Guest Post: Laura Brown-Bowers on Sending Her Daughter to Kindergarten

As I get ready for all the fresh faces to enter my classroom this year, I can’t help but be completely distracted. “Distracted” might not be the best word. How about FREAKED OUT!

IMG_2453 (2)You see, my 3 ¾ year old daughter is going off to Kindergarten for the first time this September. My little, precious, bright eyed, feisty Beatrice is heading off on her own educational journey, and I will not be there to hold her hand at the very beginning. Instead, I will be greeting children who have done this before, many times. I have been an educator for 10 years, but it was not until or only when I had my child that I realized the amount of trust that parents put into my hands each and every day. For 10 months I see their children more often than they do, and it is my job to provide a space where the students will continue to grow and develop their love of learning. I need to make learning magical.

As Beatrice heads off to school, I am looking at that job and that magic from a new angle. Will my daughter enjoy learning at school? Will she find it exciting? Will she struggle? Will she develop a sense of trust with her teachers? Will her teachers see what I see and nurture her strengths? Change is huge for all of us, but I can’t help thinking how monumental this will be for Beatrice. As I said before, I can’t be there to hold her hand on this first day of school, but hopefully she knows that I am there to support her and set any teacher straight who doesn’t meet my standards come parent-teacher interview time. My husband has already said that I won’t be allowed to attend.

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Laura Brown-Bowers lives live with her husband, daughter, and 4 month old baby bump in the west end of Toronto.  She loves to paint, walk in the woods, and eat good food.

 

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Back-To-School Shopping Guide

School is back in session but if you’re like me, you resisted buying anything while officially still on summer break. I loathe to start back-to-school shopping too soon, and often find waiting until after school has started to be a better time to make well-thought out and needed purchases. Whether your little one is starting pre-school for the first time or heading off to university, we’ve got a list of need-to-haves and nice-to-haves.

Preschoolers and Kindies

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Jump Kids World Pre School Animal Lunch Bag ($7). Lunch containers sold separately. Available at Real Canadian Superstore®.

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Lunch boxes just got sweeter with these School Mini Cookies by The Teeny Tiny Bakery (50/box, $70).  Available at OneofaKindOnlineShop.com

Grade School

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Tera Gear “Doddle” Backpack ($20), variety of colours. Available at Real Canadian Superstore®.

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PC Stainless Steel Containers ($7-$9). Available at Real Canadian Superstore®.

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Everyday Essentials Twist and Clip Insulated Lunch Bag ($6), variety of colours. Available at Real Canadian Superstore®.

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Heroes & Villains Notebooks ($10), available online only at http://www.potterybarnkids.com

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This Mini Lazy Susan will keep all the desk accessories in one place ($29).  Available at Pottery Barn Kids, http://www.potterybarnkids.com

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Magnetic Bookmarks ($6-$15) from Craft’ed, http://www.craftedvan.com

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Affordable and stylish fashions from The Children’s Place.

High School

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TOMS StandUp backpack ($60), variety of colours, and with every one purchased, TOMS will help stop bullying, one youth at a time. Available at Journeys.ca and www.Toms.ca

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Solid Task Lighting are ideal for brightening up any homework space ($52).  Available at Pottery Barn Kids, http://www.potterybarnkids.com

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Getting organized and staying organized can be a challenge but the Espresso Daily System ($49) does the trick.  Available at Pottery Barn Kids, http://www.potterybarnkids.com

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Dry Erase Whiteboard Magnets ($11) from The Tulle Box, http://www.thetullebox.etsy.com

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Storiebrooke Dipped Twig Pencils ($17.19) from Storiebrooke, http://www.storiebrook.etsy.com

University

Everyday Essentials 20 Shelf Hanging Shoe Organizer ($14). Available at Real Canadian Superstore®.

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Everyday Essentials 5-Piece Bath Accessory Set ($10). Available at Real Canadian Superstore®.

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Life at Home 7-Piece Bed in a Bag ($54). Available at Real Canadian Superstore®.

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The SodaStream POWER turns ordinary water into sparkling ($179).  Available at SodaStream.ca

For Mom

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PC Cupcake Display Try Set with Pop Out Display Tower ($20). Available at Real Canadian Superstore®.

