Kindergarten Might Not Be the Biggest Transition

The start of the Needham school year is moments away, and for many families this means sending your baby off to their first day of kindergarten.

Nervous, excited, reluctant, enthusiastic, bittersweet, stressed are just a few of the emotions parents, and children, may be experiencing.

There’s much written about preparing your new kindergartner for their first days of “big kid school” – play dates with new classmates, play time on the new school’s playground, books about the first day of school, back-to-school shopping, reestablishing bedtime routines, practicing new morning routines – check out the July/August 2011 issue of ParentTalk Matters for some great tips.

This time two years ago, my oldest son was eagerly awaiting his first day of kindergarten. He was so excited to make new friends and learn new things, but, despite his enthusiasm, I was still skeptical about how that first morning might go. 

Would he cry at drop off, beg me to take him home? Or would he happily wave goodbye as he marched into his new classroom with his new teacher and classmates? 

With him I never knew which way the pendulum might swing. 

One day I could be ready to waltz out of the house, he and his little brother happily playing with a favorite babysitter, and suddenly he would be glued to my leg, sobbing and pleading that I not leave. The next week, all I might get would be a hasty wave goodbye as he scampered off to play with the very same babysitter.

And what about all the mornings to follow? After day one, would he be looking forward to day two, three, four…?

The first day of kindergarten finally arrived and I was ready, and still a tad nervous.

It turned out all the anticipation and preparation were actually the worse part. When that moment came to say “goodbye”, my son gave me a quick hug, lined up with is his class and proudly marched off into his new academic life. 

There were a few sad, scared, crying children, clinging to Mom or Dad that morning, and I secretly savored my relief that I was not one of them. 

My heart went out to those parents that morning, and I hoped they were able to see through their child’s heart-wrenching tears and know that all would eventually turn out just fine.

As that kindergarten school year proceeded, I had the privilege of frequently volunteering in my son’s classroom, I got to seeing those formerly scared, crying children blossom and thrive during their kindergarten year, and I started to wonder if all the parental focus on “preparing” might sometimes contribute to our children’s nervousness.

Then came 1st Grade, and as the first day approached, I wasn’t worried, not one tiny bit. We had survived three “first days” (two preschool & kindergarten) with minimal incident, so surely getting settled into 1st Grade was going to be a breeze. 

Oh, how wrong I was! 

The first day of 1st Grade turned out to be our Worst First. And I should have taken it for the sign it was, because the following weeks proved to be challenging.

Out of the blue, my once confident and exuberant boy was full of stress and self-doubt, often asking to stay home from school, even pronouncing one evening over dinner he was the “stupidest kid in his class”.

What?! Where was this coming from?

I was soon tapping into my mommy network. Was anybody else dealing with 1st Grader blues?

It turned out a number of my friends were struggling with their newly-minted 1st Grader. Then I started to notice a pattern – those children that lived in towns with full-day kindergarten seemed to be having a much easier time settling into the rigors of 1st Grade, while those in towns with 1/2 day kindergarten seemed to have a higher incidence of struggles. 

This got me thinking about my son’s kindergarten experience versus his 1st Grade.

Needham public school kindergartners have very short days, in most cases shorter than their preschool days, and on days they attend KASE their days is very segmented – class, lunch, KASE and all the transitions in between, which for Mitchell & Broadmeadow students include a bus ride or two.

Suddenly, in 1st Grade, their days are much more contained – in the same classroom, with the same set of classmates, with the same teacher. And they are experiencing their first real academic accountability – reading has levels, there are spelling tests and homework.

No one told me to brace myself for a kindergarten to 1st Grade transition. I thought I was in the clear after we surmounted that kindergarten hurdle.

This year my youngest will be venturing off to kindergarten and I am pretty relaxed about it – sure he got his big brother’s teacher and one of his best buds will be in his class – but I have also learned that no amount of preparation can eliminate the unexpected. The unexpected will surely happen – maybe this year, maybe next year, maybe the year after that — there are many first days of school to come.

I also remind myself that new experiences are part of life, and learning to adapt to them is a valuable life lesson (for our children and us parents) and sometimes we just  need to step back and let them go into the new and unknown without our fretting or hovering too closely behind them.

Lollie Weeks blogs about life in suburbia, her culinary adventures, Pinterest obsession, doughnut addiction and  being a parent with ADD at The Fortuitous Housewife. Her company, Weeks Web Marketing, helps small businesses navigate the ever-changing landscape of social media & internet-based marketing. She lives in Needham with her husband, two boys and a not-so-bright, but oh-so-sweet Border Collie.


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