First Day of School…Virtually

In 45 minutes, I will meet my new transitional kindergarten/kindergarten class. In any other year, they would have arrived on the playground. Some clinging to a parent’s hand or leg. Some running ahead, anxious to establish their newfound freedom. Some crying and sobbing. Some laughing with a readiness to explore new territory. And some would have been in the middle. Excitement mixing with anxiety, wonder with dread…for parents/ families as well. I would have waited with anticipation. I know the answers to the beseeching eyes. I have been here many times before. I know how to embrace the overwhelming enthusiasm and how to quell the anxiety.

But this is different. This year we will not meet on the playground. This year, I will not meet parents in person and look them in the eyes. I will not kneel down on one knee and look children in the their eyes. We will meet on Zoom because we are in the middle of a global pandemic. We will meet in little squares on a computer screen. This year in Los Angeles, school will begin remotely…virtually.

And so it is I who is experiencing both these opposing emotions, simultaneously. I am overwhelmed by the infinite possibilities and yet I am sitting in a pool of angst as I wonder what uncertainty awaits us.

This morning I talked a former student down off the ledge. For a five-year-old to leave their first year of formal school (their very first classroom) and enter a new classroom, the ritual is still daunting in person. But in a socially distanced world, it seemed impossible. There will be no hugs from old friends and physical contact with new friends so the concept of the things that mark the beginning of a new school year is all in theory. and theory does not really translate to young children. We do the best we can.

First Day of School

It is the last day of summer vacation and I am meandering back in time to last year and all the years before it when I arrived in my kindergarten class to begin a fresh new year. In anticipation for the group of new students, I will have spent the last week setting up the room to act as the “third teacher” in my Reggio-Inspired classroom. Each area created with love and respect for children. The arrangement designed to build the conditions for students to uncover their value and discover their voices.

It is like a blank canvas everytime. Electricity crackles on the campus. It’s palpatable. You can feel it in the air, like it’s my birthday and I’m waiting with anticipation to open all my presents. I don’t know what’s inside the boxes but I know I’m going to love everything that I receive.

The opening moments are critical. I am the adult that parents must trust to leave their most precious beings with. I am the adult who will now spend the most waking hours with their young. This is the first day of formal education. It’scary, exciting, unsettling.

For students, I am the adult who will replace their parents for the hours that will feel like eternity. Who is this new adult that I will be left with? Will she take care of me? Will she like me? Will I be safe? Can I trust her?

I walk out to find my squirrely group with anticipation. I have done this a long time. Gone are the days of nervous anticipation but the giddiness and newness are still with me just like the first year. Oh the wonder of it all. What will this new year hold for us? What adventures? How will this community come together? What friendships will form that will last a lifetime?

These are the moments that hold promise. These are the seeds that will blossom into a new year full of unlimited possibilities. This is the moment when trust is established. This is the moment that I will draw from as we face uncertainty and insecurity, and we always do.

I love having parents stay in the classroom when they can and begin the connections of community. You can watch it happen. I always have a parent meeting the second evening of school. You can feel the expectations in the wide eyes of new kindergarten parents. I want this new group to coalesce and gel. Leaders and organizers usually show themselves. Others find their way. I always want to stay open to all the newness. It’s so fresh. It doesn’t last for long. Maybe one or two weeks, tops.

Somewhere around two weeks in, the newness dissapates and reality sets in. Formal school has really commenced. This is for real. Somewhere around this time inevitably, students start to injure themselves in typical kid ways. They fall down. They knock each other over. Someone gets kicked in a game.

When I first observed this predictable pattern, I was horrified. I worked diligently to watch every child as best as I could. I watched for rough play, fast running. unsafe jumping. I observed with a keen eye, always anticipating injury. I became that overprotective parent. But as I observed, I saw students tip over, fall out of chairs, trip over their own feet for no good reason and sometimes with in an arms length away. This happens year after year at about the same time.

I love to analyze and root out causes. I think what I witness in these first two weeks are a combination of things. A bigger playground to navigate, growth spurts, more children to play and run with who have different abilities contribute to this strange two weeks of scrapes and bumps. I think the thing that contributes the most is that children begin taking risks. Risks lead to skinned knees and bruises sometimes.

And then, just as mysteriously as this period descends upon us, it goes away. Maybe it’s because the growth spurts level off, or the big playground is familiar, or children have discovered their limits. I’m not sure why, but it stops. And usually around this time the awkwardness of the group disappears. Parents join together and sink into this new community that they have begun to create. We settle into trust and safety. The seeds of which were planted on that first day of school.


Wonder.  Why do we lose it?  What causes us, as parents, to forget those times when we were amazed by what our little one was doing.  We wondered what they were thinking in those moments before they could communicate verbally.  We marveled at their milestones.  Each new development, a precious revelation to us.  An unfolding.  A revealing.  A blossoming. Where does that authentic wonder go?  And why does it shift dramatically when they enter formal education.  Why do we forget to do it?  Simply forget.  How does that wonder get replaced by expectation?  And how do our expectations suddenly get formed by everyone else’s expectations?  How do we become disconnected from the authentic child right in front of us?  The potential danger of the disconnect emerges when we replace the connection with the projected expectation of the other adults around us.  It’s subtle.  Today, I gently urge you to notice.  Stop and notice.  Then, reconnect to the wonder.

In the beginning…

So, here you are.  Standing on the precipice between that fluid time when childhood is still beginning to form without formal boundaries and guidelines and the edge where life becomes more defined by conventions.  It is both exhilarating and anxiety producing.  A transition much like the time between fetus and infant.  Here you are, ready to birth your child into the next stage.  Or maybe not ready at all…

For many, tomorrow is the day you will hand your small child over to a system.   A daunting endeavor at best.  It marks the moment that you will no longer have complete access to the thoughts your child has, the food they eat or don’t eat, the games they play or don’t play, the friends they meet, the conversations they have, or the ideas they come in contact with.

For some it will be a day of indescribable excitement, maybe even a step toward freedom from the intensity of raising a fully dependent human.  For others it will be a day of mourning.  Mourning the easy, lazy days of  waking when you want, without the rush of someone else’s schedule,  dropping a sleepy child off in their pajamas to a caretaker or daycare facility, skipping a preschool day to just hang out without consequences.

But tomorrow is also the day that new horizons await, new adventures beckon, and new growth is inevitable.  Tomorrow you will enter a new era of your parenting journey.  It will sometimes feel unstable and unsafe and then like magic you will master yet another facet of this parenting role.  I will be here with you as you birth your child into this next stage.  Pause, breathe, and then dive in, knowing that many have gone before you and flourished!  Happy first day of kindergarten!!!