Starting Kindergarten: Lessons Learned

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Our family forged into unchartered territory this past week when our oldest started Kindergarten.

There she is on her first day.  I saw this post on Angry Julie Monday and loved the idea of having a photograph with her holding a sign on her first day each year.

Then I thought maybe I will have her write the first day sign so we can also see how her writing changes year after year.

There is her handmade sign.  I love that the date reads “P 6 11” instead of “9 6 11!”

So, we survived the first week and overall, she is doing great.

She has lined up and marched in with a smile each morning and for this I am incredibly grateful.

But the longer days and transition from preschool have been a little tough, I am not gonna lie! The first three days she would greet me with a smile at pick-up, then immediately break into tired tears and grumpy rants on the way to the car.

It has been a roller coaster of a week and there have been a few lessons I learned from this whole process of starting Kindergarten that I thought I might share for what it’s worth. If anyone else has tips or advice, please do share!  As a mom, I can use all the help I can get.

In hindsight, I would have done a few things different, but being she is our first child I just have done my best. My friend calls first children the “first pancake” because as parents sometimes we don’t know what we are doing and have to test things out trial by error with our first.

Let me first clarify that my particular first pancake is a child that THRIVES on routine, schedules and familiarity.  She does not do well during summertime. “Go with the flow” is not in her system, and the unexpected freaks her out. She is a total planner, even at 5 years old. She loves her calendar, knows dates, learned to tell time early because she was obsessed with knowing “what we were doing and at what time.”  I wrote out a timeline for the getting ready portion of the morning of her first day and her eyes lit up and sparkled when I read it to her.

I might as well call a spade a spade – she is her mother’s daughter.

So I will start with the positive. I found a few things to be incredibly helpful in the starting Kindergarten transition, so these are the things that worked well for us and our “first pancake” given her temperament:

* Her elementary school was open to play on the playground all summer and on the weekends, so we took her there to play a lot. Familiarizing her with the playground and campus ahead of time was hugely helpful.

* At the tender age of five, kids need some help meeting other kids, so at the orientation the Friday before I tried to introduce her to a few other girls, so at least she had names of a handful of kids going into the first day.

* Pick out the outfit the night before. This has been super helpful. After her shower or bath I have her pick out the next morning outfit from top to bottom, including shoes, undies and accessories and we have everything ready to go in the AM.

* Make a timeline for the morning of the first day and plan to get there early. We left way early on the first day so we had time to get a good parking spot and have a relaxed start.

Things I wish I knew before or would have done differently:

* Set the proper expectations. So many people were over the top (me included) with phrases like “Kindergarten is SO fun!” or “Kindergarten will be even MORE fun that preschool!” and on and on and on about this great time she was going to have.

What I failed to prepare her for was the DIFFERENCE from Kindergarten and preschool, namely the longer days and more time sitting and learning.

I think when she heard about the fun, she pictured Kindergarten like preschool on steroids, so when in reality she figured out there is a lot more sitting and not all this free playtime, I think the first day was a tad bit of a disappointment.

Of course Kindergarten IS fun, but I would have put the emphasis on the fact that it will fun in new ways but also be DIFFERENT than preschool.

* Give it time.  The first two days she said she (said) she didn’t like it and didn’t want to go back. We had some on and off again tears.  But then she would turn and say she had “fun” as well.  It was a whole mix of all different emotions and a big emotional roller coaster for her and for us! Of course, I wanted so very much for her to come skipping out each day expressing her love for Kindergarten and how she couldn’t wait to go back, so this was a disappointment to ME.  However, given her temperament and not liking change, this shouldn’t have been unusual.

By the third day, she told me “each day is getting funner” and by the 4th, she was seeming more like her old self and when asked, “how was school?” the answer was “good!

* Be prepared for the whole family’s groove to change.  I was not ready for this!  I feel like the whole family is in school now and every night feels like a “school night” from when we were kids.  It is sort of a big change…having to be out the door (early for us) five mornings a week, packing lunches, laying out outfits, managing all the paperwork, figuring out the drop off and pick up schedule…I sort of feel like I got on a hamster wheel.  My friend who coined “the first pancake” came up with that one too.  It’s so true, it’s like once you are on it, you are ON it. I am not good at change either, so it has been an adjustment for me too as the whole family schedule has changed.

