Ah, kindergarten – a bittersweet time of saying good-bye, starting fresh, and exploring new freedoms. Most of the focus is on helping children adjust to new surroundings, as well it should. But what about parents? Kindergarten is often a whole experience for them, too. And while it can be a time of great joy, it can also be overwhelming. Below are a few tips to help mums navigate that first year.
- Get ready for homework. It is a misnomer, really, the idea of “homework.” It should be called “parents’ work” because you will be the preparing for kindergarten work. The first time our five-year-old, Toodle, had a homework assignment, I proudly turned off the television, plopped her at the kitchen table, and went about making dinner. Such a good mum, I was. However, she had absolutely no idea what she was supposed to do. Because she had never had homework before, decorating both sides of a star and handing it in to her teacher by a deadline were foreign concepts. To encourage her, I told her Mrs. Teacher assigned this to her and was very much looking forward to seeing the final product the next day. It took all evening, required much of my help, and I may have consumed Coca Cola from a wine goblet, but she decorated both sides of her star, and I called it a win.
- Get a bulletin board. We absolutely love Mrs. Teacher and feel for her, what with the amount of communications she is responsible for creating. I have since learned my brain is not strong enough to hold all the information we receive. From pajama day to color day to fun run day to regular homework assignments, we are the recipients of a constant barrage of communications. One day Toodle insisted on wearing a ball cap to school. She pulled the “everyone else is doing it” quip, to which I replied, “Well, I highly doubt that! It’s against the rules. Now get going.” Nope, it turns out everyone was doing it, all week, too, as an alphabet and symbol recognition assignment. Oops, that homework notice must have gotten thrown away the day Twinkle, our two-year-old, got the flu and we threw out everything we owned. Bulletin boards and large calendars have become fixtures in our home. We track schedules, school events, and reminders in one place, far out of Twinkle’s reach because two-year-olds are wily.
- Get into a routine. If you would like to witness a train wreck, please stop by any weekday morning to witness us getting ready for school. In our family, we did extremely well until the sun started rising later. Now it still feels like nighttime when the alarm sounds the morning bell. While we are lucky to get out the door without at least one person in tears, here is how we try. First, set clothes out the night before. Second, know absolute limits. What time do the kids need to have their clothes on? When do they need to be eating breakfast? What is the latest their feet need to be walking out the door? Then add a few cushion minutes for good measure. We are adjusting this even more to account for all the layers Toodle thinks she needs to wear on the walk to school. Bless her heart, it’s going to be a long winter. Is it wrong of me to add a little Bailey’s Irish Cream to my morning coffee? Let’s not answer that.
- Simplify it. Bedtime often goes about as well as the morning routine. And by dinnertime my energy bank is running on empty. Someone, please take the wheel, for this mum has no more gas. I once told K-Hubs I am my best self until 2:00 p.m., at which point it is downhill until the kids go to bed. After a full day of following directions, turning on her listening ears, and using her walking feet, Toodle is also done. I felt like Ingrid Bergman in Gaslight or Doris Day in Midnight Lace until I had an eureka moment; break down the bedtime routine into smaller, more manageable pieces so we do not lose any more sanity. I asked myself, what do I absolutely need Toodle to do before bed? I narrowed it to three tasks. Toodle is now responsible for going to the bathroom, brushing her teeth, and putting on her pajamas independently and in a timely fashion. Any other tasks are done as a team and get added to her independent routine as she shows readiness.
- Know your limits. I may have signed up for all the volunteer opportunities in Toodle’s classroom, what with the euphoria of having a kindergartener and the knowledge that the wheels had fallen off our summer. However, whatever level of involvement you have with your child’s classroom experience needs to work for YOU and will vary from family to family. If it means you are there for everything, go for it. If it means you have to say no sometimes, like I have since had to do, or a lot of times, like my own mum had to do, perfect. Schools give countless opportunities to get involved not because administrators expect us to do everything, but because they know we cannot. Options give us flexibility to survive kindergarten. For example, my mum raised me on her own with two jobs. Her schedule did not permit her to be a homeroom mother. However, much to my horror, it did allow her to chaperone a junior high dance. Watching her balance life taught me to do the same. Also coffee. Mom drank a lot of coffee.
Parenting is often done on a wing and a prayer with much to celebrate. However, if you miss an assignment or two, arrive to school late a few times or get frazzled, know that you are in good company. Also, grab a cup of coffee. I will bring the Bailey’s.
How are you dealing with the Kindergarten craze?
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