You’ve just dropped your beloved first child off at Kindergarten or pre-K or even preschool. You’ve barely dried your eyes when reality hits: you have turned your child over to the State.
Even if he’s been enrolled in daycare since preconception, you're not prepared. You can’t think fast enough to assign the appropriate level of anxiety to the things going through your mind at the moment: he won’t eat unless supervised; she won’t pee unless encouraged; did I remind the teacher to take his Epi-pen when they go outside (you might as well go ahead and put that on a loop); she doesn’t like to be told what to do and I didn’t get a chance to tell the teacher what kind of direction he respond to (fill in any I didn't get a chance to tell the teacher...). What if they want me? What exactly was it about homeschooling that didn’t sound right for us?
If you follow these 5 basic Rules For Parents Starting School For The First Time, the odds are that you (and your child) will survive week one.
1. Use the Buddy System. Disclaimer: the first children I dropped off at Kindergarten were twins. While twins put you at a severe disadvantage when facing something like colic, they can make up for that on the first day of anything. Still, for all parents and caregivers, if you haven't done so already, you will need to find a classmate for each child to get to know, and a peer to become your best friend, ASAP. Get in touch with your school's Parent Liaison and beg for assistance.
2. The right equipment is everything. Of course we understood the significance of the self selected backpack and lunchbox . But, a new outfit, and a ceremonial one at that, who knew!? Fortunately, my sister-in-law did. When Aunt Anita said, “so, let's see your First Day of School outfits” and looked into four panic stricken faces, we were off to Sears for the one preparation I had not considered -- the only one my kids could control, from purchasing to dressing to wearing and carrying. They might not remember what their intended classroom looked like, but they knew they would recognize themselves in it, and what more can any of us ask when approaching a new venture?
3. Know your role in the classroom. You don't have one. I don't mean to be overly harsh, but there it is. There are 20 to 30 parents connected to an average class. If half of the adults are heard, you know who won't be. You'll have parent/teacher meetings, possibly an email option and, if you want to spend time in the classroom, volunteer opportunities. But you are no longer in charge (on the bright side, for 6 hours every weekday, you are no longer in charge!). If you merely show up for everything to which you are invited, you'll be in that building so much, you'll feel like you're repeating your own K-12 years – and enjoying them.
4. Expect the unexpected. First-day surprises: one of my kids loved lining up and walking in straight lines from place to place. The other hated going from place to place at all, and another was distraught that she didn't get to ride the school bus – fair enough, but we lived across the street. As for myself, I hadn't a clue that this day would differ from any other. So, just as I did upon realizing that one might not feel well during the first months of pregnancy, I called every parent in my phone and demanded to know why I had not been told. Yes, I read all the books but, as with almost anything to do with raising children, you don't really know until you're in it. Happily, I got over both shocks in time to have child #3 and send her off to school in style (with an older sister and brother there, she was dressed and ready to leave several weeks before the doors opened).
5. Trust others. And your child. You may feel nothing but pride and joy on the big day or, like me, be shocked to find yourself nervous. The first day of Kindergarten is usually a short one. I spent all of it pacing a room set aside for incoming parents, and learning. It takes a huge leap of faith to trust others with something as precious as your child's time, and as defining as their education. This is when you take the leap and trust. Trust the school with safety arrangements. Trust the teacher to care about your child . Trust the lesson to be critical thinking. And trust your child to adjust and thrive in a new environment. What I learned is that my child's ability to do so was in direct proportion to my own.
Diane Tosh is a Brooklyn based family development consultant. In individual and group sessions, as well as home visits, she helps families, expectant families and caregivers facilitate plans for maintaining a healthy and rewarding home life. She has four NYC kids and worked in the field of early childhood education until going into private practice.