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Language & Learning

Surviving the First Day of Kindergarten: 10 Things to Know

Kindergarten is a big deal-for both of you. And that can be scary, and awe-inspiring and totally life-changing all at once. Here, 10 things to know about starting kindergarten from a mom who's been there.

My oldest son, the shyer of my two boys, was a cool little cucumber on his first day of kindergarten. He clung to my leg for just one hot minute, before diving into the table toys set out for him. He was so engrossed in the excitement of school, he barely said goodbye to me. (I cried in the hallway.) My youngest, by far the most boisterous member of our family, had the opposite reaction. His lips quivered. He hugged me tight. His damp eyes lingered on me as I slowly left the room blowing kisses. (I cried on the sidewalk.) Ultimately, both boys survived their first day and, today, they adore school. I survived, too, and I've learned a few things along the way. Here's what worked for me.

  1. Nix the precious first-day-of-school outfit. I reluctantly gave up my plaid-button-down dreams and let the boys wear the not-even-new cartoony T-shirts they felt good in-and I'm happy I did. It turns out their outfits were the perfect conversation starters. Picture it: Kid One in Hot Wheels shirt. Kid Two in Hot Wheels shirt. Both kids lock eyes: You like cars, too?! Let's play at recess! (Save your wardrobe requests for picture day.)

  2. Snacks are critical. I was all set to greet my kid after a long day at school with a big ol' smile and a warm hug. My 5-year-old had other plans. He was tired. He was hungry. Scratch that: He was hangry. It was so much easier to learn all about recess shenanigans, morning meeting happenings, and class job assignments once he'd filled his belly.

  3. Scope out the play date potential. I was on a mission during my first few kindergarten drop-offs. I was determined to find a fellow mom who 1) seemed normal, who 2) had two kids around the same age as mine, and 3) lived nearby. Boom! Within the first week I zeroed in on a TWO fellow parents with two-year-olds on their hip-just like me. I chatted those ladies up and once I learned they were super-nice-and also lived down the road-the deal was sealed and play dates were on the books. Establishing connections with families nearby that matched my kids' ages was a huge bonus in terms of everyone-in play dates-and simply navigating the newness of it all. You don't have to be best buds, but knowing a few people makes such a difference to a positive start to the school year

  4. Make a connection with the teacher. Right off the bat, I introduced myself-and my kid-to the teacher. I also volunteered to help her out in any way that I could. I worked from home at the time and knew that I could eek in a few in-class helper tasks if she needed me. And know that kindergarten is chock full of opportunities for parent involvement-more so than any other school year. Choose activities wisely, knowing that the intensity dies down as years go on.

  5. Be supply-smart. Buying school supplies can be really, really fun. Crayons! Markers! Pencil cases! But don't go crazy before school. Chances are your child's teacher will make very specific requests regarding supplies needed. Wait for the list. It'll come. But there are some school must-haves that you should grab prior to the start of the school year. Namely, a child-size backpack; a leak-proof water bottle and an easy-to-clean insulated lunch box. Finally, find some name labels and stick them in every single thing that goes to school. Every. Single. Thing. Everything my kid owns ended up in the lost-and-found bin eventually.

  6. Play matchmaker for your kid. My husband entered our kid's kindergarten classroom like he was at a career-networking event. As soon as our son sat down, my husband would look at the child sitting next to him and introduce himself and our son. Hi there! I'm Nathan, this is Theo. What's your name? It always bridged a gap for the kids to start talking. Meanwhile, I'd use that wear-what-you-want idea to my advantage: If I spotted a dinosaur t-shirt, I'd be all Hey! This guy loves dinosaurs, too. T-Rexes are the best!

  7. Take the dang picture. You will regret not taking the first day of school photo, so just do it. (Plus, if you start now, it'll be a built-in annual tradition.) But don't wait til you get to school. (Trust me.) Nerves will be in high gear by then and the probability of kid smiles takes a nosedive. Instead, snap your shot at home. (I take ours shot on the front steps.) And if your child doesn't want to hold your Pinterest-worthy First Day of School sign, don't press it. It's about your kid, remember?

  8. Find the bathroom, pronto.  Do not underestimate the importance of this task. Not using the bathroom during the school day is a bonafide, real-deal problem that can lead to constipation and accidents. (We had some close calls in our house.) Help avoid this by walking your child to the little boys' or girls' room on Day 1 and telling him or her to always use the potty during scheduled bathroom breaks. Also, I assured my boys that it's more than okay to request an unscheduled break if needed.

  9. Take a look back. While it's important to convey optimism to your child, try to leave room for nerves or hesitation. Going into full-on cheerleader mode-It's gonna be awesome! You are going to love it so much!-might unintentionally stifle your child's need to share anxieties or worries. I gave the kids a little rewind and shared my own nervous-and-excited memories of starting school. The kids loved hearing about my childhood and I think it really helped them open up, too.

  10. Write it down.  It's an emotional day! Your little baby is growing up! Channel all of that mom nostalgia and excitement and pride into a letter you write to your child. And do it every start of the school year. While I know my babies won't read the letters I've written for years to come, I'm happy that I captured my feelings surrounding such eventful days. Before you know it, your sweet, small kinder with the bright eyes and teeny backpack will be graduating. Take it all in, mama.