With (almost) one whole year of teaching kindergarten under my belt, I feel justified in giving out advice to future kindergarten parents. Someone made the unfortunate decision to feed the monster and asked me to speak to a group of parents of upcoming kindergarteners…and offer some advice for transition and reassurance for parents about this stressful time in a parent and child’s life. Since I am also a veteran of “sending your child to BIG SCHOOOOOL, AIIYEEEEEE!” two times over, I feel especially qualified to hand out advice. It’s your lucky day that all of this fluff and nonsense is yours, and it is FREE.
You will send me your baby. I will return to you a Bonafide Big Kid. My kids come crying for their Momma, falling asleep in the middle of the day, having bathroom accidents, not understanding what’s expected of them, (what’s a line? why can’t I smack?) and wiggling constantly. Those same babies leave excited about going to first grade, able to read, able to open ketchup packets, and milk cartons. They get their own food, make the serious choice of white, chocolate, or vanilla milk every day, they can hold their pee if necessary, they get hand sanitizer after every sneeze without reminders, and they never once ask for their Mommas during the school day. It’s almost impossible to remember them as the same nervous, incapable babies they were in August. And this doesn’t even really touch on the academic and social growth you can expect to see.
And it will be heartbreakingly wonderful. You will cry bittersweet tears as you watch your little one graduate from kindergarten.
But UNTIL that point, here are some things you can do NOW to help your child (and your child’s kindergarten teacher):
Teach your child to–
–ask to use the restroom/get water/etc. Teach them how to verbalize their thoughts/wants/needs. I understand the universal “I gotta GO NOW” privates-holding jiggle dance but teach your child to mention it BEFORE it gets to that point. Most kids never have to ask to use the bathroom but in kindergarten, we expect them to be able to tell us and ask to go–preferably before Clorox wipes are necessary–instead of darting to the bathroom with their pants around their ankles. We definitely have whole group potty breaks but not that often. (Aside: Do you realize how long potty breaks take for 17-20 five year olds? Decades.) Also, as a parent who was a part of the meeting mentioned above said, “Will my child be the only boy with his pants around his ankles at the urinal? No, he won’t.” Almost all of them do that so don’t worry. But do try to begin the training of the penis now, which brings us along to…
–handle their bathroom issues independently (toilet paper usage, wiping, flushing). PLEASE. Just PLEASE. I cannot go in and wipe rear ends so face the fact that you’re going to have to teach them how to make sure that area is all clean or you’re GOING to deal with skid marks.
–use proper words for all of those improper areas. Butt, little willie, my “boom boom”, crap, fart, piss, asshole, cock…those are not school-appropriate words. Perhaps we should all agree that ‘bottom, restroom/bathroom, behind, private area, penis, number 2, etc” are the words we shall teach our children to use. I cannot decipher it when your child tells me that her Queen Elizabeth hurts and she’s referring to her private area. I seriously had a student who had an issue in that area and did not have the proper vocabulary to tell me what I needed to know. I know pet names are cute/more comfortable but teach them the real names as well. This also goes for stupid, dumb, bitch, freakin’, hell, etc. These are just not school-appropriate and that should be very clearly understood by your child.
–button, snap, zip, take off, undo, put on and handle their clothing/jackets independently. I will certainly help but it’s a pain in the ass to have to unzip 17 jackets every morning, zip them back up for recess, etc.
–TIE THEIR SHOES. Now, of course I will help as some kids are just not developmentally ready for the bunny ears and whatnot. But we spend about 0 minutes in kindergarten teaching children how to tie their shoes. That’s ZERO. You have to teach them.
–be independent in their food choices. So many of us order for our children at a restaurant and when they get to school, they are faced with a buffet of choices and it can be overwhelming for a kid who has only ever eaten what Mom put in front of him. Please start teaching kids how to decide what they want. We have very little time and a lot of kids to get through the lunch line. Not enough time for a kid to stand there contemplating regular or sweet potato fries for five minutes. Also, start helping them learn how to open ketchup packets, etc. This means your kid won’t have to wait for teacher assistance to begin chowing down on their hotdog. Which brings us to our next one…
–finish a meal in about 25 minutes. We have very little time to eat. Insure that your kid can fill up enough to not be miserable in that amount of time.
