mom 🙂
Related: Goodbye to the Baby Years