Kindergarten. Or: Things I wish I’d known three years before Kindergarten.

“…we were best friends practically since we were zygotes. Kindergarten. We always had to line up next to each other.” – from the novelette “The Woods”, by Joan Reginaldo

 photo image_zpstblhvuao.jpeg(This photo is the view from Grimlock’s school playground)

The thing about registering for Kindergarten is it’s difficult to do if you don’t have friends with kids your kid’s age. My friends’ kids are either in post-grad, high school, or they’re newborns. I was so clueless about kindergarten that I didn’t even know what questions to ask. Thus, I had a couple of obstacles getting Grimlock into school. Here are some things I learned the hard way, things I would’ve done differently, things you’ll want to keep in mind if you’re a new parent, especially if you’re in the Bay Area/Silicon Valley.

PRESCHOOL: Preschool is great. If you can get it. Where I live, it was being offered at about 20-30K for one year. That’s the same as some college tuitions.

Some districts have Transitional Kindergarten classes, which are like a more structured form of preschool, and these might be offered free as part of the school curriculum. These can be very helpful for dual-language, English Language Learners, or families new to the area/state/country. If you want to take advantage of Preschool of TK, Google your options when your child is about to turn three. There might be a waiting list.

REGISTRATION: Kindergarten registration happens early. It is not “a few months before September,” which is what I thought. About a year before you plan for your kid to go into Kindergarten, go to the school district office in your area (you can Google the address) and get info on their registration procedures. What I didn’t know about my area is that there’s an “open enrollment” month, which allows families to choose which school their kids will attend, regardless of proximity or zoning. This can be an issue if you live near a popular school. Wait too long to enroll, and your kid might have to attend a school on the other side of town! Which is what we almost had to do until we got into our neighborhood school literally the day before school started. On the flip side, if you’re not impressed by your neighborhood school, you might have a chance to get a spot in the school of your choice during this period.

APPLYING: No matter the process, people-powered or fully automated, check and double-check everything. Administrative assistants might go on vacations, papers can get shuffled into wrong piles, info can get stuck in email limbo, etc. If you wait for news or decisions, you might find out very late (or too late!) that you had to turn in medical paperwork, or there was something missing from your enrollment packet. Call, email, or, my favorite — stop by in person — to make sure everything is as it should be, especially if deadlines are approaching or you haven’t received any communication from your school and the First Day of School is looming. FYI, some schools start in mid-August, not September.

Here’s an example: I turned in Grimlock’s paperwork and waited for a response from the district. After a month of nothing, I called their office. A woman told me that his application was incomplete! He’d never even gotten processed. I had to run around getting medical forms signed and turned it in. This time, I called a few days later. They’d taken the forms but hadn’t given them to the right person to process! After that, I called every day and even went in a few times to walk his papers through the rest of the registration process.

 photo image_zpsr5enhz5e.jpeg(This photo is the Kindergarten-only playground set)

These are just some of the things I wish someone had told me about two years ago. But most importantly, check in with your kid to make sure s/he is ready for Kindergarten. Here are some things to think about:

INTELLECTUAL: Your school/district might have a “readiness checklist” which lists things like: Child should be able to count from 1 to 10. Child should be able to recognize his/her name, etc. If the school doesn’t provide one, you can check Pinterest. Check in with your kid to see if anything needs improvement. – I could have done a better job of teaching Grimlock “school things” in addition to teaching him random science and art lessons.

EMOTIONAL: Honestly evaluate your kid’s emotional readiness for kindergarten. If you are unsure, ask your pediatrician. Also, prepare your child for cultural differences, especially in the Bay Area.” target=”_blank”> photo image_zpsysyaep92.jpeg(We’d been asking him if he was ready for Kindergarten, without actually explaining it was a place for kids only. I would’nt be there. This was his reaction when he found out)

YOU: If this is your first kid going to school, take stock of how you’ll feel and make plans to deal. I’d spent every day with Grimlock, from the moment he woke to the moment he went to bed. Knowing he’d be gone for a few hours each morning, I said yes to some large projects, blissfully unaware of the of the School Cohorts and their Volunteer Opportunities — more on Them later.

Point is, it’s like watching a storm approach. It might look small and manageable from a distance. As it gets closer, it can become unsettling or intimidating. Once it’s here, sometimes the only things that can be done are hold on, stick to the plan, don’t lose a limb.

Here’s something I wish I’d known: Starting kindergarten at five years old is a guideline but not absolute. There are many kids in Grimlock’s class who turned six years old shortly before or after the start of term. Six years old!!! That’s a whole year of physical, emotional, and mental development between them and Grimlock. It was very evident at the first day of class. He was almost the smallest kid there. If I had known that keeping him out of school for another year was an option, I would have considered it. The good news is, though he’s sensitive like his dad, he’s got a resilient core, like me. Sure, he gets knocked around by the big kids. But he keeps getting back up. He keeps going to school. He’s keeping pace with the coursework. In many ways, it’s turning out that he’s more ready for his first year at school than I am. Every kid is different. Don’t give in to family or peer pressure of having your kid start at five years old. If you’re wondering whether your child is ready or could use another year away from school, or a year of “transitional kindergarten”, check with your pediatrician.

Two years before you plan on enrolling your child –
Check out Preschools and Transitional Kindergarten services in your area.
Do Preschool or TK, or actively socialize your child with scheduled playdates or art/music/sports lessons with other children.

Year before enrolling –
You should already be keeping up with vaccinations, but now would be a good time to check in with the pediatrician regarding school readiness (don’t forget to check speech!).
Get, or plan on getting, a printout of the immunization records.
If you haven’t already, now would be a good time to check out the schools in your area. Do site visits. In Mountain View, each school has a different feel. We lucked out and Grimlock has a wonderful view of the mountains. Start reading the local paper with an eye on school-related things like awards received, new teachers/superintendents, construction, etc.
Check with your district about enrollment options (you might be able to pick your school instead of having to accept an assigned one.)
Start stocking up on school supplies and clothes for your seasons. Take advantage of the aftermaths of Back to School sales. I once got about 20 boxes of 24-count Crayola crayons for a quarter each, and Composition notebooks for 10 cents each.

6 months before enrolling –
Enroll. For me, this involved an online application, an interview, and some random paperwork.
Evaluate your child for emotional and intellectual readiness. Work on things that need improvement.

Once you’ve been approved for a school, you might start to receive invitations to Get-to-Know-You kindergarten playdates. DO THEM. For the love of god. These are incredibly helpful for shyer children.

1 month before school starts:
If you haven’t stockpiled sale and clearance items yet, purchase everything you can from the list of school supplies the school sends out. Don’t be worried about getting off-brand or generic stuff. As long as it’s decent quality, go with what you can afford. At Grimlock’s school, the supplies get dumped in categorical bins so everyone can use them and no child goes without.
If you plan on volunteering, the school requires you to have a TB test on file. You can get these done through your family doctor. I’ve also been told you can get it done at drugstores and the YMCA. Call to check availability.
Relax. Breathe. Get ready for your circle of acquaintances and friends to expand ten-fold.

 photo image_zpsqqkgqafk.jpeg

We had to scramble to get things in order, in time, and it would’ve been a smoother ride if I’d been more prepared. Hopefully I mentioned a few things that will help you if you’re a new parent in the Bay Area.

If your area has a different procedure, or if you have any tips or insights for parents of kids entering Kindergarten, please share in the comments below!


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