–be able to speak and write their first and last name.
–walk independently to various places.
–speak to adults in a normal voice. Give your child practice talking with an adult they don’t know very well in a normal tone of voice (not a whisper). I would not suggest sending your child to a park to approach random strangers, but allow them to order their own food, speaking clearly.
NOTICE HOW I DID NOT include anything about flashcards, math facts, making sure he or she can read anything, etc. We handle the academics. It’s always good if you’ve talked with your child about letters, sounds, numbers, etc. But ALL in the vein of fun, play-based activities. Sing songs, read and talk about books, color, draw, paint, play make-believe, take your child places like the zoo, grocery stores, parks, etc and give then experiences to share. These do way more for your child than memorizing facts, learning sight words, and pushing early reading.
Also, these suggestions are for typical children. Obviously, you aren’t going to worry that your Down’s Syndrome child cannot use the bathroom independently. How to prepare an atypical child and their parent for big school is a whole other blog post.
Now, here are some things that you can expect and some suggestions for the parents:
–the first thing that all kindergarten teachers want you to know is that you CANNOT judge your child’s kindergarten experience by their first weeks in school. In fact, give it about a month before you decide your BAYBEEE is under the care of an unfeeling brute who is obviously lashing him or her repeatedly while kicking puppies in front of the students. Everyone misses Momma and cries during those first few weeks. Everyone falls into a deep, troubled slumber mere seconds after arrival home. Everyone is miserable and snappish and starving after a long day of adjusting. And this includes not just the teachers, but the kids as well.
–second, you should know that your child WILL come to school and tell all of your secrets. It’s amazing that a 5 year old can come to school and share with me everything I did not want to know about your “naked wrestling” or the brand of tampons you use or where you keep your sex tapes (NO LIE, HAND OVER HEART) yet be ENTIRELY UNABLE to share with their parents a SINGLE THING THEY DID OR LEARNED AT SCHOOL. Children truly are enigmas.
–Open House is NOT the time for a face-to-face, in-depth discussion about anything. I am meeting all of my other kids and parents and I cannot sit down and speak with you about your child. If you have anything you need me to know, either schedule a time to speak with me or write me a note. If you have important things to communicate about your child, a written note or email is the way to go. Think of Open House as a window-shopping endeavor. This is your time to show the school to your child (and by all means, walk him or her around to everything and have your child practice getting to the classroom) and talk about their first days of school. Be excited! Don’t let on to your child your fears, misgivings, or emotional turmoil (MAH BAYBEEE!)!
–please, do communicate with me about your child. Let me know what motivates him or her, what upsets him or her and how best to handle him or her. I want to know! But not at Open House.
–let me know about your family situation at the beginning of the year. I know it seems like it’s none of my business (and it isn’t) but your child is going to share their life stories with me. It helps if I know that she’s from a divorced house and has two Mommies and Daddies and a stepsister at her Daddy’s house. If he splits time between two houses, let me know. If he lives with his grandparents, please just inform me. I know it seems like overkill but kids at this age aren’t able to explain the intricacies of their familial situations and if they’re writing a story about how their Daddy is having a new baby and Mommy doesn’t want a new baby, it’s nice to be able to decipher what’s going on. (I once had a kid tell me his Mom gave away his baby brother. He was totally serious and very upset about it and I had a devil of a time figuring out what was going on and knowing how to respond to him/handle it.)
–you will not/should not see a lot of written work from your child. We’re busy talking, playing, working with manipulatives, listening to stories, and moving. Not too much time for pencil and paper activities.
–you will not see the kind of communication from the teacher that you want. You want minutia about every second of the day. We do not keep track of what and how much your child eats. I do not know if they pooped (nor do I want to know). I will let you know if there is a problem and I’ll send home regular updates on what we’re doing but do not expect an in-depth note every day about your kid. Now, if you have a child who is having “issues”, you will probably see more communication than you want.
–do not suffer in silence. If you are DYING to know how your little one is doing, send a note, drop an email, or call. I am MORE than happy to reassure worried parents but I cannot call every single parent every day or write a note every day.
