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Thursday, December 31, 2015

how we survived the first few months of Kindergarten

Kindergarten. The mere word sent me into a tailspin a few months ago. All summer long I was terrified, sad, weary, curious, and worried beyond belief that this would NOT go well! 

I was questioning their safety protocols - would my baby be taken care of? He was still my baby after all, despite the tallness and 5 year old thing going on. I was worried he would not make friends. We sent him to preschool in another town, so he didn't know anybody really from the Kindergarten school. Would he be sitting alone on the playground?! Would he miss me and ask for me 100 times a day? Would he be able to sit still, my busy boy who is filled with energy? How would this really go?

I was scared to say the least. I had no idea what to expect, this was our firstborn. It was nerve-racking and I sobbed after he walked away from me into the building that first morning.

I shared a lot of what I was feeling the months prior, on my blog, hoping it would help another mom feel less alone in what she may be feeling sending her baby to the Big K.

Now 4 months later, a half of a school year has gone by and I can tell you: IT'S AWESOME! Kindergarten is great! All those fears are gone. All those questions, mostly answered, or let go because we don't really need answers to all of our worrisome neurotic Mom Questions. 

My son is thriving in Kindergarten. He LOVES it! Just like everybody told me he would.

Yesterday I was talking to a friend who is sending her baby girl to Kindergarten next fall. She's got that look of terror all over her face, just like I remember having last summer. She's wondering the same things I was wondering: how will the adjustment to not only a new daytime school but also a before and after care program be? How will she sit on a bus that long without me? Will she be too shy to make friends? How will I get through sending away my baby to strangers? I remember all of this. And now, a mere few months later, I'm telling her: You just will. You will get through it. It WILL be OK. Promise. You will survive.

I even looked at her though, after explaining how great it was for us, and still saw the look of fear. It's that look that the first time mom has when she drops her infant off to a babysitter for the first day of work after maternity leave. No matter how many moms who have done this before tell us it's going to be fine, we'll all get through it, it's harder for us than for the child... we don't believe them or fully understand it until we do it ourselves.

So, Mom of an Almost Kindergartener, know that you aren't alone, we've been there, too, and you WILL get through it. If you have those worries and random questions, ask them and talk about it out loud, with we moms who've been there. We get it. We understand.

Here's what I've learned about Kindergarten, now that we've survived it for a few months!

He has a zillion friends. 
We've been invited to several birthday parties already, where I met amazing mothers, who I feel so grateful to know and ask questions of. He instantly had friends... from the second we were standing outside in the line to walk into school the first day. The teacher paired him up with some buddies that first second as she took him from me. He recognized a few kids from T-Ball and Soccer that we'd done that spring and summer. It was perfect. So tip #1: Get involved in some team activity prior to sending your child to Kindergarten if you aren't sending him to preschool in the same town. And if your child is shy, try setting up some play dates in the summer time, even at the school's playground, so help them transition together. Check in with the teacher ahead of time. Tell her your child is super shy and may need some support in making friends at first, pairing up with buddies.

He LOVES it.
The first day, I stood outside the car listening to him talk for 15 minutes - no joke! - as I was buckling him in. He raved about chocolate milk and PE class and running on the playground and having a cubby for his things in the classroom. There has not been one thing he hasn't liked so far. Some kids take a little while to adapt and like everything. Be patient and encouraging. Ask questions - open ended ones that don't end in "yes or no" answers from her. Ask her things about her day, "What was the best part today? What did you learn today? Tell me the most fun thing you did at recess. What was for lunch?" Realize that you're nervous and so may he be also, but overall he can't wait to learn more and it's triggering these exciting feelings in him to want to know more about the world. It's a great thing seeing them so happy to learn.

He adjusted no problem. 
Everyone told me it would be fine, the whole transition period. I was not convinced. I expected meltdowns daily about getting up and ready to leave. Instead, he rushes out the door since he had special time with Dad in the mornings and LOVES his before care activities. I was nervous he'd hate getting there so early with our schedule. He literally wants to be the first kid there to get the good Lego set or a basketball for indoor gym time. I thought since he napped all summer long still a few hours a day (yes, we know he's a saint and we're lucky!), he'd have a really hard time, be emotional and struggle through his day without a rest time. He hasn't. Fridays are tiring, of course, we don't plan much those nights, but overall no real emotional issues. He falls asleep most days on the ride home from school for about 20 minutes, just enough to tie us over through the rest of our evening. It's been OK. Some kids really struggle with not getting enough rest. It's a very long day. If this is the case... just know this ahead of time, plan not to do too much in September and October until she adjusts. Don't plan activities after school daily. Have calming music and a blanket in the car for the ride home. Have a rest period at home when he's off the bus. Don't plan anything Friday nights. Stay in, regroup, relax together. We had to change our entire morning routine around, and that was a family challenge for a month or so before we got it figured out. Be patient with your children's behavior during transition periods. Don't expect too much. Be a good listener and supporter.

I adjusted quickly, too!
It took me about 3 days to really be totally fine with this new Kindergarten thing. After day 1, seeing his smile and that he was all in one piece returned to me and that he gave me a huge hug after that first day, even in front of his friends, and how happy he was to show me his folder of artwork... that helped me realize that this would be JUST FINE. Then the next few days, seeing his excitement continue, getting a note from the teacher saying he had a great day, and attending Open House where I got to see where he spent his entire day, what he was learning, etc. that helped me feel more reassured that this was great actually. He was safe. Meeting the principal, hearing the teacher's voice... it all made me realize we're good, they're good, they've got this, I can trust them to take care of my prize possession. By week two, it was old news, those worries I had. Everything was OK.

