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My first day of school

Abby Hutchison, Sierra Sun

When 4-year-old Johanna Tadman woke up Monday morning, she knew it was a big day.

She climbed into bed with her mother, Laura, at 6:30 a.m. to ask if she could have her hair curled.

“This first thing she said was, ‘Where am I going today?’ She knew it was a big day, but she couldn’t remember exactly why,” Laura said.

This was to be Johanna’s first day of kindergarten, her first day of “big kid” school.

It’s a day of eager anticipation, nervousness and excitement for both the kindergartner and the parents. Parents want to do everything they can to make their child feel comfortable for the first day – have all of the materials ready, pack the perfect snack, and make sure to get to school early that morning.

Laura Tadman said nervousness doesn’t quite sum it up correctly.

“It’s not separation anxiety; Johanna’s been going to preschool so I am used to that,” she explained. “But it’s school and that’s a big milestone. She’s no longer going to be little and she’s turning into her own person. I just want her to have the self-confidence to get through this day.”

Johanna arrives for her first day of kindergarten at Glenshire Elementary School just before 8 a.m. with her mother, father Daron, little brother Jarett and grandparents, who came up from Nevada City. Johanna clutches Laura’s hand and looks around nervously and wide-eyed as other children and parents begin to mill into the kindergarten wing and Margie La Point’s classroom.

“She’s been so excited about it all summer and now that it’s finally here, anxiety has started to creep in,” Laura says. “Yesterday was the first day she said, ‘I’m scared to go to kindergarten.’ I told her, ‘that’s O.K. to be scared.'”

Mrs. La Point greets children and their families and Johanna puts on her nametag and tries to settle herself in while keeping a close eye on her family members. She carefully hangs her backpack on a hook and confidently picks up a large pencil to sign her name on Mrs. La Point’s big yellow sign-in pad.

Johanna notices some of her friends are also in her class, and intermittently ventures off to examine some of the classroom’s toys, puzzles and books. She holds hands with her friend Madeline when the two girls walk over to their mothers to check in before skipping across the room to investigate some more.

But soon, it is time for parents and other family members to go and leave their kindergartners to experience their first day of school independently.

Laura says they will try to make a casual exit so as not to upset or excite Johanna, as was recommended by Mrs. La Point. Johanna begins to make her rounds; first hugging her grandparents, her brother, her father and then a final hug for mom.

By 8:20 a.m., Mrs. La Point gathers the new kindergartners in a circle on the carpet, where they all face one another as well as their teacher, who sits in a rocking chair. The morning is fun for the children. They sing morning songs, read a story, play a name game and a color game.

“The first rule I will teach you is: You already know a lot,” Mrs. La Point tells the class. For instance, she says, what do you know about walking down the hall?

They think about this for about three seconds before waiting turns to call out ideas: “No running,” “No yelling.”

They walk with their teacher through the school to their first music class. As Mrs. La Point introduces the class to the layout of the school, she asks them to look for Clifford’s bone (the bone is later found at the school office where the children are to go if they are sick or there is a problem). They are introduced to the playground and the playground rules. Some of the children are whispering that they’re hungry … Luckily, it’s snack time.

As they get settled at their tables with their lunch boxes and snack bags, I sit with them to discuss how their first day of kindergarten is going.

“I can’t believe we’re in kindergarten,” Madeline Sachtler tells me matter-of-factly. “I like playing in the school.”

“I’m having fun,” Ruby Wood says, as she packs up her snacks to head out to the playground for recess.

I asked Jack de Ryk what he liked most about kindergarten. “All of it,” he says, eagerly. “It’s about learning how you read.”

By 10 a.m., Mrs. La Point has mastered all of her new students’ names and collects their name tags. Most of the kids are outside for recess, but Johanna is still finishing her snack, taking her time to talk with me.

“I like reading books in kindergarten,” she says. “I like all of my new friends.”

“It’s a special day for mommy and me tonight. Tonight me and mommy and daddy and brother will go to dinner. Mommy and me will have ice cream.”

I ask her what it means to begin kindergarten.

“It means that I’m a big girl,” she responds before joining her classmates on the playground.

Mrs. La Point explains that kindergarten students are always more reserved on the first day of school as they learn how it works and take it all in.

“Usually it seems like you can’t fit enough into the day,” La Point says. “It seems like everything is in slow motion the first few days. They’re not used to the routines yet.”

She has 20 students total, but one is missing the first day.

“But they’re real cute … It’s going to be a fun group,” she says.

Amazingly, throughout the morning until the first kindergarten class was over, there were no tears (not including a minor fall on the playground) in Mrs. La Point’s class. There were no meltdowns, no calls home.

On Wednesday, Laura Tadman tells me that after dropping Johanna off for her third day, things seem to be going good.

“I would say things are going very well. She’s telling stories about what happens in kindergarten and tells people who ask her that she likes it,” Laura said. “Every day she’s been excited about going. I feel like Johanna’s lucky to be where she is.”

Johanna is exhausted by the evenings, but Laura said that is to be expected with such a big transition.

“Her little brain is being stimulated like never before,” she said.

While she is pleased with Johanna’s experience so far, Laura can’t help but hold her breath. It was a hard decision for Johanna’s parents to make on whether to hold Johanna back or go ahead and send her to kindergarten. Johanna is one of the younger kindergartners; she will turn five on Sept. 14.

“In preschool, her teachers say she’s ready,” Laura said. “It’s a hard decision, one we went back and forth on. I don’t want to rush her and I don’t want her to struggle.”

“I wish I didn’t have that choice to make. But we’re trying it. If they said to pull her I would pull her and wait until next year. If she needs to repeat kindergarten then that’s no problem.”

Laura said she is looking forward to back-to-school night for an assessment on Johanna’s performance.

Meanwhile, she is caught up in her daughter’s excitement and exploration into her future as a student. She helps her do her hair in the morning and pick out a special outfit to wear.

The first day of kindergarten is one of those events children remember for the rest of their lives. On Monday morning in Mrs. La Point’s class, 19 new unforgettable memories were made.


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