Transitioning from Kindergarten to First Grade: It’s Not Always Easy
My transition from kindergarten to first grade was difficult. My mom had given birth to my youngest brother a month before school began, so I was going through two transitions simultaneously: starting first grade and adjusting to having a third sibling. My mom was also struggling with postpartum depression so she was less engaged with me than before my brother had been born, making it virtually unbearable for me to part with her and go to school.
My dad walked me to school every day and I had a hard time saying goodbye, both to my mom at home and again to my dad at school. One day, he suggested we read and say a little prayer together to help me get through the day. We read that same prayer every morning until we had memorized it and it became our morning ritual as we walked hand-in-hand one block to my school.
Eventually goodbyes became easier for me and my mom got better. But to this day I remember our morning ritual as being a real comfort to me as I struggled to say goodbye. As I think back upon it now as an intern at NAEYC having read a lot of content about helping children transition to school, I realize how important the routine was for me as I struggled to say goodbye. Although the words of our prayer made me feel better, it was less about the words we said and more about the action of saying it everyday with my dad that comforted me.
If your child is having anxiety or difficulty transitioning to first grade--or kindergarten, or really any grade for that matter--you can establish your own comforting routine to start your child’s day on a positive note. A comforting routine could involve singing a couple of verses of your child’s favorite song, reciting a poem, or telling a story Developing a routine like this can benefit both you and your child. Here are some other helpful tips to assist your child in his or her adjustment to school:
- Contact the teacher. If your child is struggling, or has an issue at home like I did, let his or her teacher know about it. My parents did this and also contacted my kindergarten teacher to whom I was very attached. When she would see me in the hallway she offered encouraging words like “Caroline you’re such a big girl now, you can do this.” Knowing that she was just around the corner was comforting and reassuring.
- Share your own positive stories about school. Recall memories of your childhood when you were in first grade and how much you enjoyed it.
- Not goodbye, see you later. Saying goodbye can be tough for some children. Instead of saying goodbye, perhaps say something like “See you later after school when I pick you up. I can’t wait to hear about your day!” This way, you explicitly affirm to your child that you will see him or her again at the end of the day.
- Leave a note. My mom would leave little post-it notes in my lunch box. It was a fun, surprise for me and also was a token reminder that I would get to see her again soon. Something as simple as “I hope you’re enjoying your day. I love you!” is enough to uplift a child’s spirits.
Eventually I grew to love school and learning, but that took some time. To this day, I cherish the moments I spent with my dad walking to school and appreciate all the messages my mom left in my lunch box. Both of these memories will echo in my mind for years to come, and they are traditions I will carry with me when I’m a parent someday.
Additional Resources for Starting School:
A Few Thoughts On Separation Anxiety
Personal Stories to Help Children Get Ready For School
12 Ways to Help Children Say Goodbye
Tips for Easing School-Time Anxiety From a Mom Who’s Been There
Caroline Cummings is a Broadcast Journalism student at the University of Maryland, College Park. She worked as an intern at NAEYC during the summer of 2015.