Why First Grade Can Be A Tough Transition
The first day of school can bring feelings of nervousness, uncertainty and downright fear for little ones stepping foot into the classroom for the first time. As parents and caregivers, we anticipate the start of school and may have varying feelings about it. We might feel anxious about how our children will adapt. Or, we might feel confident in our child’s ability to embrace change. Either way, there are endless suggestions on how to best transition children. The bottom line is each child is unique and so is each school experience.
I’ve read countless articles about what to expect when your child begins school. I have also experienced the first day of kindergarten through the eyes of both my children. I’ve waded through all the tips, tricks and unsolicited advice on how to arm my children with the confidence, guidance and knowledge to successfully get through kindergarten. I’ve felt overwhelmed, elated and proud of their accomplishments – big and small – but no one prepared me for the next, and arguably even bigger transition: Grade 1.
Grade 1 isn’t exactly an introduction to school for kids. By the first grade, many children will have successfully completed the two-year kindergarten program. To my surprise, Grade 1 was a significant milestone for my son. Here’s why:
First grade: First big yard
Most kindergarten schoolyards are separated from the larger play area shared by other students. While each school boasts its own unique layout, kindergarteners are often sheltered in a designated, outdoor-safe playing space where they are monitored closely by teachers and support staff.
Not only is the student-teacher ratio vastly different in the school’s communal outdoor space but students are thrust into an area that stretches far and wide, and for some children who are unready to navigate a big yard it can prompt feelings of anxiety and fear
Like many others his age, my son felt anxious and afraid to enter the big yard, which made for a difficult first week of school. Finding friends, sharing space with much bigger and older kids, and finding his way into the school through an unmarked door all contributed to my son’s anxiety. All of these fears stood on the tiny shoulders of a six-year-old!
Learning a new language
French immersion is by no means mandatory, but as a family, we chose to introduce this second language to our first grader. The introduction of a new language can further impact the transition, especially for children who don’t adapt as quickly as their peers. So parents, be mindful of this potential double-whammy.
Making new friends (again)
Pushing ourselves to make progress and succeed outside our comfort zone isn’t easy but doing so can make us more well-rounded and confident in awkward or unusual settings. Sometimes a new class means kids are tasked with finding a new set of friends. Grade 1 not only offers a change of pace (different recess and lunch times in some cases), it also surprises many children with a completely different look and classroom layout (individual desks versus groups of tables and chairs), and with those changes – new faces. Our son remained in the same school but with the exception of a few familiar faces, he didn’t know most of his classmates.
Play based versus structured learning
Many children across Canada attend full-day kindergarten which is believed to be an important step to better prepare them for Grade 1. The curriculum is designed to give kids a head start by introducing engaging, play-based learning. By Grade 1, the curriculum gradually shifts to place a heavier focus on academic activities and independent learning. For our family, it seemed less gradual and more abrupt. Instead of weekly take-home books, our son’s backpack was filled with homework, reading and study sheets to prepare for regular tests.
Expectations are higher
Some young children are naturally more responsible than their pint-sized counterparts. For others, encouraging responsibility and independence might seem daunting. By Grade 1, children are expected to remember to turn in homework and projects, remember pizza lunch money and change from indoor to outdoor shoes without being prompted. These are all positive learning opportunities but the level of expectation seems to dramatically increase by the time students enter Grade 1.
We all want the best for our children. We want them to grow and thrive, gain independence, make positive choices and most importantly, be content. While the transition wasn’t as smooth as we had anticipated, our child finished the year with improved mental focus and problem-solving skills and a better understanding of a second language. Best of all, he gained a sense of pride and confidence to enter the “big yard” and make new friends once again.