Discussion – Parents’ Best Tips For the Start of Kindergarten , Part 2.

Following on from yesterday’s tips from parents who’ve been there, today we discuss some handy hints that pertain to the academic, community and practical aspects for parents with school starters for 2016.

The Academic Aspect of School

School is very different to pre school, and a number of respondents set the reminder for new parents to be prepared for less interaction with teachers. There are more kids per teacher than you will be used to and you won’t be getting constant feedback from your child’s teacher. In fact, you may not hear from your teacher at all if all is well.

As if in an episode of Snobsville, many parents recalled that every year has a parent that thrives on competition. In fact in some circles, this occurs with such frequency that there is a term for it – Highly Competitive Parent, (HCP), or Highly Competitive Mother, (HCM). The general advice is not to engage. You and your child will get nothing out of the academic politics that form part of every school.

Many parents made note of readers, which can be boring and are not the be all and end all of an academic experience. Let them read what they want to read, even take them to the library for more interesting material. Readers are homework, and some kids will be completely uninspired by them. One mother recalled a reader her son had been required to read called “The Rules of the Library,” which (not surprisingly) he wasn’t thrilled about.

It is often said, (in fact it was one of the few pieces of advice I remember from this time last year), but frequently underestimated: your child will be exhausted in first term. The overwhelming consensus is to not overload them with extra curricular activities at first. Some kids start the year with a burst of excitement that wanes mid way through the year. To counter this before school starts, parents suggest filling them in prior to the start of school on the ins and outs. “They need to know it will be boring sometimes’” Indeed, much of kindergarten is process rather than academic in preparation for years to come, so don’t be surprised if your child is a little bored mid year.

Finally, one father recalled an early experience in literacy groups. His advice was to ‘be prepared for hothousing!” Some kids get coaching prior to the start of school, and some parents make sure their children know the alphabet better than others. Some kids will be reading well, others won’t read yet at all. Wherever a child is academically may be more a factor of their parent’s efforts rather than their ability to learn, so don’t be put off or worry that they will fall behind. Kindergarten is a great equaliser.

The Community Aspect of School

Being part of the school community was a common theme in parents’ responses. Many were part of a Facebook group for their school and some even started a group for the Kindy year. If your child likes sport or other extra curricular activities, consider joining a local team or club that lots of other kids from school will patronise. And the majority of respondents also suggested volunteering in whichever way your timetable allows. Reading groups, the odd canteen shift or P&C are all ways in which you can be involved. It will give you some comfort being in touch with the goings on at school and give you an opening to talk to your child. Conversations about school can be tricky without adding pressure if your child gets stressed. Not to mention, you can often see them in action on the school grounds. School mixers are another way to be an active school community member, which will help your child feel more comfortable in their surrounds.

This applies to working and stay at home parents, though the for the former it may require some advance planning. P&C meetings are usually out of business hours, and getting to know your class parent (if not at drop offs then by email) means you may be able to chat to them about schedules for things like reading groups and excursions. This may allow parents to plan ahead for time off work or to be able to contribute on days off. If school day activities are absolutely not possible due to work commitments, offer to host weekend play dates for your class, (again the class parent will be helpful here), and make sure you attend the various fundraisers, information nights and social events to stay in touch. If all else fails, experienced parents recommend a good email relationship with your child’s teacher and class parent which will keep you in the loop.

Many parents suggest visiting the school with your child wherever possible so they become more and more comfortable with the place they will spend five out of every seven days. Take them with you to drop in enrolment forms or visit on the weekend to ride your bikes. Whatever helps to become more familiar will help with the transition.

And this may seem obvious, but it does happen: don’t make too much out of the first day. Don’t call it big school or invite extended family. Aunt Irma might be so proud of little Billy, but her presence makes a stressful situation seem even bigger than it needs to be.

Practical Aspects of School

This is where respondents felt they could add significant value to new kindy parents. First, and most popular – socks and undies. Buy twice as many pairs of school socks as you need. If your school has a generic sock buy several pairs of the same brand so there are no odd socks. Add a zip lock bag for a spare pair of undies and socks. These may be used for accidents, friends accidents, but also for days when they have swimming or sport but forget to pack spare underwear, or in our case for when your son scores a magnificent try in the corner at a game of school ground rugby that happens to coincide with a giant mud puddle. Schools always have spare uniforms but sometimes don’t have spare underwear.

On the topic of underwear, experienced parents suggest dressing active girls in bloomers, especially if they are likely to climb play equipment. In the same vein, buy a spare hat. Many kids lose them and most schools have a no hat no play rule, which means they may be restricted with what they are allowed to do at lunchtime. Label everything and include a phone number if you can. Hats and jumpers are often lost at the shops or park after school as well as at school itself.

On uniforms, many parents buy generic shirts and pants (rather than buying direct from the school) in order to save money. Marks and Spencer are a source that was repetitively recommended by respondents. Most schools have uniform school bags, so make sure your child has a brightly coloured key chain to put on one of the zippers to easily identify their bag.

Kids will have different activities on different days and will need to remember to bring home homework folders, library bags and other various items on certain days. Write them a list they can read (or pictures for the beginning of the year) for items that need to be brought home and laminate it with a few spare spaces for a whiteboard marker to be used. Pop it in their bag, and get them in the habit of checking their list at the end of each day. When you pick them up, ask if they’ve checked their list. On their bedroom door, many parents recommend a small whiteboard where activities for different days can be noted; library, sport, extra curricular activities. This is as much for their benefit as it is for yours – some respondents suggested the use of phone reminders for parents.

Lunches may come home uneaten, warn many of the experienced parents, so don’t be too caught up in creating magnificent lunch box creations. As the year goes on, enterprising parents suggested offering pocket money for kids to make their own lunches as they are more likely to eat it. Still, some kids are only interested in playing and even if your school has a designated sit down period for eating they may be too concerned with other things to feed themselves.

Finally, read the school Newsletter as soon as it comes out. Some schools don’t give a lot of notice for events and activities at school and if you’re a planner you’ll want to know in advance. Parents who work during the day may wish to diarise as much as they can as early as possible in order to be prepared for excursions and concerts if they fall during the school day.

A Final Note

Starting school is a big deal. It exposes the vulnerabilities of many parents as they start a new life chapter with their children, and can be emotionally trying. Preparation is key, but more importantly perspective is invaluable. The beginning of school is just that – the beginning. It is certainly a challenge not to be underestimated, but almost all kids get through it unscathed.

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