The beginner’s guide to back to school

Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, it’s back to school week!

As a seasoned teacher, I didn’t expect to have so many questions a year ago as my daughter entered kindergarten. After all, this was her first rite of passage into American schooling. In my 22 years working in education, I’ve done 10 full school year cycles as a high school English teacher and experienced another 10 school year cycles as a mentor, coach, and teacher education professor.

However, actually navigating the elementary school landscape as a parent often became a somewhat bewildering and humbling experience. I remain so grateful to those other, well-versed parents from our neighborhood school community whose sage advice helped us successfully survive the transition to kindergarten. And so this year I fielded questions like a pro (okay, maybe not exactly, but at least as a “second-year school parent” in my volunteer role as a mentor to an incoming kinder family).

Below are some of those questions that you might also be asking if you’re a first-year kindergarten teacher or “first-year school parent”. Please message me too with other questions and/or ideas that you think also might be valuable to share with our teaching and learning community.

  • Do kids normally bring a lunch or buy a lunch? 
  • The handbook didn’t mention an earthquake kit- should I go ahead and buy one?
  • How often (and how) do we receive updates about our child’s progress?
  • What is the procedure if I bring my child to school late and/or pick her up before the school day has officially ended?
  • How do I sign up for the after-school/after-care program?
  • What school supplies does my child need?
  • Does my child get a report card in kindergarten?
  • How much play time will my child have during the day?
  • What are the arts and enrichment offerings at the school, and how often do kids participate in them?
  • May my child borrow books from the school library?
  • What type of bag/backpack would you recommend? Okay, I WILL answer this question because it’s relevant for most families regardless of where their kids are attending kindergarten. I initially bought a tiny backpack, thinking that my daughter could carry most needed school supplies back and forth. However, it was too small to fit a folder for homework assignments and weekly announcements the school sends home. Most kid backpacks seem to be a lot larger – almost adult-sized, but we found a medium-sized backpack made by Crocodile Creek, perfect for a kindergartener’s body frame (not too small, not too large). And, if you live in San Francisco, you can buy them in the Castro at Cliff’s Variety.

If you’re interested in the answers to these questions, please message me directly. I didn’t post them here because they were specific to our neighborhood elementary school, but I’d gladly write a post that includes more generalized responses to these questions!