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THE FIRST DAY OF KINDERGARTEN: MAKE IT ONE TO REMEMBER

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by Mary Lebeau

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After a summer of enjoying our leisure, we must set our clocks early and rise before the sun, leaving one another for brave new — and separate — worlds. Once that alarm rings, we jockey for position in line for the shower, throw on freshly pressed clothes, and scramble for breakfast bars and lunchboxes. There’s the rush out the door, quick kisses and waves goodbye as the kids head off to a new year, a new beginning.

Yes, the first day of school can be rough — especially on mom.

It’s especially hard on moms whose children are venturing away for the first time. The first day of kindergarten is a milestone, one that won’t be matched until, perhaps, the child goes off to college. Even when he has been away from his mother – in daycare or a preschool – something is different when he first enters formal education. It’s time to let go. They’re ready, even when we’re not.

There are plenty of books about preparing a child for that first day of school. But how does a mom prepare herself?

Feelings are contagious — no matter how you feel, you must remember that this is an important milestone for your child. You want to make it as easy and happy as possible for him, so make sure you always present a positive view of going to school. And listen to his excitement, because that’s contagious, too!

Check it out — you’ll feel more comfortable about sending your child to school if you are familiar with the building and grounds. Take advantage of orientation day or, if the school doesn’t offer it, try to set up your own tour of the premises. If possible, show your child his classroom and playground. Remember what you saw, so you can discuss it later. (“Did you get a chance to climb the monkey bars we saw?”)

Be prepared — much of your anxiety is due to the fact that your child will no longer be under your protective wing. Discuss procedures like where to get off the bus or whom to ask for help. Practice the little things, like how to put a straw in a juice box. Knowing your child can handle a situation — or knows where to find help if she can’t — will make letting go of her hand a little easier.

Meet the teacher — after all, she is going to be your partner for most of the year. Talk to her; learn about her goals and teaching methods. Remember that the two of you make up an important team in your child’s life, so start that relationship off in a positive manner — and as soon as possible.

Talk to others — there are plenty of moms around who have taken their children to kindergarten and lived to tell about it. Talk to them about your anxiety. Just having an understanding ear will make you feel better.

Relive the experience — if you have older children, talk to them about their first day at kindergarten. This will help you remember that, no matter how anxious you are, this is one transition that usually ends well. If you have no older children, talk to the neighbors’ kids or share your own “first day of school” story with your child. It will put the moment in perspective for both of you.

Get involved at school — being involved at your child’s school will give you a feeling of connection, and will also place you “in the loop” when things happen. Get involved with the PTA, volunteer to work during fundraisers, or ask if they need someone to help out on the playground. If work prevents involvement during school hours, volunteer to cut out patterns or make bulletin board decorations during the evening. Your child will see that his school matters, and you’ll share being a part of that community.

Establish a new routine — about a week before school starts, begin your “school night” routine with your child. Pick out clothing, go to bed a bit earlier, and even have your child set an alarm so he can see how much time he’ll have in the morning. If you have the ritual down pat, you won’t be as rushed on the first day. If you’re relaxed, you will be more likely to enjoy that morning as the wonderful rite of passage that it is.

Make a date that night — before you leave with your child for school, make a “date” for that evening for the two of you to sit down and discuss the day. Then, over ice cream or while washing the dishes, talk about her feelings and experiences in kindergarten. Knowing you’ll share her experience later will help you through the tough times when you’re apart.

Realize you’re normal — changes — even good changes — are often hard to live through, and knowing that your child’s world is becoming much larger on this day may bring you some anxiety. This happens to everyone; the anxiety that comes with change is a truly human experience. Don’t be ashamed of your emotions. You love your child – what’s more normal than that?

Bring a camera — and tissues — no matter how stressful it is, this day is one you’re going to want to remember. Be sure to have a camera and film ready. If you want to hold your child’s hand unencumbered on the playground, have a picture-taking session at home before you leave for school. And remind him to smile – this is a special day, after all.

But no one will fault you for your tears, which mark both the goodbye to his babyhood and the happiness at a new avenue in his life. After the hugs, kisses and goodbyes are shared, feel free to shed a couple in private — and be ready to greet him with a smile when he comes home that afternoon!


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