Kindergarten. I can picture it like it was yesterday. Tears flowing. Hugs aplenty. Sobs interrupted only by the desperate pleas of, “Please, don’t leave me!” And that was just my mom.
There were no tears on my face. That’s not to say that I wasn’t anxious with anticipation of what the “big kid” school had in store. But I was excited! It was time. I had on my new dress and shoes. My whole world was about to change.
In just a matter of days, thousands of Middle Tennessee children will be putting on their back-to-school outfits, grabbing their new lunchboxes and venturing off for the first time into the world of elementary school. What can your child expect? What should she bring? Will she like her classmates? More importantly, will she like her teacher? And, how will you handle the separation?
First Day Jitters
Having your child go off to kindergarten can be a bittersweet experience. For parents, it means letting go just a little bit more. It’s that moment of truth that reveals whether or not you’ve adequately prepared your child during his first five years to face the world and, better yet, to succeed. OK, maybe it’s not that dramatic, but that’s what it can feel like.
For Nashville mom Staci Moore, mother of 5-and-a-half-year-old Reagan, it’s a long-anticipated day looming on the horizon. “I’ll probably be a basket case on the inside,” Moore says, “but for her, I’ll act excited and envious that she’s going to have such a cool adventure while I’m back home doing chores or running errands.”
Like many parents, Moore plans to take her daughter to school and stay for a bit. “I don’t want to stay long enough to allow her to see me as a crutch instead of facing a new experience on her own,” she admits, “but I also don’t want to leave immediately and chance her feeling that I’ve just dropped her alone in the middle of a strange situation.”
What’s it Going to be Like?
From wondering, “Where am I going to eat lunch?” to “Will I still take a nap everyday?”, a child is bound to have plenty of questions. Knowing what to expect can be the most important part of curbing anxieties your child may have about the first day of school.
Moore plans to tell Reagan as much as she can about what to expect. Along with telling her that she’ll have more children around than she’s used to, Moore will also explain that “it’s the first day for all of them so it will be just as new for them as it is for her.”
Reagan begins her academic career at Mt. View Elementary, a Nashville public school, this month. Like most children, she has a touch of fear that’s only evident if you ask her about it. “I might be a little nervous or scared about if the people don’t like me,” she says. That fear is most definitely outweighed by enthusiasm, though. When asked what she’s most excited about, Reagan replies, “That I’m going to meet new people and my new teacher.” That brings us to perhaps the most important part of starting kindergarten: the teacher.
Not Your Average Instructor
A child’s first teacher(s) has the potential to be the most influential person in a child’s life – next to their parents, of course. Ultimately, they spend more waking hours with your child than you do during the school week. This fact alone makes it crucial your child’s first teacher is nurturing and loving – especially with first-time students filled with expectations at what their new adventure holds.
These qualities couldn’t be more evident than in kindergarten teaching veteran Susan Paszalak. Paszalak has more than 30 years experience under her belt, having taught in Illinois, New York and currently at Nashville’s Lakeview Elementary. “The excitement and enthusiasm children have at the start of the school year is the best part,” she says. “Their personalities come out when they come in and hug you.” While there are always a few students who have a harder time letting go of their parent’s leg, Paszalak says that for the most part, “they come in with wide eyes and anticipation.”
But what about the ones who have a harder time adapting to the change in their lives? Paszalak says it can take anywhere from a day to a month for kids to adjust. But there are always a few kids – like a student she had last year who took several months to let her grandmother leave without crying – that require a little bit of extra care. Paszalak says that’s why it’s so important for her, as a teacher, to help them relax early on by explaining to everyone – parents and students included – what to expect, what is expected of them and what their new daily routine will hold.
The most common concern for parents, says Paszalak, is, “‘How will my child get home?’ and ‘Is my child going to get on the right bus?'” It’s because of questions like these that she holds an orientation for parents and students on the first day.
“Mainly we just want parents to know that we’re always here for them,” Paszalak explains, “and that they can call anytime.”
School Year’s Eve
On the eve of the first day of school, I recall always having a nice, home-cooked meal, a lengthy bubble bath and an early bedtime. The back-to-school outfit would stare at me – neatly folded – from atop my dresser as I lay in bed wondering what to expect the next day.
Starting a back-to-school tradition can be an unspoken method of relaxation for your budding academic. The best part is that your options are limitless. Go out to breakfast on the first day of school, or have a picnic to say goodbye to summer on the afternoon before. Although uncertain of what it will be, Moore definitely plans to start a ritual for Reagan. “It’s an important milestone in her life, and I want to do my part to make it a special memory.”
As the faint sounds of school bells start to ring, take a deep breath, savor the last days of summer and recall your first day of kindergarten. Share your story with your child, and most importantly, make sure she shares hers with you – it’s a memory that will last a lifetime. Do your part to make sure it’s the best it can possibly be, and your child will rise and shine that first day with a world of wonder awaiting her just beyond the schoolhouse
Ashley Driggs is associate editor for this publication.
To calm any fears your future kindergartener may have, give one of these books a try.
Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten
By Joseph Slate
The Night Before Kindergarten
By Natasha Wing
(Grosset and Dunlap)
When You Go To Kindergarten
By James Howe
Look Out Kindergarten, Here I Come!
By Nancy L. Carlson
Annabelle Swift, Kindergartner
By Amy Schwartz
Countdown to Kindergarten
By Allison McGhee