Personal Story

To the Moms at Kindergarten Graduation, As My Kid Leaves Elementary School

written by KATHY SISSON
end of elementary school"
end of elementary school
Source: @raven.vasquez
Source: @raven.vasquez

The school transitions get me every time. One minute, I’m excited my kids are growing older—we have real conversations, we bond over shared interests, and I can leave them home alone to run up to the grocery store. The next minute, I get an email from school detailing all the end-of-elementary school celebrations for my fifth-grader and my heart starts beating a little bit faster, and tears prick behind my eyes. How are we here already

I’ve been thinking about the moms with kindergartners graduating this year. To them, I would say (apologetically) that the platitude is true—soak it all in, it goes by so fast. But also, get excited for all you have in store during the magic of the elementary school years. You’re going to see your child grow so much and see them hit many little kid milestones, from reading their first book to losing their first tooth (if they haven’t already!). Here’s a peek forward as I find myself looking back at what I learned as my kid nears the end of elementary school:

Get Involved at School Early

Last year, during my kid’s “Family Fun Night” celebration at school—you know, the type of event always scheduled in May among all the many other end-of-school activities—I found myself in a sea of school parents and kids. Both of my girls had run off with their friends. I had no toddler to tend to, no little person reaching for my hand or asking me for snacks. As I looked to find a familiar face I realized something: I’d been so focused on my kids for the past few years, I hadn’t made any real connections with other parents at school. And now that my kids needed me a whole lot less, I felt a little lost. 

As a work-from-home mom, I’m lucky to have the flexibility to pick them up from school and volunteer for the class parties. But I’d never really put myself out there to meet other parents. So I made a commitment to myself: I’d schedule a standing school volunteer opportunity that would force me out of my comfort zone but still give me a purpose so I wasn’t struggling with the small talk

The next year, I volunteered at the elementary school library. Every other week, I and a few other parents organized the books, assisted the kids looking for the latest Guinness Book of World Records, and talked a bit. I’m not saying I found my best new mom friend, but I knew I could chat with any of those parents if I found myself again alone at Family Fun Night. So, as much as you are able to, get involved in your kid’s school—as much for yourself, as for them. 

Speak Up If Your Child is Struggling

If your child is struggling, teachers and the office staff want to help them. On more than one occasion, my oldest was really having a hard time with math homework. She and I would end up near tears in frustration at the kitchen island. Her dad and I couldn’t help her because she wasn’t learning math in the same way we had.

I finally reached out to her teacher to point us toward some resources. In addition to sending back an email with some links, the teacher shared that our daughter hadn’t been taking advantage of small group learning opportunities for those kids who needed extra help. Instead, she was choosing to be with her friends. So, her dad and I encouraged her to join the learning group. She did and her math skills—and confidence—soared.

In addition to academic help, teachers and staff are there to help support your child with everything from formal school IEPs to emotional support (many classrooms have “calm down corners” in my daughters’ school, can you imagine having them back in the day?). It’s also important not to save these topics to discuss during your parent-teacher conference. There’s not nearly enough time, so don’t hesitate to reach out ASAP if they are struggling.

end of elementary school
Source: @mrscofieldandco

Relish the Surprising Moments

One of my elementary school highlights came when my daughter was in fourth grade. My shy and quiet 10-year-old had signed herself up to perform a dance routine in the school’s talent show. She was confident, excited, and shined in her performance. The audience even started clapping along to the music and our iPhone video caught a smile she could barely suppress as she finished her routine. It was a proud parent high like I’d never experienced.

So whether your child is performing on stage, reading a poem they’ve written in front of the class, building a robot in LEGO league, or loving a new sport, you will also experience a surprising proud parent moment. Remember it, enjoy it… and record it. You’ll want to relive it again and again.

Pause to Witness Who They’re Becoming

In addition to their hobbies and school involvement, it’s amazing how much they grow and mature through elementary school. On a recent morning, I peeked in at my fifth-grader before school. She sat on her bed, long legs crossed, and turned the page on her latest chapter book obsession. She wore her signature style—a graphic T-shirt, shorts, and long hair, a little bit disheveled. It has been years since she wore a dress or mentioned a Disney princess, two things she was very into back in kindergarten. She still loves all animals—from the wild ones to the (way too many) stuffed ones adorning her bedroom—but her interests and personality have evolved so much through elementary school.

I now look at photos of her from kindergarten and think—wow, I barely knew her back then. It makes me excited about who she will become in the years ahead.

The End of Elementary School Means New Beginnings

My fifth-grade daughter is now only a few inches shorter than me. I can’t bend down to kiss the top of her head anymore, but there is something special about standing side-by-side, eye-to-eye with her. It’s a new level of connection, and our conversations have gotten even more meaningful. But this elementary-to-middle school transition is also bittersweet because it feels like she’s leaving her childhood behind.

For example, she recently told me she “feels ready for the end of elementary school”—that everyone there seems “so young.” This is coming from a kid who cried the night before her birthday one year because she worried she was growing up too fast. I hope her excitement continues once she walks through the middle school doors. As a parent, I can’t help but fret about all the middle school negatives—mean girls, puberty hormone surges, etc. But I’m trying to follow her lead—I’m trying to be ready and excited, too. 

So even if it feels like her childhood is slipping away, it helps to remember that when I check on her every night before bed, she still has the same stuffed animal tucked under her arm that she had as a toddler. She’ll always be a kid to me, even when she’s grown. And your child will, too, no matter how fast those elementary school years go by.