By Natasja VanderBerg, Family Care Advisor & Education and Communications Coordinator
The first day of school brings mixed feelings for both parents and children. When my child started Junior Kindergarten last year, he was excited and ready. I was not quite as ready. Here are some things I wish I would have realised more fully before sending my kid off on their first day of school:
1) Neither my partner nor I were allowed in my kid’s school. Due to Covid, drop-off was outside, as was pick-up. I was able to catch a glimpse of the classroom through the window. It felt rather strange to send our four-year-old into a world of his own – one that we hadn’t seen. I had to learn to get used to my child having an entire world that I was not part of. My kid didn’t seem to mind at all. Maybe things will be different this year. Hopefully!
2) Practices of inclusion and exclusion are quite pronounced in kindergarten. It might have been my kid’s class in particular. I was even more surprised to witness my own kid participate in these acts of excluding others on the playground. We had a phone call with the teacher and echoed the teacher’s language that school should be a safe space for everyone. We were engaged in discussions with my kid that I had thought, naively, would come later.
3) Children eat differently at school, among peers. My child is usually a very hesitant eater. As someone who gets a lot of joy from eating, I don’t understand how eating seems like a chore to my child. At home, he does not normally finish his dinner. School lunch and snack boxes came home empty though! So, we learned to pack more food. We also – just in case – had a few conversations about NOT sharing food. Sharing is caring, but not when food is involved.
4) We should have paid more attention to the final step of toilet training. We were still wiping our kids bum when he started JK. No wonder my kid didn’t want to go to the bathroom anywhere but at home! This led to holding bowel movements for the full day. Poor kid. I’d like to say we started to teach the kid to be independent in that realm right away, but we are still working on it, focusing on this ‘cheeky hack.’ Oh, and on another practical note: practice those buttons and zippers! Luckily, the Senior Kindergarten kids helped my kid that first winter season.
5) It helps to ask questions other than, “How was your day?” At our house, that question was responded to with a pause, and then, simply, “good.” “What did you do?” Again, a pause. Then, “play.” We got no information from our child about this mystery world they were part of from 9 am – 5 pm (including after care) each day. We learned to ask more specific questions, like, “What was your favourite thing you did today?” or “Who sat at your table with you today?” Here are some other suggested questions that might elicit a more descriptive response from your child.
My child is entering Senior Kindergarten this year. I tried to have a talk about setting a good example for the JKs. That seemed like a bit too much pressure, so I backed off. I just hope my kid continues to learn to become an empathetic person alongside their friends, and with the guidance of their teacher. At little interest in learning to read wouldn’t be a bad thing either!
Resources to support your child(ren) in their transition to school:
• Understood is an organization that helps “those who learn and think differently discover their potentials, take control, find community, and stay on positive paths along each stage of life’s journey.” Check out their article 9 Ways to Get Your Child Ready for Kindergarten
• Preparing your child for kindergarten continues after they’ve started. This provincial guide contains tips for continuing to support your child after they’ve started school.
• Settlement.org is an incredible resource for newcomers. Their website’s Education section contains frequently asked questions about navigating Ontario’s school system, including how to access supports for children with different learning needs.