The good news is that we will ALL adjust and I have a feeling when we are into our school year groove things will be really great. And I feel like we are on our way already. So far we LOVE the teachers, love the school, love the families we have met, so I have a super positive outlook on this year.  It’s just going to take a little time to settled into a nice rhythm and routine.

I hope all of you that are in the new school year transition are doing great.  Any tips or advice you would like to share is ALWAYS welcome!




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  1. 1
    Pam says:

    great post! And we love your first pancake 🙂

    • 2
      Jen says:

      That might be my favorite term ever!

  2. 3

    LOVE the picture. My son was in a full day preschool, then went to half day kinder, no camps this summer, and now is in school till 2:15pm. He is a mess. But like your daughter, needs the structure, etc. It takes about 6 weeks like anything else to get adjusted. I am going to lecture you know. PLAN for summer. Learn from me. PUT her in camps or activities. Otherwise, you are going to be pulling your hair out.

    • 4
      Jen says:

      I am glad to know I am not the only one whose kid is a mess! 6 weeks, 6 weeks, 6 weeks. One day at a time. I HEAR you on summer. Next summer I am going to have to plan ahead. Makes me think the year round school schedule is a pretty good idea! Good luck in your 6 week transition…xo

  3. 5
    Michelle Nelson says:

    She’s adorable! Sounds like you did a great job of surviving the first week. It does get easier as you fall into a rhythm. Just remember, it will change every year!
    We’re in our 4th week of 3rd grade now, and I think I’m getting the hang of it. This year the teacher is not assigning basic studying as homework. The student is expected to do that without being told. It’s a great lesson to start teaching, but difficult as well. There’s spelling, vocabulary, science, multiplication facts, etc. Then there is AR reading and tests. Oh and I can’t forget the online math curriculum. Add in sports or dance and it gets complicated.
    Organization is absolutely KEY. Start now and you’ll be so glad you did! BTW, I use and it is FAB!

    • 6
      Jen says:

      Oh my gosh, thanks for the tips, and may I just say I cannot fathom a world of independent homework! I am hoping the 4th week is about when we start to get into the groove. Thank you so much for your comment! xo

  4. 7
    Melissa says:

    It sounds like you are doing great! As a former kindergarten teacher I know how difficult the transition can be for some but kids are amazing and they all seem to get in the groove and adapt within a few weeks. Is she in full day kindergarten or 1/2 day? It sounds like you are doing everything right! Way to go mama!

    • 8
      Jen says:

      She goes 815 – 130pm. But for preschool she just did 9 – 12p 3 days a week, so it is 2 more days and 2 more hours each day = a big adjustment! I honestly feel like it will take about a month. And, I am trying to take things one day at a time.

      Also, I have so much respect and admiration for teachers. You have a HARD job! xoxoxo

  5. 9
    TK says:

    sounds like you have a lot of great tips … my first pancake also started Kinder this year … the hardest adjustment has been for his little sisters … my tip = don’t forget to also prepare the younger ones and make special plans while he is away all day! I had missed planning for them and preparing them and little miss middle has had a hard time with brother being gone all day, every day.

  6. 10
    OCMom3xboys says:

    My 5 yr old started Kindergarten 8 weeks ago (year round school), I hear you, what I big changed from preschool. He went from working with social skills, motor skills, finger paintings to writing ABCs, numbers and making books. He too, didn’t like it much for the first week, especially, the short playtime ther are given. I volunteer in his class once a week and I see a lot of younger 5 yr olds struggle. I highly recommend pre-k for most fall babies. Maturity does matter…attention span is also important.

  7. 11
    Jessica B. says:

    My first one, who turned 5 in August, started on July 28th (year round school). She absolutely loves it BUT after the first week or two of excitement the every single day routine of getting up, rushing to eat, get dressed, get out the door certainly started to wear on her and all of us. She became super sassy and moody. At school though she is SO happy. We are now 7 weeks in and we seem to be in a groove now. She doesn’t complain anymore about getting up and getting ready and i have figured out what works on my end too (I let her pick her outfit the night before and she gets dressed on her own before she even wakes me up. I make lunch the night before too). In one more week we will have our 1st three week break. i am hoping it doesn’t knock us out of how far we have gotten! (We will be doing paradise point during the break though). FYI – I have heard about the same “sassiness” from some of the other parents in the class. YOU ARE NOT ALONE! and we will certainly all survive!

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