Thursday, September 3, 2009

Some Words of Advice for Red Lotus Mama by EmmieJ

Today marked Day #8 of kindergarten for my now-6-year-old son (Happy Birthday, D!!! was yesterday). As I was trying to figure out what to write for this post I started thinking about RLM and her gorgeous Princess D (not to be confused with my D…we’ll call him Mr. D today) and the fact that they’ll be going through this same transition at this time next year. So I put a shout out to my mommy friends who have been through this and asked them what advice they’d give to a mom who is a year away from kindergarten. Here are ten of their brilliant ideas (with a few of my own thrown in for good measure).

Ten Things To Do The Year Before Kindergarten

1. Teach her to make her own lunch, or at least help you make one for her.

There are a couple reasons why this is a good idea. First, it will save you time next year. We’re barely a week into the school year and I’m amazed at how much effort I’ve had to put into this whole kindergarten thing already. Drop offs and pick-ups and forms and PTC meetings and emails and calendars and lunch menus, oh my! Homework doesn’t even start until next week! Am I not going to sleep again until he’s 18?

Second, it teaches her to take responsibility for her nutrition. By the time you get to the first day of school and there are other kids with Oreos and Doritos and the like, it’s too late. Even if it takes getting a door slammed in your face, you want her to make healthy eating decisions while at school, so take the time now to teach her what a well-balanced school lunch looks like and how to make it. There are tools to help. Mr. D is a little, how shall we say it, anal retentive when it comes to organization. I got him the Laptop Lunchbox (thanks to Kristen for the recommendation) and he assigned a different food group to each color container. Now he knows that if he has to put fruit in the red container and veggies in the blue one. There’ve been no arguments at all about inclusion of healthy foods in his lunch because of it.

2. Take her birthday off.

You’re already ahead of me on this one. I didn’t take the day off last year for Mr. D’s birthday and by about 9:30 am I regretted it. The fifth birthday is an awesome one. It marks the end of toddlerhood and the beginning of childhood. She deserves to have a special day just for her.

Another reason why this is important for school-year birthdays (I know this won’t be as big of a deal for summer birthday kids) is because food allergies have put a serious damper on school birthday celebrations. Our school allows us to bring gift bags (think party favor bags) to share with the kids’ classmates (Uh, no. You want one of those? You’re going to have to come to the party) but no cupcakes, cookies or ice cream. In fact, no treats whatsoever. Total bummer. You might as well let her live it up while she can.

Other days you should plan to take off include the day before the first day of school and the first day of school. Just trust me. You’ll want to savor every last second that you can. And when you finally send her off, you’ll want to be there as soon as she’s done with her day.

3. Practice homework time.

I’m not saying to go overboard and make Princess D hyper-focused on academics at age 4, though she may already get homework in her pre-K program. This isn’t really about what you have her do. This is about making a quiet, contemplative period a regular part of her at-home schedule. When Mr. D was given homework in his pre-K program, he always wanted to do it the night he got it so we were lucky. But on the weekends, we had Mr. D’s brother’s nap time as a time where he did something like coloring in a coloring book, reading or doing an age-appropriate workbook. Again, we were lucky because he likes doing all these things, but it was important to us that he become used to how “homework” was going to work at our house. We worked out all the logistics such as where he could have a quiet place with plenty of light to work, where his pencils and crayons should be kept so that he can get to them but they’re out of the way, etc. All of this helped to lay the foundation for what it’s going to be like when he starts getting real homework. (Thankfully it’s not until after Back-to-School Night next week.)

4. Play hooky from school/work and hang out watching movies in your pajamas all day

Let’s face it. When your kid starts school you suddenly have to pretend to be responsible and model good behavior all the time. You can’t just decide that Princess D won’t have to go to school because you’re having a bad morning and just want to snuggle with her in bed all day. Take advantage of being guilt-free about keeping her home from preschool and just have fun.

Mama & D

I’m a fan of lounging, but you could go to the park, zoo, or heck, head on back to Disneyland. Imagine her surprise when you wake her up in the morning and tell her, “Sorry, hon, we’re not going to school today. You have a date with a mouse.”

5. Friend her preschool friends' parents on Facebook

Those first few weeks (months?) of school are socially awkward for parents and kids alike. Though five year olds are a friendly bunch, sometimes it’s nice just to have the comfort of hanging out with people you’ve known for a while. The great thing about Facebook is that you can manage everything from one place when it comes to your kids’ friends. I just did invitations to Mr. D’s birthday party via Facebook. It saved me a small fortune on those Power Ranger invitations he was insisting that I use. (Now if only I could figure out how to send goody bags via Facebook. That’s save me a LARGE fortune.) Even better, Princess D will get to see her friends via pictures as their parents post them. Mr. D LOVES going to look at all of his friends’ pictures on there.

6. Enjoy weeknights.

Weeknights have become so chaotic it’s hard to believe that just a week and a half ago we were able to have fun on weeknights. Now we’re happy to get 30 minutes to just hang out before bed. Go to the movies, out to dinner or have a sleepover. Those will quickly become things of the past.

7. Make sure she can tie a shoe and open a juice box.

There are certain things that a kindergartner needs to know how to do, more as a survival skill than anything else. Think about it, Princess D is having snack time with twenty-some-odd other kids and one teacher. All of them have juice boxes or milk cartons that need to be open. So as she’s chomping on her (healthy) snack, she’s sitting there waiting, thirsty as heck, because the teacher needs to open everyone else’s juice boxes too. I actually heard another kindergartner's parent (in a different class) say the teacher refused to open the juice box for her son. That.would.suck. My advice is to be sure she knows how to do anything that a bitchy teacher might not be willing to do for her. (I’ve been trying to brainstorm other things. Perhaps sharpen a pencil, wash her hands after going to the bathroom without being reminded, clear her trash/dishes after lunch, etc. All of these things will be great skills to have on the first day of school.)

8. Get yourself a good family planner

As I stood waiting to pick Mr. D up on the first day of school, I suddenly realized why I was so uneasy about being the parent of a kindergartner. My schedule, and the schedule of my family, was no longer within my control. Between school, soccer and family birthdays, we pretty much have every weekend between now and November planned for us. Some folks swear on things like Google calendars, especially so you can share them with your family so you can coordinate. If you go the technological route, I highly recommend you also hang a white board or chalk board calendar somewhere that Princess D can see it so that she can learn to take responsibility for her activities as well. If Mr. D didn’t remind me of some stuff, I swear I’d miss it.

9. Take an off-peak vacation.

Practically every kid in the United States is on the same school schedule, give or take a religious holiday. That means more crowds, more expensive flights, and longer planning windows for your vacations for the next 13 years. Heed my advice: go somewhere just after Thanksgiving but before Christmas. Or at the end of February. Any time that kids will be in school will be just fine. But do it and enjoy it.

hanging out in the aisle

10. Take LOTS of pictures

I have no doubt that you’ll do this, but I thought I’d include it just to remind you. Something really magical happens during this year. They really do turn into small children. I look at pictures of Mr. D from September of last year and compare them to today and it blows my mind. Plus, Princess D is freakin’ adorable and I want to be able to see her cute little face on your blog some more.

The most important thing to do, though, is to just enjoy it. This is an awesome time in a child's life. Savor every second of it.

Mama & D

What about the rest of you? Any other advice for Red Lotus Mama on enjoying her last year before Princess D starts kindergarten?


Emmie writes at Life Behind the Curve. Follow her on Twitter.