Last year I was that nervous parent taking my first-born to her first day of big school. I acted excited and happy for her but inside I was a puddle of nerves. My daughter didn't know anyone at her school and I wondered how she would get on making friends. I also worried about her transition of going from a small, homely pre-school to one of the biggest public schools in the state.
Unfortunately the first few weeks of kindy were hard for her mostly because she didn't have anyone to play with. She would often come home and tell me that she just walked around by herself during lunch and recess and most of the kids she approached didn't want to play with her. This was surprising for a girl who is normally very sociable and has little trouble making friends.
As a parent I wanted to solve this problem. Up till this point I had always been the one resolving any issues she had – after all I'd been the one helping her through so many moments - taking her first step, toilet training, and teaching her to ride a bike. But this one was complicated. I couldn't be there watching over her at lunch and recess. I couldn't be there holding her hand and introducing her to other little friends.
Thankfully after the first few weeks of school my daughter slowly started to make friends. This was mostly as a result of play dates and starting soccer with friends from her class. The more the kids spent time together outside of school, the more they got to know each other.
This year my daughter skipped to school as a confident Year One. She knew whatever the outcome of her class changes, she would be OK. And she has been so far. What I didn't predict was the impact her experience in kindy would have on her in a wholly positive way.
"I played with some kindy kids at recess and lunch today," she casually told me after school recently. "It was their first day and some of them looked lonely so I thought I would ask my friends if we should go play with them." And they did. I asked her why she did that and she said because she remembered what it was like walking around not knowing anyone, that she didn't like feeling left out. "And maybe," she continued, "if I do this for the kindy kids, they will do this for the new kindy kids next year and no one will ever have to feel left out."
My heart was so full of pride it could burst. I immediately realised that it was probably a good thing I wasn't there to hold my daughter's hand anymore. That all the parenting I had been doing up till this point was so she could start making decisions on her own that took on board all the things I was trying to teach her.
I tried not to make a big deal of what my daughter had done. I wanted her to think that her helping kids who felt left out was a normal thing to do. My hope is that she keeps doing things like that and doesn't think twice about it.
Starting big school is a time of big changes – not only for children but for us parents too. One of the biggest lessons for parents is learning to let go, little by little, and hoping that all we have taught and are teaching our children will have a lasting impact on how they behave when they are out in the big world by themselves.