TAMPA — For the first week of kindergarten, it’s important that parents spend as much time buying school supplies as they do hankies.
Kindergarten kids may go to day care during their first years, but going to a big kid school is a whole new world. Getting on the bus for the first time, saying goodbye to their parents — who usually need plenty of hankies themselves — and making new friends is obviously something that requires an adjustment period.
The staff at Citrus Park Elementary say they have the drill down, but it’s never easy. In fact, they claim, the first day isn’t as hard as the Monday after the first weekend off.
Ashley Beasley is a third-year guidance counselor at Citrus Park and Kari Anderson is in her first year at the school after a stint in Brandon. They know what to expect during the first week with kindergartners.
It all starts with greeting the kids when they come off the bus for the first time or when they leave the parent’s car. Teachers greet the students that first week with a warm smile and something to block out the tears.
“I’m not a teacher, but I make time to greet the parents and the walkers when they come to school that first week,” Beasley said. “We want to be warm to the parents — especially first time parents — and welcoming, and let them know that they are part of our family now.”
The first thing, after getting kindergartners into school, is letting them know where they are and how to get around, Anderson said.
“They don’t know where to go and a lot of the kids just stand around, afraid,” said Anderson. “Sometimes they are afraid to ask for help and don’t understand. If that happens, we let them call their mom just to hear a familiar voice. By lunchtime on the first day, they are usually ready to start making friends.”
Citrus Park has six kindergarten classes with 18 kids per class. There was an Open House to let the kids learn their surroundings, and Anderson said the key is to make things as happy as possible during the first week and maybe even longer. She has coloring sheets with crayons, toy areas, and housekeeping duties for the kids. There are sing-alongs and dancing, too, and that’s just before lunch.
For parents, there are windows to every classroom and parents can monitor any time of the day as long as they show identification. Parents are discouraged from going into the classroom if it means another traumatic goodbye, but they are allowed.
“The first week and the next Monday is tough at times, for the parents and the child,” Beasley said. “The parents know their kids a lot better than us, so they know when an anxiety attack might hit. We let the parents meet with the kids. Sometimes they just need a pep talk.”
Anderson has another way to make sure the kids are comfortable. She has them draw pictures of their parents and she always calls the parents of each of her kids during the first week. She knows parents are just as anxious as the kids during the first week.
The bus is another topic that parents can be afraid of. Many day cares have their own buses that lead to and from Citrus Park, but when it comes to a bunch of similar-looking yellow buses in the parking lot at the end of the day, that can lead to some confusion, especially for a 5-year-old. The Citrus Park kids all have wrist bands with different colors so they can find the right bus. Faculty at the school have megaphones to make sure the kids get on the right bus. There is also monitoring for kids whose parents drive to meet them.
Anderson said by the end of the first week and the following Monday, the parents and kids get used to the routine.
“It can be upsetting, especially after that first weekend when they get used to being back with their parents,” Anderson said. “But it takes patience and hankies.”