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PC Enameled Cast Iron Pot ($60). Available at Real Canadian Superstore®.

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PC Textured Togo Mug ($10). Available at Real Canadian Superstore®.

Mama’s Going Back to School, Too!

Exactly one week until my kids go back to school.  Can I get an “Amen!” sisters?!

We all know that Back to School is a period more welcomed by burnt-out parents than by kids, but this year, my kids aren’t the only ones going back into a classroom.  I have signed myself up for a drawing class at a local art school.  The class is called …. I Wish I Could Draw.  So, perhaps, I’m not so much going back to school as starting all over again from Kindergarten.

I am one of those people who could happily take classes for the rest of her life.  Education is wasted on the young, and I regret so much not taking the Intro to Art History course in my undergrad years.  Lascaux to Rothko, it covered it all.  The textbook weighed five pounds.  My roommate took the class, and, honestly, at the time, it was not something that appealed.  But now, now that the same roommate has taught me how to really enjoy how to walk through a gallery, now that I have a much stronger frame of reference for all of those historical movements, now that I have a vocabulary for techniques and media, I am full of regret.

At least I have learned to love looking at art.  It is such a treat to go to a gallery and soak up all of the work on the walls.  I come away from craft fairs and art shows with a buzz from all of the creativity, and I think, “I wish I could draw.”

“I wish I could draw” is something I’ve thought and heard myself say so often that it feels slightly surreal to think I am finally doing something about it.  I do not expect to emerge as an artist ready for her own art shows, but I am so excited to begin learning.  I’m also excited to sit down with my kids at the museum and open my own sketch book with a little less self-consciousness, a little less trepidation, a little more abandon.

taken in London, where we spent part of the summer

This photo was taken in London, where we spent part of the summer.

Back-To-School Blues

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It’s with great sadness that I write, summer is unofficially over. I always consider back-to-school the “new year” and even though there are technically many more days left of summer, I equate school with Fall and Fall with, “winter’s just around the corner”.

Back-to-school time is when we are bombarded with lists of what we need. Christmas is the only other time of year where wish lists meets crazed parents and the result is a frenzied shopping spree. We’re hoping to make things a bit easier for you with our back-to-school guide of must-haves and nice-to-haves.

Let’s all try to keep our sanity for as long as possible once the busyness of school, work, activities, homework and reports takeover. We’ve got some tips for finding your zen . . . or maybe just surviving the dinner hour!

As always we’ve got some great guests lined up. One mom shares the experience of taking her first-born to kindergarten for the first time, and to contrast another mom bravely shares the emotions she felt as she pulled away from the university dorm for the first time.

Our theme week is definitely going to be “bookmark” worthy because we are sharing our best, time-saving, sanity soothing mom hacks.   The debate over school uniforms and dress codes proves to be a hot-button topic and is this month’s At Issue.

We are introducing a new feature this month What We’re Watching, a roundup of binge-worthy television and movies with the occasional podcast thrown in for good measure.   WWW will replace Best of the Blogosphere and we will continue to share content from fellow bloggers on our Facebook page, so be sure to follow us there and share what you’re reading too!

Wishing you happy school days!

Back To School: Getting & Staying Organized

IMG_1436I was never one of those kids who bemoaned the end of summer holiday. I was the one that was stalking the aisles of Zellers for three-ring binders and fresh stacks of lined paper in July. For me, September is the unofficial start of the year and I still revel in the anticipation of the new school year. I love organizing my supplies, charting the schedule and re-working our routines.

Here are some back-to-school products and tips that I like for this September. Sound off with a comment and let us know if you agree, what you’re planning for this back-to-school season and what you know is an absolute bust!

Let’s start with the backpack. Kids need a good, sturdy backpack. I am of the mindset to buy little packs for little bodies. I don’t think that kids should be carting around the entire contents of their desks, their gym clothes and their lunch. I tend to believe that if it doesn’t fit, you probably don’t need to carry it. Bigger kids – a completely different story.

