By: Morgan Schoenrock
I, for one, never thought my son would be starting his academic career in the middle of a worldwide pandemic. Starting kindergarten is a big milestone for children and parents. But this year, the moments we have been imagining for our littles may not be part of their kindergarten experience. For many kids across the country starting kindergarten, going to a physical school may not be an option. These new variables are making a joyous and exciting life milestone feel a bit scary and unpredictable, for kids and parents alike.
My feelings of anxiety and worry sending my baby to school for the first time have only been amplified by the current health crisis, and I know I’m not the only one. We as parents have spent the last year or more choosing the right school for our babies to start kindergarten, and many of us will not be able to safely send them off to that school. Those of us who are still able to have a somewhat normal school schedule are now dealing with worries we never even thought about before. Does my kid need a mask? Will he/she understand new rules to stay healthy? How do I prepare my baby to attend school in a pandemic?
Just writing these questions makes my skin crawl for all of us parents who are facing an impossible choice this school year. On top of making one of the hardest choices I’ve had to face as a parent, I am feeling the pressure to still make my sons first year in kindergarten special and joyous. Along with many other families I am wondering how I can make my baby feel safe and supported when I am feeling scared and unsure. All of the events I expected to attend with my son before starting kindergarten have been canceled for our safety. But I worry, will my son still have a good start to school without the back to school nights, meet the teacher events, or new student picnics? These are a few ways to celebrate this milestone with your kids, despite the pandemic.
Don’t skip your back to school family traditions: make the ‘my first day’ sign, eat the special breakfast, and dress them in that back to school outfit they can’t wait to wear; even if your kid is attending school virtually or homeschooling. These are those special traditions a lot of us parents are grieving losing, but you don’t have to let them go! Make the first day of kindergarten feel special no matter what that looks like for your family.
Pick out supplies and school clothes together: one of my favorite memories growing up was going school shopping with my mom. There’s nothing like starting school with all the supplies and outfits you carefully picked out for the year. Don’t let this tradition end! Do your school shopping online with your little one. Let them look at the different options and choose which backpack, lunchbox, notebooks, and more they love. My son loved picking out his Wanderwild backpack and lunchbox. Kids will enjoy getting the box of supplies at home and setting them up in their homeschool area, or taking them to class. Same goes for that special first day of school outfit. Help them browse items and choose an outfit that makes them feel as amazing as you know they are!
Be open and honest without causing fear: there is no point in pretending things are normal at the moment. Our children know the world isn’t the same right now, and it’s good to prepare them that school won’t be either. If they are going back in person they will likely have lots of new rules to follow to stay healthy. Reach out to your school and ask what these may be so you can practice at home. This will help things feel less scary when they see them at school. If you are homeschooling or virtual learning be open and honest with your children that this is unique, and you will all be learning how to make it work together. We shouldn't scare them with fear of illness or death, but it’s important we share with them why things feel so different.
My baby deserves a positive and exciting start to school, and so does yours! Remember to honor and communicate with your kids about the emotions they may be feeling navigating new and sometimes scary things; but don’t let them carry the burden of those fears. I hope these tips can help you and your children celebrate this milestone and start kindergarten on a positive note.