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The Longest Day

Surviving the first day of kindergarten

April 1, 2015
A child's hand covered in finger paint

Despite all of the apprehension around it (mostly mine), the start of elementary school was a fairly smooth operation for my older son.

Armed with a relatively empty backpack but a full lunch box, Max and I stood in the paved playground of his elementary school alongside other children, mothers, and a handful of dads waiting for that first fateful march into studenthood.

There was pride in knowing that I had fulfilled Max’s one requirement: I navigated our city’s school lottery and found a school with a playground that rose to meet his 5-year-old standards. Unbeknownst to him, I had also found an exceptional kindergarten teacher who would make my son’s first year a great one.

Thankfully, our transition that day was smooth, and I was grateful that he shed no tears as he walked into the building — and that I was able to save mine until he was out of sight. This was not the case for all, and as I watched skilled teachers pry small hands away from their misty-eyed moms, it was hard not to wonder if there was a way to make this process easier.

Preparation for kindergarten comes in many forms, and as families begin to register their little ones for school, the Harvard Family Research Project (HFRP) has produced a helpful list of tips to ease what can be a difficult developmental step for kids, adults, and the schools themselves. As Bari Walsh’s Usable Knowledge article makes clear, children of greater socioeconomic means typically access early education options that make kindergarten an easier step — which in turn gives them a significant advantage for years to come. HFRP highlights the work of several nonprofits that are trying to close the gap, emphasizing that school readiness should involve not just families and schools but also communities.

As my own kindergartner now sees the end of his 10th grade year in sight, I can say that the first year of school is a milestone that arrives and passes far too quickly. How might our greater community of parents and educators ensure its significance and success for all?

About the Author

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Mary Tamer
Mary Tamer was the senior editor of Usable Knowledge and the Director of Marketing and Communications at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
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