By Katie Moosbrugger

If you’re new to the elementary scene, it can be just as exciting and daunting for parents as it can be for kids. Those six years fly by fast and it seems every year presents new experiences, challenges and rewards for both parents and students, alike. My oldest just graduated from fifth grade, and as I look back on her journey, there were so many things I wished I had done as an elementary mom, as well as some things I’m glad I did. I took some time to jot down a few of the “live and learns” that stand out to me most. I hoping my list will help parents who are just getting ready to embark on this amazing adventure with their child. And for those of you who are just a few years in, it’s not too late to consider some of the suggestions below!

Be sure to also read our recent post The Kindergarten Top Ten List. Written by a local teacher, this blog features even more great tips and ideas to help transition you little one to one of his most important years of his life.

In no particular order, here are my top 9 live & learns…

1. Get Involved with PTA
If you have the time, this is one of my biggest tips. Not only will it help you meet parents, teachers and administration, but it will help you learn a ton about what goes on behind-the-scenes at your school. Many PTA programs and committees directly impact how and what your child is learning. I felt like I waited too long to get involved, and I wished I jumped in from the start. Also try and do something big – at least once – during your career as an elementary PTA mom. Take an officer role, chair a committee, head up a special event, or start something new. Politically speaking, it never hurts to make a name for yourself and show your commitment to the school.

2. Take LOTS of Pictures of Your Child in the Classroom and on Campus
This was probably my greatest elementary mom fails. Every year I did the quintessential photo of my kids on the first day of school – wearing backpacks – standing on our front porch – headed off to their new grades. Despite the different outfits, the pictures looked exactly the same – year after year. I rarely took candid pictures of them in their classroom (I had a hard time finding photos for this post!), interacting with their friends and teachers, or at special events on campus. This became agonizingly apparent when I was asked to find a favorite photo of my daughter at school to be featured in the fifth grade slide show. My pickings were slim!

3. Get Your Child Involved From the Start
Just because your child is in Kindergarten or first grade, doesn’t mean she cannot be involved in school activities. There are plenty of things your child can do right away, even if it just means taking part in spirit week at your school and attending restaurant or skate nights. The more your child does early on, the more they’ll want to be involved later. When grade level appropriate, sign them up for such groups and clubs like Girls on the Run, Battle of the Books, Spirit Team, Student Council, Safety Patrol, Odyssey of the Mind, and News Team, for example. Consider getting them school attire. Make a point to attend school sponsored events like “Daddy-Daughter Dances” and “Mother-Son Night.” Try and take them to as many school community events, like fun runs and carnivals, as possible. This also helps with Tip #5 below!

4. Get Your Kid Organized from Day One
This was a great suggestion from Rachel (who is also a former school teacher). Start early by holding your child responsible for keeping up with his planner/agenda and homework. Have them write down their homework every single day at school, and check when they get home to be sure they did this. Then have them check off items as they complete them. It’s almost too late to start this habit in middle school, and it’s so important to have this simple task under their belt!

5. Get to Know the Moms in Your Child’s Grade
Just like in preschool, your lifeline to other moms is never overrated. You’ll probably get to know best those moms whose child is BFF with your child, but take the opportunity to meet other moms as well. We always tell our kids to broaden their horizon with friend circles, and parents should do the same. You may connect with someone whose son would make a great play date for your son. Sometimes it’s up to us to steer our children through friend connections, and it’s always easier to do that when you know the parents. Plus, in later years, you’ll want to be connected to all of your child’s friend’s parents, so it never hurts to develop these relationships early on.

6. Buy a Yearbook for Your Child – Every Year
This was another one of my elementary mom fails. At first I considered it was a gimmick, especially since I never had yearbooks until middle school. I finally caved when I had two children at the school for the first time, and I regret that I did not buy one for my daughter each year for her first three years. The kids get so excited to see the finished product, find their pictures, look at pics of their friends and events over the past year, and exchange autographs. It also makes for a great keepsake, and something for your child to cherish years from now.

7. Let Them Leave Their Mark
This may not be available at your school, but if there is a chance for them to add something, sign something, hand or footprint something, make it a priority to do so before the six years are up. At our school, they sold ceiling tiles for kids to paint, decorate and sign. The ceiling tiles then became part of the school fixture permanently. It’s a great way for your child to leave his mark, and if they go back to visit a younger sibling, it’s fun to find their “mark.”

8. Try to Attend at Least One Field Trip
I realize this is hard for working parents, but if you’re able to take the time to attend at least one trip with your child in the six years of elementary school, you will never regret it. The older your child gets, the greater the chances they won’t want you to tag along. So take advantage of this the first few years if possible. Not only will you cherish the opportunity to see your child enjoy himself among his peers, but he will also remember “that trip” that you took with him! Better yet…try and attend one trip each year.

9. Let Go a Little Bit
It can be a gradual thing, but elementary years are the best time to give your child independence. When you feel the time is right, let them walk to their classroom alone. Give them the experience of buying their own lunch (if your school provides). Let them stay after school for an activity. Have them go home with a friend. Put them on the bus. Don’t be the first mom to pick them up after at school. Allow them to wait for you a bit – not only do you know they are safe – but they are also surrounded by their new friends. Don’t do their homework or projects for them. Let them fail, and also let them succeed on their own. And as hard as it may be, let them get reprimanded if they need to be.

What else can you add to my list? If you’re a seasoned elementary mom, please chime in!

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