It’s overwhelming to be a kindergarten rookie. The good news is that kindergarten teachers and Early Childhood Educators (ECEs) are real-life superheroes, standing at the ready to welcome you.
“It is a lot to handle for both the parent and child, no question,” says Callie Lecours, a kindergarten-based ECE with the Thames Valley District School Board (and a mother of two). “Try to take a deep breath and know that your child’s teaching team is there to make everyone feel safe and secure.”
While you’re practicing your calm and composed face for the big send-off, here are some dos and don’ts to help you through the early days (and weeks) of kindergarten.
Supplies and Gear
Do select a proper-sized backpack to carry all your child’s belongings. “A lunch bag, sweater, soiled clothes and mail bag won’t all fit in a small character backpack,” says Callie. While a larger one might seem massive, your little learner will gain self-confidence from being able to pack it himself. If you’re worried about the weight of it, use a kid-friendly wheeled suitcase instead.
Don’t buy school supplies unless you receive a list from the teacher. Items like pencils, crayons and notebooks may already be supplied in the classroom.
Do choose lunch containers and packages that your child can open independently. Practice at home in advance, including zipping/unzipping the lunch bag, opening/closing the water bottle, and putting any garbage in its proper place.
Don’t fall into the trap of buying indoor shoes that are cute and trendy but difficult to fasten. Velcro is the way to go.
Do send an extra set of clothes to be kept at school. “This is a new experience for them and they may have spills or bathroom accidents in the early going,” Callie says. She suggests sending practical clothes that are easy to put on, along with extra underwear and socks.
Don’t rely on a comfort object like a toy or stuffed animal to help your child start the school day. Items like this are usually discouraged in the classroom, because they may be damaged or have a distracting effect. Save the idea for show-and-tell or “special me” days.
Do label everything. In kindergarten, there is no such thing as over-labelling. Despite the colourful name plates adorning the room’s hooks and cubbies, it is inevitable that shoes, jackets, hats and other belongings will be jumbled together. By tagging everything with your child’s name, you’re lowering everyone’s stress and preventing things from being lost.
Drop-off and Pick-up
Do get there on time, or even better, a few minutes early. Everyone is nervous already, so cutting it close will raise anxiety levels even further. Organize your morning routine so you have ample time to get to the school and find your child’s line-up area without rushing.
Don’t linger after you say goodbye. Give him a hug and a cheerful wave as he goes in. Even though you feel like your heart is walking into the school without you, don’t follow him inside or try to peek in the window. It will only make things harder for everyone. Even if your child looked concerned or upset when you parted, trust that he didn’t stay that way all day – in fact, his tears probably cleared up in less than two minutes.
Do know the school policy about kindergarten drop-off and pick-up – typically, an adult must be present with the child until the “hand-off” occurs. Make sure the teachers and ECEs who are on duty at the end of the day are aware of all the relevant people (including grandparents and other caregivers) who may be collecting your child.
Do read every word of the welcome letter that the teacher sends home. It will have useful background information on classroom routines, basic supplies and most importantly, how to contact the teacher if you have questions or concerns.
Don’t overlook the monthly calendar. Put it on your fridge and immediately add any noteworthy dates – such as theme days, open houses, observation sessions, meet-the-teacher nights or other school events – to your digital schedule.
Do sign up for the class Twitter account, website or blog. If the school and school board have social media feeds, follow those to receive news of any transportation changes or weather-related closures.
Don’t forget to notify the school if your child is going to be absent or late. Know the school’s attendance and “safe arrival” procedures and follow them diligently.
Do get to know the ECEs and any other classroom helpers, as they can give you valuable first-hand insight about your child’s behaviour and mindset during the school day. “While we are not the classroom teachers, we do have a diploma specifically geared towards child development and are in tune with the various dynamics in the room,” Callie says. Since today’s kindergarten classes can have up to 30 students, the ECEs play an integral role in all parts of a kindergartener’s day.
Do be friendly and courteous to the main office staff. If they seem busy, it’s because they are. They know everything that goes on in the school and can be a valuable resource as you find your way.
Don’t be shy about inquiring if your child’s classroom welcomes parent volunteers. Depending on your availability, you may be able to contribute to the class in some way, whether it’s supervising on a field trip or making homemade play-doh.
Do visit the school library, especially in the first week if your child’s class has a gradual or “staggered” start. Spend a few quiet minutes looking around and noticing some appealing books. If the librarian is there, take the opportunity to introduce yourself and your child. Librarians are typically keen to meet the incoming kindie students, and it gives your child another familiar adult face in the building.
Ultimately, this is a transition time for you and your child. Take an optimistic view but don’t expect instant success. Worries and fatigue are bound to surface at some point. “During those first few weeks, make the nights easy if you can,” Callie suggests. “Let your child have down time after school and serve simple, healthy suppers. Get them to bed early and be positive about the next day. It's a big adjustment for them, but in time school will become the new normal.”