A year ago, I was the most organized I’ve ever been in my entire life for back to school. Lunch boxes, backpacks, outfits and supplies were purchased in advance and neatly stowed away. Batch-baking recipes—even lunch plans for the month of September—were written out. If you have met me in real life or follow me on Twitter, you know this sort of organization is out of character. I’d like to say it was all my doing, but the truth is, my five-year-old daughter, Gillian, spearheaded most of it.
She was four years old at the time and about to start full-day kindergarten. I was a nervous wreck, but we made it through the school year (even though there were times I didn’t think we would). If you’re worried that your child isn’t ready for kindergarten, you’re not alone. Here are a few things I wish I’d known before Gillian started school.
On the first day of school, Gillian stepped onto the bus full of smiles. I was optimistic that the transition from being at home with me full-time to being at school full-time would be seamless. But at the end of the day, she was an exhausted, teary-eyed, angry little girl. Although Gillian was already a spirited child and I was accustomed to her temper tantrums, nothing could have prepared me for how frequent—and intense—her tantrums would be once she started kindergarten. In addition to the tantrums, Gillian came down with several colds, ear infections and even a bladder infection. Looking back, I realize she was tired and not “toileting” correctly, and the hectic pace of full-day kindergarten (in comparison to her quieter days at home with me) led to her be sick and grouchy. At the time, I really hated kindergarten.
One of the common misconceptions about full-day kindergarten is that it’s “just like daycare.” It’s a phrase I’d heard frequently back when the program was first implemented across Ontario, but it was often used in a derogatory manner by skeptics who weren’t entirely convinced of the value of starting an early-learning program in schools. In the months leading up to Gillian starting school, I enrolled her in daycare part-time to help her transition, and I can attest that there are few similarities between the two. The pace at her daycare was relaxed, the early-childhood educators offered assistance with dressing and going to the washroom and there were naps. Gillian was immersed in play-based learning all day long at school. And, although recess offered much-needed downtime, races on the monkey bars just don’t have the same restorative effect as a nap.
As Gillian (and I) struggled with her transition to full-day kindergarten, I kept my concerns about her emotional and physical health to myself. At one point I’d considered pulling her from school (a practice called “redshirting” and usually reserved for kids born toward the end of the year). I finally worked up the courage to talk to Gillian’s teacher, who reassured me that my daughter was a model student. The teacher gave me tips to help Gillian cope better with the transition to kindergarten and encouraged me to wait out the rough patch we were going through at home. I felt like I was part of the classroom team, and I knew they truly had Gillian’s interests at heart.
Would Gillian miss me during the day? What if she needs help in the bathroom? What if she doesn’t eat her lunch? All these questions and more raced through my mind relentlessly in the weeks leading up to the first day of school. I bet they’re going through your mind, too. And, although it may not seem like it now (or in those first few weeks when your child comes home from school tired and grouchy), it will be okay. I promise!
This article was originally published online in August 2015.