What to Expect in Elementary School

The elementary school years can be full of suprises for parents, but there are ways to help you navigate them successfully with and for your children.

What to Expect in Elementary School

Like most parents of my generation, I read What to Expect When You’re Expecting when I was pregnant. I even read the version for raising toddlers that came out after the original one’s success. Both were very helpful to me as a new parent a decade ago.

Although it’s still Spring, school applications for the next school year is well underway. This week I will be registering my “baby” for Kindergarten and with that, all three of my children will be in elementary school. I’ve learned a few things as a mom of school-aged children, some of it as initially shocking as finding mustard poop all up your newborn’s back. Here are the top 5 things I was somewhat surprised to discover::

1. It’s School All Over Again

You know how you thought you were done with school? That glorious feeling of not having to study for tests anymore? Not having homework and projects just hanging over your head? I hate to be the bearer of bad news, mamas, but those days are long gone.

Once your baby starts elementary school, you, too, are back in school. Your child’s project is dependent on you assembling the supplies and giving them some, or a lot, of direction. Their book report is dependent on you at least obtaining a copy of the book, just when everyone is trying to as well. Their next spelling test result may be dependent on you helping them study. Oh, you said you wanted to go to that fun place this Saturday afternoon? No can do. Not until you finish pulling together that costume for your second grader’s literature project. Face it, you’re back in school until forever. {No wonder they say grandparents have all the fun.}

2. Snacks and a Comfortable Spot Required

What to Expect in Elementary School

We all expect the first week of school to be hard. Kids are getting used to new teachers, new friends, and new rules. The schedule is rigorous, especially for brand new Kindergartners. For the first few weeks of school you can expect your child to come home so exhausted that they fall asleep on the couch within minutes of sitting down. They will also be ravenous. Get thee to Costco. Maybe lunch is earlier, or the day is longer, or their brains and bodies have spent every calorie by the end of the school day, but they are hungry! Give them food and rest and an earlier bedtime or the crankiness will last longer than necessary. They’ll eventually adjust but prepare for turbulence the first few weeks, or even months.

3. You Need a System for All the Papers

What to Expect in Elementary School

Of course, I expected the children to bring home paper, but I was seriously shocked at the copious amounts that were stuffed into their folders. The first few weeks were the worst. Just open their back packs by the recycling bin to keep yourself organized. Some you need to read and toss. Some you need to file. Some you need to fill out.

Over the course of the school year you will welcome all manner of forms, flyers, graded schoolwork, instructions for projects, artwork, homework packets, and more. Invest in a good filing system, especially if you have multiple kids. I use the KVISSLE one from IKEA and so far, it works well. I also keep a plastic bin labeled with their name where we store special assignments and projects. They can decide in the future what, if anything, they want to keep. Everything else gets recycled.

4. Expect School Relationship Drama

It’s not just girls. Boys have drama too. I haven’t come across anything serious yet in elementary school. So far, everything has been manageable and even humorous, even when the concerns start to inch towards boy/girl drama. But there are big feelings involved. At some point or another, they will make a best friend, a new friend, perhaps an enemy, and likely a frenemy. Someone will have a crush on someone, without even understanding what it means. Someone will hurt their feelings and they may hurt someone else’s.

They may also have relationship issues with adults at school. Sad to say, be prepared that not every teacher will be the sweet and nurturing type. Be ready to help them navigate this aspect by acknowledging their feelings but emphasizing the positive. “She’s a really smart teacher. You are learning so much. And all that candy she gives out! Lucky you guys.” {“So she yells at the top of her lungs sometimes, it’s no big deal.” Gulp.}

5. A Brave New World

What to Expect in Elementary School

During recess, lunch, and whatever free time they may have with each other, your kids will build their own little microcosms. They will learn independence and flex their problem-solving skills. I have been impressed by how my 4th grader has handled friction at school, with some advice from me but mostly on his own. It makes me proud to hear about their exploits and how they navigate their world.

It’s also a new adventure for parents. There are plenty of opportunities to make the experience your own as well. Get pulled in to your child’s world. Volunteer if you can. You might make some new friends yourself and that is definitely one of my favorite parts of this season.

These elementary school years may harbor some surprises, but with a little preparation and an open-mind, expect a wonderful journey ahead.


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