15 Sep 2014
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The Back to School Learning Curve(s)

One parent's attempt to navigate each new school year.

The Back to School Learning Curve(s)

My daughter started kindergarten two years ago and I have been trying to catch up ever since. With the advent of each school year, I have been surprised by each year's challenges. Since she is my eldest child, I have never encountered them before. I feel as if I have finally just figured out what to do when the school year ends and I am facing a brand new one.

I knew I should expect a considerable transition at kindergarten.  However, the transitions I thought I would be dealing with were not the ones I encountered. I discovered that separation from me was not an issue for my daughter when I dropped her off on her first day and she skipped off into her classroom without a single glance at me. 

Perhaps it was because she attended preschool for two years prior to kindergarten, or maybe it was simply because she has always been an independent type of girl.  All I know is that in the first weeks of kindergarten, I had to stifle my chuckles when she asked why she was home so much because dismissal times were so much earlier than her preschool.

What did surprise me was having to adjust to a suddenly-expanding social circle for both my daughter and myself. We had to remember which kid went with which parent, 24 times over. Volunteering in the classroom remedied that a bit, but that is not always a luxury every parent has (or wants). The larger class size also contributed to a sizable increase in birthday party and playdate invitations as everyone tried to get a handle on making new friends.

The curveballs continued into first grade. The division and redistribution of students into new classes tested the friendships that had been forged in kindergarten. These bonds were further tested by the vast wilderness known as the “BIG KIDS’ PLAYGROUND."

Unlike some of the parents who had already had older children go through first grade, I did not know to prepare my daughter for this.  Thus, she and many of her eldest/only child peers wandered like lost sheep during recess and lunch breaks, unable to find their playmates.  Eventually, one of the more experienced moms told me to instruct my daughter to talk with her friends and agree to meet at a designated place on the playground, which resolved the problem.

This year has already thrown me in the form of a more demanding academic environment. I was caught off guard to learn that there would be six tests on the second Friday of school.  She breezed through them, but it was certainly a jolting reminder that school was going to be very different than the occasional tests of first grade.

I have been forewarned that this may be an especially challenging year in other ways, specifically for girls. Apparently, for some reason, the social pecking order begins to be established in second grade.  As girls venture into the world of interpersonal negotiations and power struggles, things can start to get rough. I am a little wary and more than a little saddened that the evolution of “ queen bees” and “ mean girls” start at so young an age.

Tracking down a few friends who have kids one or two years older than my oldest has helped me prepare a bit better. They give me a heads up about what to expect from the coming year and can warn me about what threw them for a loop the first time they went through it.

I know now that each year will hold its own surprises and to make the most of them.  In the meantime, I comfort myself with the knowledge that I will eventually get the hang of things, probably just in time for my son to start kindergarten…and for me to realize that everything is different for boys.

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