What a year! In September, your kid was fresh from preschool…now he's just a summer away from first grade. Along the way, he's started building the reading, writing, and math skills he'll keep building upon for over a decade. He's made new friends and adjusted to big new habits, like handling his school supplies and taking turns. Your child may have had some tough moments along the way, but by the end of kindergarten, most kids have also had a darn good time. So good, in fact, that your first thought is probably to hold a big celebration. After all, this is a graduation, isn’t it? Why not go out with a bang!
Not so fast, say many veteran kindergarten teachers. While kids this age may seem wild and loud sometimes, they’re actually quite vulnerable, and all this end-of-the-year hoopla can feel downright overwhelming. Eager as you may be to celebrate, it’s important to keep things in scale. Nobody needs to end the day in meltdown mode, and that includes parents.
Want to help your kids ace this important transition? Here are some practical tips from veteran teacher Kathleen Hayes, author of Classroom Routines That Really Work for PreK and Kindergarten. Keep these four things in mind as you prepare for that last day of kindergarten:
Cap and gown? Maybe not. Sure it's a big deal that your child made it through her first year of official schooling, but in the midst of all your glowing, be sure to keep things in perspective. If the school has a formal graduation ceremony, by all means attend, but try to downplay the formality. These events, says Hayes, can be “very demanding of the kids” and leave them “exhausted and anxious.” Dress your kid in comfortable clothes and, Hayes warns, “Don’t overwhelm your child by asking him or her to hold still over and over again as everyone snaps pictures.” Of course you want to document the moment, but you don't need hundreds of pictures to do it.
Limit sweets. Between graduation itself and the room parties that follow, there's often a lot of cake and other goodies floating around this time of year. Beware. For children, a big dose of sugar on top of the strong emotions of the day can be, well, combustible. Be ready with healthy snacks, and if kids do eat celebration sweets, try to keep them to reasonable amounts. Make sure that cake and cookies aren't the only thing on offer. Bring food to the classroom shindig, or volunteer to help organize an end-of-the-year picnic—with healthy choices dominating the menu.
Honor your child's feelings. “Recognize,” says Hayes, “that your child may be sad to leave a beloved teacher and friends. Help your child make a little homemade gift to give to the teacher(s) and make sure your child has a quiet moment with their teacher in order to say goodbye." Be sure to take pictures of classmates and teachers, and use them to create a scrapbook or collage for the year. Ask your child to write something (or dictate) they love most about their new friendships and this unique year, and put that in the book as well. Most of all, let your child know that you recognize that this year was important to her, and don't brush aside her sadness with speedy assurances that next year will be just as special.
Look forward as well as backward. Talk with your child about the future. “Remember,” Hayes says, “many children don’t want to leave school.” After all, they’ve generally had ten months of exciting growth in a safe, fun place. Help overcome your child’s natural fears by talking about the upcoming summer, and about what’s coming up in the next grade. “Summer may hold frightening uncertainties, but perhaps last Fall did, too, and the children were fine. Remind them of that.”
No matter what strategies you choose for ending the year, do remember that for almost all kids, kindergarten is a cherished time. Don’t be surprised if you, too, feel worried about what’s next—sure, it’s all part of the ebb and flow of life, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could just stop time once in a while? For these feelings, Hayes offers teacherly reassurance: “although some things may be different next year, many things will be similar.” After all, what you and your children learned this year was that you can be in school…and love it. And that sort of lesson never needs to ebb.