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Erin Hueffner is a freelance writer and mom living in Madison, Wisconsin.
Kindergarten is full of firsts for both parents and children. Maybe it’s the first time your child has been in a school full of “big kids,” or their first time taking a bus, or sitting in a desk for classes.
It’s a big change. Whatever your situation, you’re not alone in wondering what’s to come. Just breathe and remember that you’re not alone – and neither is your child. Kindergarten is a year full of exploration and learning to become more independent, and discovering how to get through challenges and celebrate new milestones together.
Though every child and situation are different, here is some expert advice to help you make the first few weeks of kindergarten great.
Kids have so much to take in the first week of school – how to line up, where to put their coats, how to get to and from the bathroom on their own. It’s a lot to take in. Kindergarten teacher Cathy Cook tells parents it’s not necessarily regression if their children come home after school and say they wet their pants. “The kids are sometimes scared of the bathrooms,” says Cook. “First of all, they have to find them — and then they aren’t sure when to ask to go, and the loud flush is scary.” She recommends parents pack a few changes of clothing for their kids to keep in their cubby for a while.
The lunchroom and playground can be a little overwhelming at first. Your child might worry that there are so many kids they won’t find any friends to play with. “My daughter cried the first few days and told me she had no friends. It broke my heart,” says one mom. “It turned out that she actually was playing with other kids at recess, it just wasn’t her best friend from preschool because she was in another class.” If you are concerned, you can talk to your child’s teacher about making a play plan so your child can find friends on the playground. “I always encourage parents to call me if they’re worried,” says Cook.
Homework in kindergarten isn’t about doing worksheets and assignments after school – younger children learn by doing. Even if your child’s teacher gives homework, it’s more useful for teaching about responsibility than it is for reinforcing skills. Professor Beth Graue at the University of Wisconsin School of Education emphasizes that if children have a rich education during the day, there’s no need for more homework. “Take them grocery shopping with you and give them things to look for at the store. It’s full of this literacy and math content that you can reinforce, and provides in-vivo types of learning that you don’t have to have any materials for.”
Your kindergartener will be learning how to properly hold a pencil and practice writing letters. For some children, this can be a difficult task. If they’re having trouble with writing letters, the last thing you want to do is have them sitting at a table writing more letters. There are other ways to practice that are more effective and fun. “You could have them make letters with play doh or other manipulatives – the kids who can’t write very well are still working on those fine motor skills,” says Graue. “Writing letters over and over will only make them more anxious.”
“My daughter fell asleep on the couch around 5pm a few times in the first two weeks of school and didn’t wake until the morning,” says one mom. While this might seem like a warning sign that something is wrong, Cook says it’s very common in kindergarteners. At the end of the school day, they are just exhausted. “I see this all the time. It’s totally normal. After a few weeks in school they get used to the routine.”
Your child will have new routines to learn at school, and they’re trying so hard to remember it all. By the end of the day when they get home, they might act out and start breaking your rules. “Our son’s pediatrician called it the ‘Witching Hour,’ says one dad. “Your child has been following rules and routines all day, and they are sick of it. They’re being sassy because they are done.” Just know it’s not necessarily a sign of trouble – they’re just letting go of emotions they’ve bottled up all day.
The most important thing to remember is that kindergarten is an exciting time for both children and parents. You’re all learning about this new phase together, and your child’s teacher is there to help them succeed.
Looking for a high-quality child care or preschool to prepare your child for kindergarten? Find one near you.