Starting kindergarten: Tips from just before the pandemic that are every bit as useful now, with masks.
The last time I had this much time on my hands, we were still talking about Snooki, the “Lost” finale and the newfangled iPad. This September my baby heads to kindergarten and I’ll be looking at THIRTY hours a week of kid-free time. I know, I can’t believe it either.
But that’s 6 hours a day my 5-year-old is away from me. It feels like a very long time, and I’ll be worrying, is he cold? Is he hungry? Does he need to poop?
My child will probably be fine. It’s me who’s terrified, because I know what’s coming. I learned some lessons the hard way from my first kid’s encounter with kindergarten.
Kindergarten is now real school. Like many parents, I signed my kids up for play-based preschool. But guess what? Kindergarten is different – it isn’t how it was back in 1987 when it was half-day and included a nap. A lot of kindergarten involves sitting still in your chair at your desk. If you have the type of kid who will color for hours, lucky you. But if not …
It’s about conformity. Coloring inside the lines is a legit kindergarten skill. It’s even codified in a chart: Color inside the lines. Use a color that makes sense. Fill in all the spaces. Maybe your kid is already a coloring genius, but rules about coloring definitely came as a surprise to me. It’s not enough to go into kindergarten already knowing how to read and write. You need to stand in line, raise your hand to talk, and yes, color inside the lines.
Don’t be surprised if the lunchbox you carefully and lovingly packed comes back completely full. Before school starts, go on picnics and practice opening and closing containers. The cafeteria is a madhouse, and the 20 minutes allotted to lunch flies by. (More on that touchy subject here.) Have a hefty afterschool snack ready because your kindergartner will be ravenous.
Kindergartners will be exhausted. Even children who are used to full-time daycare are tired. Don’t plan big evening activities for the first few weeks, at least. They’ll pass out after (or even during) dinner.
Small children need screen time. None of us had computers in kindergarten, because they didn’t exist. Before kindergarten, our house was intentionally screen-free. Big mistake. My kid didn’t even know what a TV does, much less browsers and URLs. Practice using a mouse: your kindergartner will need to use one for standardized tests (more on that shortly). Some kids will whip through the entire test in 2 minutes, and you bet they just went click, click click through the whole thing.
Brace yourself for standardized tests. What 5-year-old has ever seen a test booklet? Giving kindergartners a standardized test is completely ridiculous, and most teachers don’t put a lot of weight on those. But test scores are what the district goes by. If you have reason to suspect your child might need gifted education services, you need to at least expose your kid to multiple-choice questions and filling in answer bubbles. This is stuff they don’t go over in any preschool.
Before my first kid started kindergarten, we’d prepped the heck out of it: reading books about school, going on all the tours, practicing using the child-height urinals. Even so, kindergarten was harrowing. I’m feeling anxious just thinking about it. This time, I’m going in knowing that the first day will be stressful and we will be running late and least one of us will cry.
Our neighbor with a middle-schooler remembered how scary that first day of kindergarten was. But, she warned, it’s nothing compared to dropping your daughter off at her first dance.
Edit Note: This story was first published on Feb. 4, 2020, just before the Pandemic hit and when most kindergarteners stopped going to the classroom. In the Fall of 2022, thankfully, most kindergarteners will head off to the classroom again on the first day – with all the scary and fun experiences that may bring.
More in Amplified:
Perspective | ‘What should I do about screen-time meltdowns?’
Perspective | A beautiful kindergarten friendship blossoms through a screen
Opinion | A great way to understand how kids’ brains work