Another View: Starting kindergarten: What I wish I knew before
I wish I read an article like the one I’m writing before I sent my son off to school. My hope is that if you have a young child, you take heed to these words and they will be beneficial to you.
Benjamin started kindergarten for the 2022-23 academic year in Whitehall-Coplay School District. My husband, Joe, and I purchased all the supplies that are needed for the beginning of the school year. I bought Ben new clothes; Joe kept track of the school paperwork and calendar dates; we talked with Ben about kindergarten and all its learning and fun.
We were prepared - or so we thought.
What we weren’t prepared for was how exhausted Ben would be each afternoon and night after school. I guess we thought since he has been in some sort of early-learning center since he was a baby, it would be an easy transition from day care and pre-K to kindergarten. We didn’t quite get an A on that portion of the test.
There have been some instances where, as I’m walking out of Ben’s bedroom after saying good night, he is already falling asleep! Thank goodness we decided to skip soccer for the fall session and move his bedtime to an earlier hour. We thought let’s ease into kindergarten. Our schedule is still busy with piano and swimming, but keeping soccer as well would have been just way too much.
We also weren’t prepared for the lack of information Ben wants to or can provide when we ask him how his day was or what he did. Sometimes, if we ask him how his day was, he’ll answer with just “It was good.” Or if we ask him what he did today, we’ll get “I forget.”
I recently watched a video on Facebook that detailed these exact scenarios and provided examples of better questions to ask: “Which classmate did you sit next to at lunch,” “What was the book about that your library teacher read” and “Did your teacher call on you to answer a question today.”
My take-away from the video: If you ask a generic question, you’ll get a generic answer.
Another kindergarten aspect we recently experienced were the meltdowns and wild behavior that occur after school sometimes. We had gotten to a point where the meltdowns were decreasing, or at least they were getting easier to manage, and now they have restarted and are very stressful for everyone involved. Other days, Ben acts like he isn’t close to reaching his steps goal on his Apple Watch and is bouncing off the walls.
It’s actually quite easy to realize, once you think about it, why these kinds of behavior occur. Kids must sit still at their desk and during carpet time, walk and be quiet in the halls, learn new or more rules, raise their hand before speaking, learn new studies such as social studies and STEM, complete more work - and a rest period or naptime is no longer in their schedule at school. No wonder they’re exhausted.
“Even if your child went to an all-day pre-K, the lessons were likely short and play-based, and there was naptime. In kindergarten, there’s less play, no napping, more directions to follow and more work expected, including reading and math,” a July 28, 2015, Scholastic article titled “Six expectations for kindergarten that parents should know” by Holly Pevzner states, based on an interview with Theresa Walsh, a kindergarten teacher in Bensalem.
“It’s draining for kids,” Walsh said.
The Scholastic article further states, ‘“Try not to take it personally or assume your child hates school,’ notes Lily Jones, a former kindergarten and first-grade teacher in El Cerrito, Calif. ‘Most likely your child has held it together all day at school and just needs to collapse at home.’ While you should for sure let your kid know that lashing out isn’t tolerated, be empathetic. Try saying, ‘I bet you are exhausted after a long day, but you can’t hurt people’s feelings because you’re tired. Let’s keep our cool till we can relax at home.’”
I sometimes forget how tough transitions can be for kids. As an adult, I think it would be easy to complete a day in kindergarten. But Ben isn’t an adult, and he’s never been in kindergarten. He has new challenges to face, and it takes time to climb that mountain.
I need to remind myself every day to put myself in his shoes - and parent with kind constructive criticism and empathy and praise him when he makes a big effort for a successful school day. I need to remind myself that his teacher has seen an improvement since the first day of school, that many times this behavior is normal in the beginning and that tomorrow is a new day.
My two biggest pieces of advice for a parent of an incoming kindergartner are, first, communicate with your child’s teacher as much as possible. Listening to each other and working together for the success of the student will always end in a better outcome.
Second, when you notice your child’s behavior or attitude going south, make an effort to slow things down. We recently had a weekend when it rained both Saturday and Sunday, which forced us to cancel our packed schedule and stay home instead, but it ended up being exactly what we all needed - relaxing, calm, fun family time at home. And you know what? Ben’s behavior greatly improved the following week.
If we have another week where there is anxiety, stress and poor behavior, I’ll remember that weekend we had at home and order us another one.