Of course LL Bean does their classic knapsack in a variety of sizes. They are incredibly durable and can be monogrammed. The downside: three boys at my son’s school have the same pack and the same initial as my son. The first day of JK we had a mix-up and there were tears (his, not mine). That’s why I love these packs by Herschel. They are reasonably priced and come in a variety of sizes. This one is from Mini Mioche, a conscious, ethical shop located in the Distillery District in Toronto.

What goes in the pack is just as important as the pack itself. Staples is my go-to for office/school supplies. They’ve got everything that I need and even more that I don’t! I love these life-time guarantee three-ring Better Binders that they carry. I remember throwing away several binders at the end of each term when I was a student and they are probably wasting away in a landfill somewhere.

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Colourful markers, like these neon Sharpies, are not only fun to write with, they are instrumental in keeping the schedule organized. I have colours for each child and everything is written in those colours.

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I have budding writers at home and leaning on my experience as a classroom teacher, I know how imperative it is that children learn how to hold their pencil correctly. It seems like such a little thing but holding a writing tool the proper way actually assists in proper letter formation, and reduces muscle fatigue (among other things!). I have a package of these grippers and will be buying even more this year . . . they seem to go missing as often as socks.

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Homework is never fun (unless you’re me!). My boys whine a little bit, but I created homework boxes much like this one. I keep it on the desk and when they’re doing homework on the go, it’s easy to toss into the bag. I like to put a checklist on the outside of the kit and it’s a weekly job to ensure that the homework kit is properly stocked and pencils are sharpened. In our kit: 2 pencils, 1 eraser, 1 highligher, 1 ruler, 1 mini-stapler, 1 pair of scissors, a few coloured pencil and a glue stick. Make sure to toss dried-out markers or broken pencils. Always, always, always have a stack of presentation boards available because it never fails that on Sunday night at 7 pm, someone says that they need a piece for a project due tomorrow!

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Organized homework stations can help to alleviate homework anxiety and reduce procrastination. A homework station that is sufficiently stocked (not too cluttered, not lacking for anything), and neat might be what’s needed to reduce the entire family’s stress level. Consider using file folders and vertical boxes, one dedicated to each child to store on-going projects or paperwork that comes home from the classroom. Also,have a file folder for you too! You need one place to keep all of those permission forms that need your signature. Clare Kumar, an organizing expert, suggests going vertical instead of using horizontal trays or pegboards. I have to agree.

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I don’t have any locker occupiers, but this kit speaks to my desire to organize and de-clutter. This locker kit, also available at Staples, comes complete with magnets, a magnetic pencil box, locker wallpaper, magnetic mirror and magnetic dry erase and marker. The kit is available in a variety of looks so your tween can express themselves. . .

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and might look like this inside your tween’s locker . . .

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Collect While You Spend!

Back-to-school hits the bank account hard. Other than Christmas, this is the time of year my credit card takes a pounding so why not shop online and collect points that you can cash-in to help with the holiday crunch that will be here before we know it. The best way to stay rewarded while checking-off the back-to-school wish list is to shop through AIR MILES Shops (airmilesshops.ca) that has partnered with brands such as Indigo, LL Bean, GAP, Old Navy, Toms and Roots. Many of these stores carry packs, lunch sacks, school supplies and uniform pieces that you may have planned to purchase already, so why not shop online through airmilesshops and collect? Come December you can redeem those miles and tick-off the holiday gift list.

Vote With Your Dollars

I always go back to what Carol says, “We vote with our dollars.” Me to We has partnered with Free The Children and Staples to help make a difference in the lives of children and their families in a Free The Children developing community. The program is so simple. Every purchase makes a difference! For example, when you purchase a lunch pack, Me to We will donate food to feed a child. When you buy a water bottle, Me to We will donate clean water to a child. What’s more, Me to We products have a tracking number that is entered on-line so you’re able to learn more about the gift your purchase gave and how it changed the life of a child or family. Imagine the potential for change if everyone bought just one Me to We item for their back-to-school list this year. That’s voting with your dollars!

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It’s first day of school today and so I would like to wish all of the students a wonderful year of learning, friendship and fun. I would like to wish all of the teachers a year of inspiration, engagement and fun. I would like to wish all of the parents, good luck!

