public school

When Your Kids Graduate from Jewish Preschool to Public School

School classroom with school desks and blackboard in Japanese high school

Two years ago at this time, I was a wreck. I was staring down my daughter’s graduation from preschool with a desire to stop time. But stopping–or even slowing–time has never been my forte and so Ellie eventually stood on the bimah and sang, “Kindergarten, here we come” as I bawled loudly, emphasis on loudly. I mean, people took pictures of me because I made that much of a spectacle.

(It’s possible I had also been a wreck about sending her to preschool in the first place. There’s clearly a theme here, people.)

When Ellie was finishing preschool, I was distraught not only because it meant my first-born was growing up and officially saying goodbye to the baby years. I was scared of the unknown. I’d driven the same route to preschool for four years. I knew how things worked: Fridays she went to the school’s Kabbalat Shabbat, in January we had a Havdalah celebration in our pajamas, the kiddos would try to throw latkes (bean bags) into a (cold) frying pan at the Hanukkah party. With only about 40 families at the private Jewish school, I knew everyone and all the teachers, and they all knew me. It was safe and comfortable.

Public elementary school was daunting. None of the kids from preschool were going to the same county school. Ellie would also go from knowing everyone to knowing no one. I spent her first day of kindergarten crying like, well, a preschooler. I (largely unsuccessfully) fought off images of her getting lost in the cavernous hallways of a school that houses 820 students, being too shy to raise her hand to use the bathroom, and getting sick with hunger because she’s a slow eater and a 30-minute lunch might not be enough time. I was a wreck.

Now I am a month away from watching my son make the same transition, and I expected more hysteria from myself. Instead, I feel…ready. It could be that Jared has a completely different personality from Ellie. He’s easygoing – as long as things go his way – and quick to speak up for himself.

But I also have a major advantage this time: experience. Now, the public school has all the same familiarity as the preschool. I’ve even gotten comfortable with not knowing what’s next. For example, the first-grade teacher’s classroom help needs differ from what the kindergarten teachers needed, but I still have plenty of opportunities to volunteer. I know the administrators and they know me. I know some teachers. I’ve made friends with fabulous parents. And my daughter is happy and thriving.

What’s more, Jared is excited to be back in the same school as his big sister (or to ride the school bus; the jury’s out on which of these things gets top billing). They overlapped preschool one year, and Ellie was a little mommy to him as he navigated the 2s class. At kindergarten orientation last month, she authoritatively took his hand and led him to the library, our first stop on the tour. There, she ran into some friends and disappeared into a corner to color with them, leaving her brother to fend for himself, much as she had two years before. I kvelled at her independence, the exact thing I fretted over two years ago.

And I kvelled at Jared’s independence as he joined the group unfazed, not once checking to see where I was. You see, Jared also has the advantage of experience. He’s been in that library to choose books at the book fair. He’s eaten lunch in the cafeteria. He attended field day, a Valentine’s Day party, the school dance, book-swap bingo nights; her kindergarten teachers even remember his name.

And so the transition this time is a hell of a lot less scary. I’m able to enjoy Jared’s last few weeks as a preschooler. But when he stands on that bimah and begins to sing, I can’t promise I won’t bawl (yes, really loudly). This time around, it’s not scary. But it’s still a gut-twisting mix of pride over all he’s accomplished in three years and sadness over the end of a phase of his life and my own.

Kindergarten, here we come.

The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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