I can honestly say that I feel much more prepared for the back to school season this year, with my oldest child going into the second grade.
But a few years ago, when he started kindergarten, I was completely lost and had no idea what to expect. Actually, that’s not true. I expected it to be like daycare. But I soon realized that it’s not AT ALL like daycare. Kids are expected to be much more independent and parents are expected to be much more involved.
This year my second child will start kindergarten and while I’m feeling all sorts of emotions about her growing up, I’m also more confident knowing what to expect.
Here are my best tips for your child’s first school year
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Research the enrollment options
Usually for kindergarten there are several different options depending on the school. At our school, for example, we only had the option of half days, 5 days a week. Some schools offer full days, 3 days a week or even full days, 5 days a week. But we did get the choice of morning or afternoon classes.
If you are faced with this decision, think carefully about your schedule and your child’s habits.
For my son, we chose morning kindergarten which worked best for him because he’s a morning person, loves to eat breakfast, and my husband was able to drop him off at school on his way to work.
For my daughter, we chose afternoon kindergarten because she is NOT a morning person (neither am I), hates breakfast, and takes forever to pick out what she wants to wear and get her hair done. I did not want to have to struggle with her every morning, so afternoon kindergarten gives us an entire morning to prepare.
Preschool can be a great opportunity for you to discover what type of routine and habits work for your child.
Make time to volunteer
Schools will usually send home letters asking for parent volunteers during field trips, fundraising events, concerts, etc. Keep in mind that these are normally held during school hours, so you may need to make work or babysitting arrangements if you plan to volunteer. A criminal record check and/or other background checks may be required.
Schools rely heavily on fundraising both for charitable events and various school projects. Expect to see at least 4 different fundraisers throughout the school year. Schools have gotten pretty creative in their fundraising methods so there will be a variety of different ways to help raise money, many of which are useful and affordable (like these personalized labels).
Try to get your kids involved in the fundraising projects themselves, instead of doing all the dirty work yourself. Have them phone friends and family or take a video of them talking about their fundraising event and e-mail it to anyone on your list who might be interested (but don’t spam people). Some schools might even have a Facebook event for bigger fundraising events that you can share on your social media.
Keep in mind that if you have more than one kid enrolled in school, you will need to buy/sell twice as much!
Don’t skimp on the supplies
School supply shopping for the first time can be either super exciting or super intimidating.
If you need a specific notebook in a specific size and have no idea what you’re looking for – ask for help. The back to school staff at most stores have probably helped other parents find the same notebook a dozen times already. (Or shop online instead!)
Take a picture of the school supply list on your phone so that you will always have it when you’re out shopping. You’d be amazed how many deals you can find at the grocery store.
Get the name brand crayons and glue sticks – some teachers will put their preference on the list and they’re the experts. Your kids will be doing A LOT of creative stuff in their first school year and they need the right tools or it can end in frustration for everyone.
Buy an extra box of tissue or donate extra school supplies to your child’s class if you find a really great deal – teachers will be forever grateful for your generosity!
Prepare for the weather
If you live somewhere with temperamental weather like I do, then it’s easy to worry about kids at recess time if you didn’t send them to school in the right gear (one of the many reasons why moms hate winter.)
In between seasons, dress them in layers so they can add one or take one off as needed.
Mitten clips are a good option for kids who keep losing theirs.
Opt for a neck warmer or a balaclava instead of scarf because it’s easier for kids to put on and offers more coverage in the winter.
Label every single piece of your child’s outerwear because it’s guaranteed to end up in the lost and found box at some point.
Zippers and Laces
It’s tempting to keep your child out of their brand new shoes and jackets until school starts in order to keep everything in good condition, but it might be a better idea to let them get used to them instead.
Zippers can be tricky especially with the added stress of the recess bell ringing and the bustle of other kids in the hallways. Same goes for running shoes and winter boots. Kids should get as much practice putting these on and taking them off as possible before their first school year starts.
Let kids get dressed for school completely by themselves (this includes snowsuits) so that you know they will be able to duplicate it at recess time.
If your kids have a hard time with laces, try these Hickies no-tie elastic laces instead.
While there isn’t much actual “homework” in your child’s first school year, there will be more than you expect and it will require your participation.
Whatever it is, now is the time to start establishing a homework routine because this will be an important part of life for the next several years.
Choose a place and a time to sit down without any distractions and make it a habit. Even if there was no homework sent home that day, read a book together, practice writing skills or do an age appropriate learning activity.
You may also want to invest in an organization center in your home to keep track of all the notes, forms, calendars, library books & homework that your child will bring home each day.
No matter how many children you have, sending your first child to school makes you a first time parent all over again.
It’s incredibly hard and emotional. Your baby is being sent out into the world to learn and do for themselves. It’s unlike daycare in that someone is not being paid to take care of them the entire day. They are supervised of course but if they have a problem, they need to speak up and ask for help, and all you can do is hope that they will.
Your child’s first year of school will be a true test of how independent they are. Even if it all seems overwhelming at first, they learn quickly by watching the other children and they will be a pro by the end of the year!