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The Honeymoon Is Over: Twenty Things Your Child’s Teacher Wants You To Know

school-216891__180And the survey says . . .  an informal poll of teachers representing various grades, school districts and both the public and private reveal what teachers want parents to know now that school is in full-swing!

The Early Years

Your child is excited to see you at pick-up.  Get off your cell phone.  In a few years time, they won’t want a bear hug and to be smothered with kisses in plain sight of their friends.

Remember, “school clothes” and “play clothes”?  Unless your child wears a uniform to school, school clothes should be play clothes.  Don’t send me a note about how paint splatters stained an expensive shirt.  Learning can be messy!

That includes footwear!  Yes, I know those red-glittery Mary Janes are adorable and that Crocs are a favourite, but appropriate footwear for running around the gym, they are not.

When a four year old has to pee, they have to pee yesterday.  Fiddling with the likes of zippers, toggles and buttons means that there will be an accident that I have to cleanup, while simultaneously teaching 19 additional children.

The same goes for snack containers.

Don’t badger me at drop-off and pick-up.  I know you have concerns.  I read your emails and listened to your phone message but let’s arrange a time to talk without the ears of other parents and children around.

The Tween & Teen Years

I am not calling/emailing/texting/courier-pigeoning you if your child didn’t do his/her homework.  Especially, if they are in grade 12.

It’s okay if your child makes mistakes.  Let them.  That’s how they will learn.

I know when you do their homework.  It’s no great mystery that you did it when their report on Mayans is thirteen pages, double-spaced, APA formatted and bound in a Dou-tang when in-class it’s a miracle if I can get a legible and coherent three paragraph response.

Stop comparing your kid to another’s kid.  Furthermore, stop comparing yourself to the other parents.

Let kids be kids.  They feel enough pressure to grow up quickly.

Stilettos for a grade 8 Graduation are not appropriate.  Neither are skimpy dresses.  Or professionally done make-up.

It’s okay if your kid doesn’t have a boyfriend/girlfriend.  There is a lifetime for relationships like that.  What’s more important is your child being a good friend to others?

Learn to say “no” to your kids! Believe it or not, they want you to!

For All The Years

Teach your child to be independent.  Teach them to put on their own shoes, pack their own packs, return their own forms and manage their own projects.  When you do things for your child that they can do for themselves, you’re doing them a disservice!  Chances are they are capable of a lot more than you are giving them credit for.

Buying your child a new agenda, backpack, iPhone, computer, fancy jacket, boots, running shoes . . . .  the list could go on . . . just because they lost the first doesn’t teach them responsibility.  Did they even check the Lost and Found?  Chances are, no!

Sometimes it is inevitable that you will need to book an appointment for your child during school hours but book these with discretion.  Haircuts are not critical and do not count!

Remember that I am a human being too.  Sometimes I make mistakes.  Don’t trash talk me in front of your kids.  Cut me some slack and I will cut you some too.    

Spend time with your kids.  Turn off the TV, the computers, and the social media and just be together.  Go for a walk, play a game, make dinner together.  Your child will perform better in school

Most Importantly . . .

Your child is not a genius.

A Volunteer

volunteers-601662_640A few weeks ago I had a conversation with my sister-in-law about volunteering.  We concluded that you either are a volunteer or you’re not.  Stay-at-home status versus work-outside the home career, a house-full of children or none; it doesn’t really matter because a volunteer is just something that you are.

And any volunteer will tell you that sometimes they wish they could just say “no!” and shirk the sign-up sheet but like a moth to a flame, it’s impossible.

September is looming.  I feel it.  I have already noted that my summer is half-way over and before I know it the weather will turn, the snack-packs will reclaim their front of the cupboard real-estate and I will sit down with “The Schedule” and shuffle swim times with soccer games and tumble tots.  Somehow everything will fall into place and within a few weeks we’ll run like a well-oiled machine from pool to field to court and back.

Every year when I organize the kids fall activities, I promise myself that this year I will stake those two precious hours from 9 am to 11 am to do whatever I want.  Focus on me.

