Written by Kate Miller
The afternoon my oldest daughter came home from her first day of kindergarten I was not prepared to see her utterly dejected. I wondered what could have been so bad. The first day of the school year doesn’t generally turn out any homework. It usually consists of introductions and going over the rules. With her tiny voice and kindergarten vocabulary, my daughter told me that school was not what she expected. She hadn’t realized there would be so much sitting and listening, and she felt lost among so many kids, most of whom she didn’t know. She was overwhelmed by all the information she was given.
Before the school year started my husband and I had equipped her with the necessary supplies, such as pencils and binders. She had several new outfits as well as shoes, and we had acclimated her to an early bedtime. Healthy snacks and meals were planned. We were ready for a new school year.
However, upon seeing the disappointed look on our daughter’s face, we realized we had neglected to prepare her for some of the nuances and other aspects of school. Although the primary focus of school is to develop skills in reading, writing, math, science, history, etc., it is inevitable that our children will become embroiled in navigating social situations and developing a sense of self. It is at school that they will work to find balance between fitting in and being an individual. The schoolyard is where many friendships will be made and some lost.
My husband and I had told our daughter that school was where she would learn, but we hadn’t we told her what exactly she might be learning or even how she would apply that knowledge to her life. We hadn’t warned her about the environment she would be learning in. She was unaware of how she was expected to interact with her peers and teachers. Although, this information comes with experience, we felt that some prior explanations would have saved her a considerable amount of strife.
Emphasize More than Academics
While touting the importance of school, my husband and I didn’t spend enough time emphasizing that her place in school may not be the same as her friends and that she may need different things to help her learn, to help her be comfortable in a school setting. We didn’t share some of the particulars of school politics as they apply to students when doing so could have spared her from losing the hopefulness she had going into the new school year.
School is often where kids learn how to establish and maintain non-familial relationships as well as how to express themselves and we parents can’t be there to guide them in the moment, but we can talk to our children about what they might expect and how to manage potential situations so they aren’t blindsided.
We became aware of the importance of helping our children recognize how best they process information and how they prefer to put into practice the knowledge they learn. Teachers spend a lot of time with their students and take care to figure out each student’s specific needs, but parents can further the effort by examining how their child likes to do things and using that information to facilitate a more effective learning environment at school and at home. Although we cannot control or change all these things, we can acquaint our children with possibilities and remind them that, although some of their new experiences may seem strange or scary, they are okay because we, as parents, support them.
Manage the Expectations
We have to figure out what works best for our children individually in a place that uses the same or similar structures for everyone. Spending time discussing the upcoming year can hopefully help our children make more sense of what they can expect and what might be expected of them. We can give our children a little boost when we remind them to take time to think about what works for them and to ask for help.
Many children have no problem integrating themselves into new situations, but there are many that struggle to adapt to big changes, such as starting a new school year. It may be helpful to discuss the coming school year with your kids, whether they are adaptable or they struggle with changes.
And of course, we, as parents, must relinquish some control and let our children make their mistakes and figure out how they want to do things and how they want to express themselves. It’s easier said than done but taking a little time to share your experiences in school, however long ago that might have been, can give your children a sense of confidence when facing a new school year.
Information about your child’s school curriculum can generally be found by contacting your county’s school district.