Last year my oldest son went off to full day school for the first time. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do cartwheels or pull out the Kleenexes.
Preschool had consisted of school days in which I often felt like I blinked, and they were over. The prospect of full day school now meant that I could get more than one activity done before pickup!
But it also meant that my day with my son shrunk to about four hours. He started coming home with jokes I didn’t know, songs I didn’t teach, and questions particular to his new environment that I sometimes wasn’t sure how to answer. And while I celebrated his independence and enthusiasm to learn, it realized it was the start of a new chapter.
I knew I would treasure the time we still had together, but I didn’t realize how much competition there would be for that time. Yes, full day school didn’t only mean longer school days - it also meant the onslaught of lots and lots of activities.
Here are 4 tips my family and I learned last year that helped us navigate the new pressures and protect what we value most:
- Give your child the fall to acclimate. My son’s head teacher, who has been teaching for almost two decades, encouraged my husband and I to resist multiple sign ups. Going to school full day is a huge change in schedule for most children. It’s okay for them to come home and be tired - they need the space and permission to do that. Statistics say that children today get a full hour less sleep a night than children 30 years ago. We need to be aware of that trend in an effort to safeguard them - they’re still little.
- Volunteer in the school or classroom. I cannot stress how much my son looked forward to seeing me occasionally around campus, or how enriching it was for me to learn firsthand about his new environment. Pick a way to tap in that works with your schedule - it’s a great way to ease the transition for both of you.
- When your child is ready for activity sign-ups, preference two things. First, if there is an activity that several boys or girls in the class are signing up for, go for it. It’s a great way for your child to form early bonds and for you to get know other parents. Second, encourage your child to explore a range of activities. Exploration is an important phase in self-discovery that children can miss when there’s pressure to specialize younger and younger today. Our son uncovered a love for something my husband and I know little about this year, and we’re so glad we gave him the opportunity to try.
- Protect family time. It’s shockingly easy for family time to get lost in the shuffle. When we’re faced with several good options, it’s important to remember the most important one and protect it. We routinely marked off certain evenings together that served as a respite for our children and for us as parents. It opened the door for insights from casual conversation and opportunities to show love even through the tired, “sticky” moments of family life. Ultimately, it helps form the basis of our child’s support structure.
Whether your child will be going off to full day school for the first time in kindergarten or first grade, you’re in for some endearing milestones this year. Savor it. And if you find yourself alternately doing cartwheels and pulling out the Kleenexes - remember it’s normal.