Welcome back to my series of tips and advice from a veteran parent. This time, we move on to elementary school…kindergarten through grade 2.
Watching your little one go off to their first day of Kindergarten is one of the most poignant moments in parenthood. It is iconic in our culture, and should be, because it is a significant milestone. It marks the moment when your child starts to step out into the wider world.
Here are the Top 6 things to remember for this age group.
1. Warning: Changes Ahead! In Kindergarten through 2nd grade, the changes will come gradually. You will only realize they’ve changed when you look at photos taken at birthdays, or realize that it’s been months since they had a nighttime “accident”, or find that you suddenly are able to have an hour or so to yourself without your child constantly interrupting you. At first, Kindergarten will seem much like preschool. There may be a rest time, there are snacks, there is outdoor time. But Kindergarten is more structured than preschool, and it just gets more structured as the grade levels increase. There are standards now, specific things they are supposed to learn. Be prepared for some rough spots as your child transitions into the new expectations of elementary school.
2. Parents Have Homework Too. Every year, particularly at the beginning, you will get multiple forests’ worth of paperwork spam coming home with your kid. At the beginning of the year, it will be contact info, legal paperwork, lists of school supplies needed, descriptions of curriculum, and stuff like that. Later, it will be stuff about fundraisers, school events, field trip permission slips, and tons of pitches by the PTA or similar organizations. Best tip? Find a way to organize the important stuff, and throw away the rest. Don’t let it pile up–seriously, this could become a fire hazard. Also, it is very important for you to be involved in what your child is learning. Keep in touch with the teacher, so you can catch academic problems early. Flash cards, extra reading time, educational games or toys–all these can make a huge difference for a kid who is struggling with a particular subject area. You are their coach, cheerleader, and tutor all rolled in one.
3. Fundraising. LOTS of Fundraising. Schools get a lot less government funding than they used to. You will have to provide a LOT of school supplies, sometimes not just for your child but as a contribution to the entire class supply. Teachers may ask for mundane things like boxes of tissues, rolls of paper towels, as well as dry-erase markers, extra pencils, etc. Plus, throughout the year there will be tons of different fundraisers thrown your way–from actual door-to-door selling of merchandise, to linking your grocery or department store cards, to special fundraising nights at restaurants, to five thousand other ideas I can’t even think of. The best thing you can do is PRIORITIZE. Personally, I do Boxtops for Education and linking store discount cards, and maybe occasionally a “school night” restaurant fundraiser. Other than that, I toss the stuff. But that’s my priority–you have to find your own. Find a way to contribute that doesn’t break your bank account or raise your blood pressure, and ignore the rest of it.
4. Expose Your Kids to New Things. While all young kids are curious and like to learn, elementary school is a fabulous time to start exposing your kids to new experiences. Take them to museums, listen to new kinds of music, try international foods. Watch different shows. Learn words in a new language. Teach them how to do something you know how to do–cooking, playing a musical intrument, crocheting, drawing or painting. Participate in some kind of community service that you can do together. Travel to new places–even somewhere else in your state is good! This is a great age for this stuff–they still want to spend time with you, but they also want to branch out and get more involved in the wider world.
5. Savor the Times They Want to Be With You. At this age, your kid will still want to spend a lot of time with you. You may be really, REALLY tired of getting interrupted or hearing “Mommy come play with me!”. But you really need to savor these moments. These are the last few years, in most cases, where your kids will gladly soak up the slightest bits of your attention. It’s the last few years where they will forgive you for almost anything, draw you pictures at the drop of a hat, eagerly engage in pretend play with you, and be happy to go shopping with you just so they can spend more time with their favorite person in the world. No matter what, carve out some time to read extra stories to them, get down on the floor and play cars or build with them, go outside and run around with them. These years go by far too quickly.
6. Extracurricular Activities Can Be Good or Bad. I am a big proponent of Scouting for kids. While I have some political disagreements with the current National office for Boy Scouting, the program itself is a good one and a lot of local troops don’t really give a hoot about the politics of the National office. Your mileage may vary. Girl Scouting is also a terrific organization. Both Boy and Girl Scouting starts around Kindergarten to First grade now, so this is the age to start looking into those kinds of things.
Beware of overscheduling kids in the early elementary grades, however. This age group still needs a lot of unstructured play time. Kids need lots of unstructured play time at this age. Most of them aren’t old enough to sit still for a board game or puzzle (even in 2nd grade), and some may not even want to sit still long enough for a video game. Organized sports, music lessons, and other extracurriculars are great for kids–but don’t try to squeeze in too much. Later elementary is a better time to start doing more of those things, when kids begin to focus more on their peers and are developmentally looking for ways form more social connections.
Take lots of pictures, write down the cute, and often wise, things your kids say at this age. Most of all–Enjoy them!
Photo via Flickr.