Parents across eastern Maine are starting to think about the upcoming school year, which for many, kicks off September 1. And for a good number of folks, this will be the first time they will have sent a child to school.

To these newbie parents, with kindergarteners getting excited about fall, it can be a little overwhelming to figure out what they need to do to prepare their first-time students.

For me, this year will mark the last year I have a kindergartner. So I reached out to my daughter's kindergarten teacher for her advice on what parents can be doing now to ensure their kids will have a great start to school in the fall.

Julianne Shaw has been teaching kindergarten and first graders in the Bangor area for the last 10 years.

"I love the age group because of their innocence and joy. They are also super excited to learn."

Julianne Shaw, Kindergarten Teacher

Ms. Shaw says kids learn an array of things in their first year of school.

"We work on everything from literacy, math, science and social studies to religion. We also spend a great deal of time on helping kids develop social skills and learning to be independent. In terms of literacy, if parents are wondering how to prep their kids for kindergarten read to them every day and work with them on their letters and sounds. Which is the precursor to reading. Also, vocabulary skills...basic communication skills are so important."

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Shaw says that aside from reading and talking with your young students, it's also a good idea to teach them some basic skills that will help them throughout the year.

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"So from a personal standpoint, skills like tying shoes, blowing nose, washing hands, buttoning and zipping coats. As teachers understand that these skills might take time. But at least have them practicing them before they come."

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With the potential of new mask ordinances and the new norm of hand sanitizing and social distancing, some new parents of Kindergarteners are understandably anxious about how their child will handle safety protocols at school. Shaw says that kids are often more resilient than we give them credit for.

"Some parents were very nervous last year with the kids having to mask. And honestly, the kids adjusted very well. Even though it's not ideal and no one wants to mask they still do very well so my advice is not to stress too much about it. The kids will adjust and they get mask breaks frequently. As far as hygiene goes just encourage them to wash their hands before they eat, after they use the bathroom, etc. We, teachers, will remind them as well."

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Shaw says these are the "Top 5" things she wishes parents knew about sending kids to Kindergarten for the first time.

#1 Dropping off your student

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"Drop off.....as hard as it is, parents need to drop and go. Their kids might be crying and upset Because it's a change for them. But the longer you stay, the harder it is to leave. I promise that most times if a kid is struggling with separation, once you leave they adjust well and will stop crying. For a few weeks, drop-off might be a challenge but they will get used to it and before you know it won't be an issue.

#2 Make Sure Your Kindergartner Gets Enough Sleep

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"Your kindergartener will be exhausted for the first few weeks. Get them in bed early and keep them on a routine."

#3 Help Teach Them To Do Things On Their Own

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"Work with them on being independent at home. Simple things like putting on their own coats and carrying their own backpack carry over into school."

#4 Make Sure Your Kids Eat Before They Leave The House

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"Breakfast....make sure kids eat so they are ready to learn and work."

And finally...

#5 Let Your Child Be Themselves

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"Don't compare your child with others or siblings. Kindergarten is a time for major growth. Kids are at many different places. Don't panic if your child isn't doing something. For example, some kids start k reading, some don't. But they will learn."

As Ms. Shaw starts, herself, to get back into the "Back To School" mindset, she says she's very much looking forward to this year.

"I am most looking forward to meeting my kids and their families. Also seeing my coworkers."

Here's to Ms. Shaw and all the area teachers and parents, as we all get ready to navigate another year. Best of luck to all!

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