It’s that time of year again. Back to school. Although this can be an exciting and even rejuvenating time (goodbye summer, hello routine), the 2021 school year has parents and children alike wondering (and worrying about) what to expect.
Way back in 2018, before most people knew the word coronavirus, my oldest son started kindergarten. I was both excited and a nervous wreck. I remember walking him to the bus stop that first day and asking myself, “What in the world am I doing putting him on a bus?” He was just a baby. I couldn’t let him go off in a vehicle with a stranger only to enter a huge building full of other strangers. That was the first of many times I felt helpless as a parent navigating the World of School. It turned out my son had a great day and loved his teacher. I was relieved, but it didn’t make saying goodbye each day much easier.
Eventually, we began settling into the routine of kindergarten. Then, quite unexpectedly my husband was offered a great new job across the country. It put us closer to family and seemed like an easy job to accept. However, it meant moving my son out of his kindergarten after only a month and a half and starting over somewhere new. For the time being, starting over wouldn’t just be new, it would also be temporary. We were going to live with my in-laws for an unspecified amount of time while we searched for a house of our own. This meant that in mid-October, my son started his second kindergarten. I didn’t have to put him on a bus this time, but I felt guilty about putting him through another new experience. Of course, as kids often do, he adjusted quickly and seemed generally happy.
Feeling the pressure to settle down and move my family, especially my oldest son, into a permanent routine, over the next three months I toured over 40 houses. In December, I finally found “the one.” It was a time of celebration, but it also meant yet ANOTHER school for my poor five year old. We moved to Carrollton right after Christmas, and I assured him that this was the final kindergarten and that he’d make new and permanent friends here. He was sad to leave his second school, but also happy to put down roots.
My son will be in third grade this year, and when I ask him about his kindergarten experience, he shrugs and says that it was good. He barely remembers it. That in itself breaks my heart a little, but it’s also reassuring that he was not forever scarred by the chaos we put him through. I share all this because it reminds me that even when starting school is difficult or doesn’t go the way we expect it to, children are incredibly resilient, and the outcome will still be positive and enriching.
How can we manage the anxiety, excitement, helplessness, and countless other feelings we as parents may have regarding the start of the school year? Here are a few tips:
Prioritize Your Own Expectations
If your child is going into preschool for the first time, remember that young children learn from play. The focus at this age should be on socialization and building life skills, not so much on academics. Leap Frog has a great preschool readiness checklist here. To help your child prepare for either preschool or kindergarten, find ways to instill in them a sense of competency. Even young kids can carry their own backpacks, put on their own shoes, and bring their own dishes to the counter. Practice these types of everyday skills on a regular basis so that they can feel competent and secure when they go off to school. Here’s a list from Leap Frog of kindergarten readiness skills.
Think About Your Child’s Individual Needs
We know all kids are different so this seems like a no-brainer, but I really mean it. Stop and sit down after the kids go to bed and think about what your child really needs. Maybe even make a list of strengths and deficiencies. Does your child focus on puzzles really well, but struggle with transition times? Can he describe in great detail every insect he’s ever seen, but can’t sit still long enough to comb his hair? Once you’ve thought it through, ask yourself how those needs will best be met at school.
Communicate With Your Child’s Teacher
As both a parent and a teacher, I can tell you that communication between parents and teachers is the best way to help your child succeed. You may not get to choose what teacher your child gets, but you can choose how you work together as a team. Share the routines you have at home or the tricks you use that the teacher may benefit from as well. Read the updates they send, and ask questions when something is not clear or when you have a concern about your child. And please, be patient. Remember that your child’s teacher may be making dinner and then putting their own three kids to bed before responding to 10 other parent emails, emailing their own children’s teachers, and reviewing the updated Covid-19 procedures they were just given to implement starting tomorrow. Give them the benefit of the doubt and 24 hours to respond. They really do care about your child and want them to succeed.
And Finally, A Note About Pandemics
My second child will be starting kindergarten in just a few days. I find myself worrying about him and how he’ll adjust to being in a classroom under the pandemic guidelines of our “new normal.” But then I realize that masks and hand sanitizer and keeping our distance isn’t that unusual to him. He’s been living that reality for almost a quarter of his life. At this point for him, it isn’t a “new normal.” He’s so young that going to school in a pandemic is just regular normal for him. As parents, we often have our own sets of anxiety about the start of school, and it’s important to try to make sure we don’t place those anxieties on top of the ones our children already have. Remember, kids are resilient. Mine went through 3 kindergartens and came out OK. So go over your school’s safety procedures, talk with your kids about what to expect, and show them how exciting it is to be with friends, learn new things, and have new experiences.
About the Author
Carrie Thomas is a mother of 3 (Hailey 2, Caleb 4, and Jackson 7) and has been a CECPTA blue and yellow group member for almost 2 years. She moved to Carrollton from New Jersey in the winter of 2018 when her husband accepted a job at UTD. She is a middle school English teacher in Carrollton and loves spending time with her family, reading dystopian YA novels, and unwinding with a glass of wine and one of the well-written Netflix shows.