–your child will not remember a damn thing they did all day. They’ll remember recess, lunch, and sometimes what special activity they did. Don’t be surprised or alarmed if they can’t tell you which letter they’re learning. It’s just too much for them to handle. If you want to know what happened at school, don’t ask general questions like, “How was school today?” Ask questions like, “What was your favorite thing you did today?” or “Do you remember what books your teacher read today?” And don’t be surprised and disappointed if your child answers, “recess and no”.
–amazingly, your child WILL be able to tell you who got in trouble and had to move their clip (or card or whatever) and will be able to give you a stunningly detailed timeline of what happened. Of course, if THEY are the one in trouble, they will MAGICALLY forget to tell you and will definitely not know why they had to have a consequence.
–check your child’s book bag every night. We send information home all of the time. Even if your school has adopted the “once a week folder” policy, you never know when Junior decided to secret an unfinished apple into his book bag.
–send a (seasonally appropriate) change of clothes for your child. Even if he or she hasn’t had an potty accident since age 3, most children have at least one in the year. Also, you never know when an errant gesture will end up with your child covered with chocolate milk. These situations are much less traumatic if you’ve sent some familiar clothing for your kid to change into. If your child happens to need a change of clothes and none are available, most schools keep clothing for such situations. If your child comes home in unfamiliar clothes, wash them and send them back quickly. Schools are not stores and those clothes are just on loan.
–do not visit the classroom or eat lunch with your child in that first month of school. I know you want to be that supportive parent but frankly, your kid is probably hanging on by a thread and seeing Mommy will push him right over the edge into crying despondency complete with “TAKE MEEEE HOOOOMMMMEEEE” in heart-wrenching sobs while clinging with surprising strength to Mom’s leg. No one needs that. If you’re unsure if your kid can handle seeing you, ask the teacher if he or she thinks your child can handle a visit.
–if you DO decide to eat lunch with your kid, the first few times you do it, let them know you are coming and EXPLAIN with CLEAR EXPECTATIONS that you will be visiting for a short amount of time and that you will be leaving and Junior will be staying. Surprise visits are for later after your child has realized he’s not getting out of staying at school.
–if your child pitches that fit while you’re leaving, please let me handle it and just leave. Do not reward your child by taking him or her home. Give a hug, a reassurance that you will see him or her in a little while and walk away. Trust me, I got this. At this point, I am a pro and you are not really helping by staying there pleading with your child or offering a few more minutes of your time if Junior promises to calm down.
–if anything in your house changes, let me know. If your phone number changes, let me know. If your spouse walked out on you, let me know. If your child’s grandparent dies, let me know. If your kid stayed up until 10:00 every night this week because his sister had soccer, let me know. And trust me, I have seen it all, so don’t be too embarrassed about it. It will help me know how to better handle your child if I understand why there might be sudden changes in your child (like sudden behavior change, extreme tiredness, belligerence, etc). As an aside, if you find yourself expecting another baby, let me know. First of all, half of the kids think their Mom is going to have another baby no matter if she is or isn’t. If I ask my kindergarteners today if their Mom is going to have another baby, over 90% will raise their hand. And, as we all know, adding a sibling can be a time fraught with uncertainty. The other students in the class and I can help your child with that in a way that you may not be able to. Teachers can be your best friends in helping your child deal with any situation from divorce to marriage and everything in between.
–FORTHELOVEOFGAWD, if something serious happens to your child (car accident, hospitalization, sickness, etc) LET ME KNOW. Yes, I know I’m just the teacher, but I love my little guys!
–We are pros. We’ve done this a million times. We know how to handle kids. We’ve ushered thousands of kids and parents through the initiation process of kindergarten. We know how you feel and we really understand how it is as a parent. We (rarely) lose a kid on the first day of school. We (rarely) put a child on the wrong bus. We (rarely) find children wandering the halls randomly looking for their teachers or their Mommas. And if any of these events DO occur, we have plans and contingencies and codes and help for every situation. (I accidentally switched two of my kids and put them on the wrong buses the first day of kindergarten this year. It was not that big of a deal. The kids never knew what happened and everything was fine. It happens and that’s why there are back-up plans for every single part of your kid’s first days of school.) We are used to the craziness and chaos of the first day of kindergarten. We have experts stationed all over the school to help. It will be fine. Breathe, we’ll survive this.
Don’t believe half of what they tell you and we won’t believe half of what they tell us! (Unless it’s about sex tapes.)