So much FUN! Events and Mom Friends. 
We attended many school events together. It was so fun having cool things to do and becoming part of this new community. Being around other moms with the same questions and worried looks on their faces helped. Being around veteran moms, on their 2nd or 3rd Kindergarteners, helped tremendously. They knew everything! Talk to the moms! It's a great experience joining the PTA and being part of something that helps your child's school, getting to know other families who are going through what you are. Talking to them has made all the difference.

He's LEARNING!!!! 
The things my son comes home knowing astounds me. I'm throughly impressed and surprised hearing him count by 10s to 100 and spelling words and reading words. When I saw him reading by month two I was like WHAT?! Amazing. When you realize that this is what Kindergarten is all about - so many cool artwork projects and learning math and reading real words like at and cat and me... it's so reassuring. He came home the first few days with a note for his sister... it was the sweetest thing in the world. Seeing his hand writing never gets old. It's the most incredible thing I've ever seen before. I'm not kidding. Incredible.

He's still my little boy. This was a hard one for me. Deep down, I was very sad sending my boy to Kindergarten. I felt like, "This is it. The beginning of the end. We're going to be at high school graduation before we know it. My baby is leaving me. No longer a baby." I was very sad letting part of him go. It took me a day to realize he still was my baby. He still hugged me daily and wanted to snuggle at night. In fact, he wanted to snuggle more because he was so tired from his busy day! He still was fascinated by seeing tractors and hearing police cars driving by us. He brought a pretend construction tool to his first Show n' Tell and a John Deere tractor after that - the toys he's used since he was practically a year old! He still holds my hand when we leave after care - even in front of the Big Kids. He brings home picture books from school. And yet he's growing up, too. I hear new words (some better than others!) and he wants to learn about skateboarding and can build huge things with Legos now. But the growing up part has been cool, interesting, wonderful, not sad or worrisome. He's still my little guy in there. It's reassuring to see that.

I learned to let things go... more than I'd done before. 
Once our babies head out into the world, we cannot control all that they do or say or learn. It's just the truth. This terrified me last summer, before sending him to Kindergarten. I was afraid he'd learn to bully or be bullied. I was nervous he'd pick up bad words. I wasn't sure what to expect really. By day 3, after my son said he had a peanut butter sandwich, carrot sticks, fruit and chocolate milk the third day in a row at hot lunch... I realized, eh I don't really care. I cannot control it. There is no way to tell the cafe workers, "Um let's not give this kid sugar chocolate milk every day." I accepted it and it's turned out just fine. We limit elsewhere and it works OK. He feels like a big boy.  I learned to accept that yes, we dressed him adorably in a tie (HIS CHOICE!) for his picture day, but then he took it off after a huge meltdown about it being too tight and he just wore a plain white shirt. Oh well. Big deal. It meant more to me that day than it does in the end, but I quickly got over it. You'll realize there are some things you just can't control in Kindergarten and that's OK. They work out in the end. Some things just aren't important.

Not everything will change after the Big K.
Kindergarten is about a lot of changes... too many papers to fill out and people to meet and names to remember and protocols that are new and different than you're used to. It's hard to adjust to. But not everything is altered like I thought it would be. My big Kindergartener still believes in Santa. He has learned to climb more things at the playground and is getting stronger. He knows how to use the mouse on a computer. He can count higher than before and knows all of his letters and sounds words out to spell them every single day in cards he makes for the family. He still plays with tractors and loves special dates with his Mama. He still falls asleep the same way and snuggles up with his blankie. He still loves to be read to, even though now he can say some of the words himself.

He's still my little boy. A big old school has not changed that. In fact, he's my growing boy, which has been amazing to watch. I know it will only get better from here. 

So, Mom of an Almost Kindergartener, 
I hope you remember it's OK to worry. It's normal to be concerned or scared. It's OK to even have ridiculous questions and thoughts. (I asked at Parent Night about safety protocols and if they teach kids social skills - I'm a school counselor! It's all good.) It's OK to feel sad about this huge transition, milestone. Acknowledge whatever you're feeling.

But in the end, please, please know that it WILL be OK. I promise. However tough it is those first two months, it gets easier for every parent I know. Even for those parents whose kids don't want to leave them the first day or who hate their teacher or who don't like the hot lunch meal. They adjust. And so do their strong parents.

Tips for you to survive this change:
  • Have patience - with yourself and your child - during this growth stage. 
  • Take it a day at a time. It gets easier. Focus on today, not the whole year.
  • Write things down - so many papers come home with color days and assemblies and show n' tells to bring in! 
  • Be there. Connect with your child daily. He misses you just like you miss him, even if he doesn't show it. Make sure you get time in together - even 10 minutes - individual time to read or talk or play whatever he wants. Check in about how it's going for him. 
  • Talk about the change. Talk about your feelings - not too much, don't scare him, but it's OK to share that yes, you probably will cry the first day of school and that's because you love her so much. 
  • Figure out your system. New procedures, backpacks, morning routines, afternoon routines, etc. Figure it out slowly but surely, it'll work out. 
  • Ask... for help, questions, things you don't understand. It's OK! You are not the only worried parent to come through a Kindergarten door. Check in! Email the teacher, it's OK to check in periodically! 
  • Connect to other moms, organizations, groups, the school in general. Volunteer in the classroom if you can. Attend Open House. See that this place is safe and awesome.

You can do this.
We survived. I know you can, too.


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