If you're a first-time parent with a child entering kindergarten, you're likely approaching it in a state of sorrow-tinged excitement. After all, this is the moment your baby becomes a big kid. I've done it three times now, most recently with my twins last year. And while there is a ton of great advice out there to prepare your child, there's little out there to prepare you for the big day.
Afraid you'll become a blubbering mess? Scared your kid won't make any friends? These tips will help you maximize those precious first moments and take some fear out of the first day.
15 Minutes of Play
Plan to arrive early enough that you can sit down and play with your kindergartener until the bell rings. Most teachers put out tactile toys so that children can select something familiar and ease into the classroom experience. Other parents will be building Legos or blocks or just reading a book together. This is a natural opportunity to make introductions -- both for yourself and your child's new classmates. Sometimes just interacting with one new friend instills a level of comfort as your little one starts the school day.
Meet the Teacher
Many schools offer welcome events during summer, so if you've already attended and met the teacher, a quick hello will suffice. But if this is your first encounter, plan to spend a couple minutes making introductions. Don't feel like you're intruding. Let them know if your child is especially nervous or had a sick tummy last night. You'll likely find other families waiting to do the same, so just be patient and wait your turn. And while there's certainly no rule against posing for photos with the teacher, waiting until after school has always worked better for me. Everyone is more relaxed and under less of a time crunch.
Tour the Classroom
Walk around together and seek out important touch points, like the bathroom, their cubby, their name, where to store backpacks and lunchboxes, and so on. Find the chalk- or whiteboard and check whether the teacher has posted the day's agenda. The teacher will also review the schedule at the morning circle, but you can read it to your child so they know what to expect. Better yet, snap a picture with your phone. Later when you're sitting at your desk obsessing about how the day is going, you can easily remember when they're eating lunch or on the playground. It also gives you something specific to ask when you pick them up, like "did you practice writing your name" or "what did you paint?"
When to Say Goodbye
Teachers tend to be more flexible with start-time on the first day. But you do have to leave, eventually. Even if the teacher doesn't explicitly ask, when the room starts emptying out, that's your cue to exit. Don't be "that parent" who stays an hour after everyone else has left. Your child's classmates will wonder why their own family didn't stick around. Besides, seeing you depart along with the other moms and dads will set expectations and give your child a sense of normalcy. And even if your child initially has difficulty letting you go -- even if they're crying or have latched onto your leg -- I promise they will be fine 15 minutes later.
Join the Sad Parent Circle Outside
The next step is to physically leave the school. It's one thing to stand outside; getting into your car and driving away is a whole different ball-game. That's why you'll likely see a cluster of parents loitering around the doorway, deep in a conversation about exactly what you're feeling -- how hard it is to say goodbye! Some will already know each other from preschool. Many won't. This is another opportunity to form those important parent relationships because in this one instance, you're all in the same boat. I highly recommend this group therapy session if your schedule permits.
Don't be that Parent
You'll probably spy a couple parents peeking through windows and trying to get their son or daughter's attention. Yes, your baby might be sitting inside wishing you never left. But the moment you've crossed that threshold, the most loving thing you can do is to reinforce healthy separation. Seeing you again (and again) yanks them back into the safety of your parental sphere and disrupts the hard work they're busy doing to become students. Plus, that poor teacher is trying to form connections with 20 or even 30 new faces. Imagine how much harder that is with kids staring outside, waving, or shouting, "I see my daddy!"
You might cry
Let's just be honest. That first time I managed to wait until I got home (unlike some of the other mothers who freely bawled in the parking lot). You might find that it's no big deal and head off with a sense of happy accomplishment. Or like me, you may feel like you've lost your baby forever. It surprised me how much the milestone affected me. It took about an hour to recover, during which time I called my own mother and apologized profusely for not appreciating all her sacrifices. So it's perfectly acceptable to phone a friend, plan a lunch date or buy yourself a half-dozen doughnuts to celebrate surviving drop-off.
From here out your day will just get better and better, because each minute that passes ticks closer to collecting your big kid. And when you finally do, when you see the pride emanating from that little body, every single tear will have been worth it.