Groceries be damned!

But those sign-up sheets get me every time!  Like an addict, I scrawl my name under bake-sales and fun fairs, class parent and field trips.

I try to live my life by following this simple rule: what you put in, you will get out.

Great communities don’t just happen.  Great schools just don’t happen.  In fact, very little of anything great “just happens”.

Although it sounds trite, I am happy to do my part because as much as I put in, I get so much more in return.

As this past school year was winding down, my six-year old came home from grade one and announced that he had volunteered to bring a snack tomorrow for his class party.

My head was swimming in the way that only a mother who is “limping across the finish line” knows and as much as I wanted to blurt out, “Why’d you do that!?  Don’t you see how crazy it is this week!?” it made me proud to know that my son is a volunteer.

He’s one of us.

Great Reads: The Kissing Hand, by Audrey Penn

The sound of a school bell clanging in the morning means many things to different people.  For a teacher, it is the start of the teaching day.  For a child, it is the start of a learning day.  For a parent it is the start of a chaotic workday – whether that work be inside or outside of the home.

This September the shrill of the school bell symbolized a new beginning for my son.  Together we stood, hand in hand, outside the kindergarten entrance.  His brand new bright red backpack hung from his shoulders.  His blue eyes were wide as he anxiously took in the schoolyard scene: older boys tossing balls against the wall, girls with pigtails and tights twirling colourful skipping ropes.  His little hand gripped mine, ever so tightly.  To be truthful, maybe it was me who was doing the gripping.

I knew that in an instant, when he walked single-file through those heavy double doors, a chapter in our lives had come to an end.  No longer was I the new mother, unsure and without confidence.  No longer was he the little boy who needed to be rocked to sleep in my arms.

My son released his grip on my hand and I leaned down to kiss him goodbye.  I squeezed him and choked back my tears.  I whispered in his ear how much I loved him.  We clung to each other for a moment, each of us gathering the strength to pull away.  Just as he was about to join his new classmates, he held out his small hand, palm facing up.  I knew what he wanted.

Weeks before the start of kindergarten we read The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn.  The story is about a little raccoon was nervous to start the first day of school.  His mother kisses the palm of his hand so whenever he is feeling lonely or scared, he can place the palm on his cheek and feel the love of his mother.

I took my son’s hand and kissed it and then extended my palm towards him.  He walked towards the line-up with his hand firmly pressed against his cheek and held it there until he disappeared into the hallways of the school.

I turned and walked away, my hand against my cheek.

This has become our morning ritual and I am very thankful to have come across this book that helped to make the transition to kindergarten a bit easier for both of us.  Is there a book or story that you used with your children to get through a tough time or to teach an insightful lesson?

 

It’s September. Do you know where your parka is?

One of our back-to-school rituals is the annual first-day-of-school photo. Each year, as the boys head out the door, we snap a picture (or 12) of them. We take one on the last day of school, too, so they can see how they’ve grown over the course of the year.

Any planned photo opportunity also means an opportunity for me to try to get them into shirts with a collar. This is a bit of an obsession of mine, and I recognize that it’s my own hang-up. The kids could care less if they look presentable on the first day of school, or any day, for that matter. On his first day last year, Sebastian wore the same shirt that he’d worn to daycare the day before, one that had spent the night damp and crumpled in his backpack.  His first day was supposed to be the following day.  I’m still cringe when I think that he went to school — his first day! — in a wet, crumpled, paint-splattered Thomas the Tank Engine t-shirt. I recognize that I  harbour some deep-seated fear that if they’re not wearing something nice, their teachers will think we’re slacker parents who don’t care. And their teachers, who in my paranoid world have nothing to worry about but what kids are wearing, will judge my children for it.

I tell you, it’s my hang-up. And I own it.

So, school somehow sneaked up on me this year. It didn’t sneak, really. Mostly, I was distracted by the new house and work and…and I forgot to buy new shirts for the boys for their first day. Most sane parents would simply root through their childrens’ clothes for something clean, right? Well, I’m clearly not sane, so I joined the other hundreds of parents wandering the downtown core shopping for their kids on Labour Day.

