Transitioning from the coziness of Pre-K to the vastness of kindergarten was a hard adjustment, for me. My first kid handled it fine. My second kid was so eager to grow up, he wanted to skip Pre-K altogether to try to catch up to his sister. Not so fast, buddy. I am less adaptable to change than my kids, apparently. Which is why it took me a while to figure out that there are things you don’t actually have to do when you send your kid to school, even though everyone says you do.
If anything, I over-prepared because I was anxious about sending my tiny child to a huge brick building that went through eighth grade. Turns out, I put way too much energy into some things that didn’t end up serving my or my kids’ school experience. Once I tossed any ambition I had about creating bento box masterpieces for their lunches, I learned to relax about the role school was playing in their lives, instead of letting anxiety put me into overdrive; scrolling through Pinterest boards to see how to craft sandwiches in the shapes of forest animals.
In addition to intricate meal planning, here are some things I discovered I don’t have to do when sending my kids to school, though other people might, and that’s fine for them. Whatever works.
(Disclaimer: There is one thing you must do. When you get the letter home about lice being found in the class — and you will get that letter — definitely do everything it tells you to do to prevent, or get rid of, an infestation. Just FYI.)
Get Them A New Backpack
Sure they may want one, but if last year’s schoolbag is still in great condition, why not keep using it? The only reason we replace our kids’ bags is if they are falling apart (so yeah, I’m replacing backpacks on the regular because my children are maniacs). If they want something new, just to have it new, they can put it on their birthday wish list. Besides, some companies offer amazing guarantees, so you can exchange the old backpack for a new one at any time.
Bring All The Supplies In On The First Day
I wish our school was one where you could order the class supplies online to have them shipped directly to the class. Sadly, it’s not. So, we do our annual end-of-summer pilgrimages to Target (and four other stores because there is very specific kind of marble notebook and they need seven, not five, yet they only come in packs of five not that I'm still upset about it or anything) to stock up.
Invariably, there are some big items on these lists: packs of baby wipes, rolls of paper towels and boxes of tissues. Help your kid pack his or her bag on the first day with the things you know they’ll use right away: glue, pencils, erasers, scissors, ruler, notebooks and folders. On the second day, and third day, they can bring in those other items. Don’t let the supplies list scare you; teachers will be grateful to get those sharable items, like paper goods, whenever they can as close to the start of school, but it definitely doesn’t have to be on the first day.
Invite The Whole Class To Your Kid’s Birthday Party
I used to feel I had to invite the whole kindergarten class to my kid’s birthday shindig, but with a class of 25 students, it was overwhelming for her and me. I have toned the festivities way down since then. My kids have been much happier doing a special event with one or two friends, than being the focus of a chaotic, generic birthday party (it’s cheaper too).
Obviously not all kids want to downscale the fun, but don’t feel obligated to hand out invitations to every kid. Get the contact info of the parents of the kids your child wants at their celebration, and reach out to them outside of the classroom. If you’re not going to hand out invitations to all the kids, it will feel terrible to those kids who don’t receive a special envelope.
Label Their Underwear
If they lose it, I don’t want it back.
Wear The New Shoes On The First Day
I would not recommend having kids break in new shoes right at the start of school. This is a tough sell to a wannabe fashionista like my 8-year-old daughter, but it is a bad scene to have your kid hobble off the bus with heel blisters, needing to sit out gym the first week. Get the shoes a week or two before the start of school and work out all the footwear kinks earlier rather than later. Trust.
Attend Every PTA Meeting
I swore that once both my kids were in one school, I would be much more involved in the PTA. Well, that hasn’t happened (yet). I have attended meetings, but not regularly. My kids don’t attend school in our neighborhood, so getting to nightly meetings is a challenge. However, I swear once my 6-year-old is more independent and the bedtime routine is less arduous, I will be more involved in the PTA. No, seriously. I swear it.
Volunteer In The Classroom
I think my kids’ school has a smart policy: parents are welcome to volunteer in the classroom, but it can’t be their own kid’s class. This is to avoid nepotism and that uncanny phenomenon of children adopting a snarky, uncooperative attitude whenever their mom or dad is around (or maybe that’s just in my case). However, I work full-time and, while I do make sure I chaperone at least one trip a year for each of my kids, taking time off to volunteer during the day is difficult.
So I do what I can. My husband and I are both employed, and we donate annually to our kids’ (public) school. Until I can find more time, this is how we help support the school’s art, music, and STEM programs.
Dress Your Kid Up On Picture Day
More than once I have failed to remember it was "picture day," despite all my calendar alerts (Pro tip: You will never check your phone in the mad rush to get the kids out of the house in the morning, so change the reminders to the night before!). Surprisingly, the photos on those days are the best. My son wears a shirt with his favorite cartoon character, and his hair is adorably messed up. It captures him honestly, the way I’d always want to remember him at those ages. While my daughter fixates on a nice dress and a special hairstyle, I honestly wish she wouldn’t. Capturing my kids in their everydayness is so much more satisfying than seeing them unnaturally dolled up.
Make Friends With The Other Parents
If I felt like I had to be buddies with the parents, and that stressed me out. It’s enough to be friendly and inclusive. We have an online group of my daughter’s class parents, and I lean on it when I have questions about after school hours or schedules or trips. It’s nice to chat with them at school events. It’s also wonderful not to feel the pressure of having to cultivate a social life with parents of my kids’ friends. Just because our children hang out, doesn’t mean we have to also. Though it’s always cool when I do click with another parent. Making friends as grown-ups is hard.
Vary Their Lunches
Oh sure, by all means, do this. Just don’t expect them to get consistently eaten. My daughter has been bringing hummus and pretzels every day for the last three years of school. It’s all she wants and it’s all she eats. She is happy eating a variety of foods for dinner, or at restaurants, but when it comes to her school lunch, she wants it the way she wants and it makes my life so much easier knowing what I’m packing her every day (for the rest of her school-life, I guess).