Family life

Kindergarten graduation: Celebrating an important milestone

Kindergarten graduation is an exciting milestone for preschoolers—so why not celebrate?

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Tracy at Avery’s kindergarten graduation.

This week, I sat in a stuffy, packed gym and watched my five-year-old, Avery, sing her little heart out up on stage. She had been practising for weeks for this end-of-year celebration, telling me in turn to stop and listen to this great song—or to not listen (shhhh, it’s a surprise for the big show!).

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This has been a big year for Avery. After doing her JK year at her preschool, she was so excited to move to her big sister Anna’s school for her SK year, and their first year of full-day kindergarten. Avery tends to be a slow-to-warm-up type of kid, but I’ll never forget that first day, how she marched into the kindergarten courtyard, all pigtails and pride, like it was her backyard. No looking back. I knew she was more than ready to take on “big school” and in the following months she proved me right.

That slow-to-warm-up thing surprised her teacher, though, who had also taught my very chatty Anna; she wasn’t prepared for Avery’s initial reluctance to participate (or to even speak, in some cases) and a few months in, confided that she was worried that something was amiss. Avery was very outgoing socially and making friends and having fun, but wouldn’t make eye contact or speak to her teachers one-on-one most of the time. I knew Avery was loving kindergarten; she came home with happy stories of her days and dove right into any homework when she had it. She has always been this way with authority figures and adults in general (including her teenaged swimming instructors or even family friends), and I’ve learned she just needs time to settle in and find her comfort zone. Yes, sometimes even months. Pushing only backfires.

Read more: Shy kids: Do we really need to “fix” them?>

Because she was so quiet with her teacher, it was hard to know exactly what she was absorbing in her lessons. I got a little concerned that her reading wasn’t progressing by Christmastime—that she’d get stuck again on some of the simple sight words I thought she knew. “It’s just her confidence,” her teacher told me. “I know she can read the words, she just doesn’t like to be put on the spot to read them to me.” I also knew that Avery thought she’d able to read instantly once she decided she wanted to do it; she had no patience for all that silly sounding out of letters and learning sight words. So we got some tips on how to be more consistent with word games and reading at home and it made a huge difference.

After the Christmas break, she started to make great strides. How funny (but so typical, as the mom of this gal) to have her teacher come up to me excited that Avery had told her all about our weekend, or come up to ask her something un-coerced (or told her we were heading somewhere fabulous that weekend—even when we weren’t!). Given the time to do it at her own pace, she opened up to her two wonderful teachers, and it was all up from there.

Avery would be over the moon on the days she got to be “special helper” at school. She started trying to spell things out on her own instead of always asking me the letters, and sounding words out wherever we went. I was just as thrilled to hear that she and two of her friends stood up in front of the class one Friday to sing “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” What? My kid? Incredible.

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And imagine the pride when she told me she had moved from the A-level books, not to B, but right over to C-level. I almost cried at the look on her face when she told me, starting with: “Mommy, I’ve been waiting all day to tell you something so exciting!” In her folder that day was a heartfelt personal note to us from her teacher telling us how proud and excited she was about Avery’s hard work. It’s still on our kitchen wall.

So, this has been a huge year for my baby. For all of us. When I hear about parents lamenting kindergarten graduation ceremonies as ridiculous mollycoddling of our children, I just shake my head. This jump from kindergarten to grade one is a huge one for kids—the transition between student-in-training to student, in a way—and also for parents, who have fresh proof that their babies are all grown up. It’s a rite of passage I celebrate with all my heart, because kids are at this precious, innocent, look-what-I-did! eager stage so briefly, and it’s so beautiful. I know grade one will bring its own amazing things, but I say we embrace this moment (can’t we please just freeze it?), and give these sweet things the standing ovation they so deserve. Life will not be applauding them quite as enthusiastically from here on in.

I may have shed a few tears at Avery’s graduation. No shame—I’m incredibly proud of this kid. I adored her teachers and told them so, and I hope they know how sincerely that comes from my heart. And when I sheepishly asked her teacher, “Do you think she’s ready?” she said, “Oh, yes. Yes. She’s ready.” And I may have teared up again. Because I know she’s right.

Follow along as Today’s Parent senior editor Tracy Chappell shares her refreshingly positive take on parenting her two young daughters. She’s been blogging her relatable experiences for our publication since 2005. Read more of her Tracy’s mama memoir posts and tweet her@T_Chappell.