And you know what I found?

Snowsuits. Racks and racks of snowsuits. Long sleeved shirts. Turtlenecks and wool sweaters. Nary a short-sleeved polo shirt or back-to-school sale to be found.

Now, I know that in some places, kids go back to school before Labour Day, so back to school sales typically start sometime around June (around when my kids are getting OUT of school). But this was crazy. Despite the grey, overcast and cool weather we had this past weekend, it’s still typically steaming hot the first week of September in Toronto. Today’s forecast high is 30 degrees celcius. Are retailers seriously expecting anyone to be shopping for winter gear now? Is there any benefit to buying a snowsuit in September, and if there is, how do I not know about it?

Is everyone more organized than me?

I finally tracked down some polo shirts at the Old Navy in the Eaton Centre and made a hasty retreat away from all the other sad-faced folk staring at the down vests and wooly hats in confusion. I have learned my lesson, though. Next year, I will be prepared! I will go shopping for first-day of school clothes in April!

And…oh yes, they will be on sale.

The eve of kindergarten

We were together, just Sam (who’s 4) and I, in the living room of the cottage, during our week’s holiday up there.  Sam was at the coffee table, perhaps drawing with the crayons and paper I’d left there.  I was on the couch, perhaps reading.  I say “perhaps” because I don’t really remember.  What I do remember is that we were quietly and companionably in the same room doing different things.

Then, out of nowhere, Sam said:  “Friend X said I was a bad boy”.

I put down what I was doing to give him my attention, but still tried to be casual.  “Oh. How did that make you feel?”

“Bad.”

I tried my best to talk about it with Sam.  We talked about how we both know he isn’t a bad boy, and so Friend X had a mistake.  We talked about how Friend X is a good friend, but still learning, and sometimes making mistakes.  Then we talked about how Sam has sometimes called his younger brother Natty a bad boy (less perplexing now) and how Natty isn’t a bad boy and so we all make mistakes.  We agreed it wasn’t a nice thing to say.  I repeated to Sam that he is not a bad boy.

It was a brief conversation.  Three minutes, maybe?  Led by me, of course, doing my best to help my son navigate the complexities of his social world.  He looked at the table throughout most of the conversation, except at the end when I asked him to look at me so I could tell him he was a great boy and that I loved him very much while looking into his eyes.  I think he was reassured by our talk, but I’m not sure how much so.

I’ve heard parents say over and over again that just being around for your kids is really important, to make time and space for children to express what’s on their mind.  Even as I worry about not being with my kids more, I am grateful to be around as much as I am, so glad Sam felt he could talk to me and that I was there when he found his voice.

Sam enters public school kindergarten in a week.  We didn’t get a spot at the alternative school we wanted and I’m kind of anxious about this new phase.  Not about accelerated learning or anything like that – I don’t care if he can cut in a circle or write an “F”.  But I do want it to be a place where he feels safe, secure, has some freedom to explore, and where kids aren’t too hard on each other.  I don’t really share the “life is tough so let the 4 years olds cope” mentality.  I want Sam to feel good about himself, both in and out of school.

A parent whose child finished kindergarten came to speak to the parents of new entrants, and described in some detail how her child wept at school for six months and the “heartbreak” of the children’s exclusionist tendencies (the “you can’t play with us” and “you’re not invited to my party” variety).  She also mentioned we should buy a backpack (which I’ve done).  I can only assume when the teachers picked this spokeswoman they did not know what she would say.  Sometimes, when I’m feeling worried, I think of her.

I’m fortified by a few things, though.  Firstly, that Sam genuinely enjoyed preschool and that his transition there was easy (and I heard the children said exclusionist things there too).  Second, Ben is confident that Sam will do well there emotionally and I tend to think Sam’s fairly grounded too.  Third, we can take him out if it’s not working.

And lastly, I’m encouraged by that little talk up at the cottage, where Sam was able to tell me about something that was weighing on him.  I feel like if he can trust us to share the load, then he’ll know he won’t really be going into that classroom alone.

Did you worry about kindergarten? Do you have any advice for the rest of us?

This post also appears at http://thekingsandi.wordpress.com.