The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

August 11, 2011

Sarah Coyne: First day of school emotional

By Sarah Coyne
Globe Columnist

JOPLIN, Mo. — For some reason, back-to-school shopping will forever be associated in my mind with new jeans.

They’re a staple, a cornerstone. A requirement for a successful school year.

Of course, none of that is necessarily true, but the association still occupied my thoughts as I stood in a busy department store, searching for my daughter’s size. Shades of dark and light denim blurred my vision; it was a moment before I realized that it wasn’t the stack of denim causing me to see funny, but the tears that had begun to form.

Because I was shopping for my 5-year-old’s first pair of back-to-school jeans.

Like many hundreds of 5- and 6-year-olds this year, my daughter is starting down the road of public education. It’s so exciting, and at the same time, terribly nerve-wracking. As the first of our children to hit this kindergarten milestone, I find myself waxing and waning between fits of sudden tearfulness and excited giddiness.

What will I do if she hates it? How will we handle all the outside influences? When will I know that she’s settled comfortably into the new workload and social life?

She’ll be on this road for the next 13 years, and it all begins in less than a week.

Many of my anxieties, I would guess, are also shared by other first-time parents of kindergartners, so I’ve asked a friend for help.

Holly Davis is a local kindergarten teacher, and has experienced her share of new students (and their emotional parents) long enough to have a few pointers that might help us weather the coming weeks of transition.

One thing she heavily encourages is open house attendance. Because kindergarten is such a new venture for many kids, it’s helpful for them to not walk in blind on the first day. If they can see where their desk will be, who their teacher is, and get a feel for the size of the building, their first day will be easier.

On that all-important first day, Davis encourages parents to feel completely comfortable sticking around for a few minutes to help get their child settled in. In order to help the kids feel ready and assured, many parents will tour the room with the kids, making introductions and taking photos.

If the year progresses and your child is still clingy at drop-off, Davis has found that a quicker approach to leaving is better than a long, drawn-out goodbye. But that will come later -- the first day can be much more comforting.

As for ensuring a good school year, Davis suggests keeping this in mind: Many of the most successful students are those whose parents aren’t afraid to become involved.

Be active in parent-teacher organizations, be ready to communicate with your child’s teacher, and don’t be shy when it comes to asking questions. Teachers want nothing more than for their students to succeed, and they won’t be able to answer your concerns if you never voice them.

Perhaps most encouragingly, Davis tells me that it’s not at all uncommon for parents to cry over such things as stacks of jeans or rows of backpacks.

That’s good news, because I foresee many tearful outbursts in the coming week -- none of them from my kindergarten-ready daughter.