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What I Learned From My Kindergarten Graduate

Today is a big day in our home! Our daughter is wrapping up her kindergarten year of school. I am filled with a mix of emotions. There is a huge part of me that is excited to break free from virtual home school and the constant battle to encourage reading, writing and focusing on work while being surrounded with toys and distractions. There is another part of me that is shocked at how fast the year went which means future years will likely fly by even faster. I don’t remember where I heard the saying that the days are long and the years are short but it feels so true today. In celebration of this day, I reflected on the lessons I learned from my daughter’s year in kindergarten.

Make fast friends! I am amazed at how quickly children can become friends. The barrier of entry into friendship seems so simple at our daughter’s age. Do you like Barbies? What is your favorite color? How much do you love pizza and fries? Do you want to play? What the heck happened as we moved into adulthood? We seem to complicate making friends so much. Maybe it’s a fear that develops over time of wanting to be liked or to belong. Maybe we judge ourselves too harshly and limit our connections. Maybe we become so serious, consumed by our to-do lists, focused on advancing professionally, caught up in the small stuff and harbor too many ill feelings that we loose sight of the joy that can come from making fast friends. I am grateful for witnessing my daughter grab the hand of her now school bestie on day one. She reminded me that we can experience so much fulfillment by taking a small risk and putting ourselves out there to make fast friends 

Set clear goals! As a goal achievement coach, I couldn’t have been happier when my daughter set a goal in kindergarten…to learn how to read. I was even more impressed that her teacher had each student write out his / her goals and hung them on a wall with their photos for visual reminders each day. On open house night we learned that our children would be tasked with learning 100 sight words throughout the school year. This was a great example of breaking a goal down into smaller pieces. We received our first list of 10 words, flashcards and the freedom to have our daughter tested when she felt confident in knowing the words. My natural competitive nature kicked in and I wanted our daughter to have the worlds learned in a week. As we worked together to memorize the sight words, it became clear that she needed more time to confidently recite the words. It also helped that my husband kindly reminded me that we had the entire school year to learn 10 lists. Sometimes on our goal achievement journeys, we need more time than originally anticipated. It’s important to learn to adjust strategies rather than to give up on goals. Our daughter did learn all 100 words, passed the sight word assignment and now uses those words to crush reading. Learning how to read was a journey filled with frustrations. Kindergarteners are better equipped to preserve because they have not yet learned to give up when feeling frustrated. When our daughter encountered a word she did not know she learned to slow down and sound out the word. What a simple reminder to slow down and take the time to learn. As adults, I think we expect instant success and confuse needing to learn more with not being able to achieve a goal. I also watched my daughter read almost every day for 30 minutes. Some days she was super focused, some days we read to her, some days she read advanced books, some days she re-read the same story she likely memorized over and over again. The point is that she put in consistent effort to reach her goal. What powerful goal achievement lessons from her goal to learn to read – keep the goal in front of you, break your goal down into smaller achievable pieces, learn to overcome frustrations and put in consistent effort.

Mistakes are proof you are trying! Our daughter’s classroom had this phrase vividly displayed on a colorful poster. There were so many times over the year where I would be frustrated by making a mistake and our daughter would exclaim, “mistakes are proof you are trying!” Her teacher used a wonderful concept called fancy and fix for the students’ writing assignments. She encouraged the students to write freely and then review their work with their fancy pens to fix the errors. When did we become so focused on perfection as adults? Why do we believe our first draft needs to be our final draft? When did we loose the human element that allows for grace and imperfections? As I launched my business in the midst of our daughter’s kindergarten year I learned from so many mistakes. What a blessing to have a six-year-old coach reminding me to keep trying.

Reward the positive! Our daughter’s teacher implemented two programs, super shiny student and table points, in her classroom to reinforce positive behavior. Students could earn raffle tickets for doing the right thing, completing work timely or helping one another for the weekly super shiny student drawing. The winner would pick a toy from the prized treasure chest. Table points encouraged teamwork by rewarding the table that earned the most weekly points by cleaning up, supporting one another and completing work correctly with cool school supplies. The emphasis in our daughter’s classroom was clearly on reinforcing positive behavior and rewarding progress and teamwork. Somewhere along our development journeys we loose sight of recognizing the positive. So many performance reviews highlight what people do wrong and where they need to improve. We learn to cringe at feedback and avoid accountability because it usually focuses on all negative. We need the tough feedback to grow, but we can also borrow super shiny student from kindergarten. Focusing on positive behaviors, encouraging the right activities and highlighting strengths leads to an energizing and motivating environment.

Embrace change! I was so impressed with our daughter’s ability to pivot from her classroom to a virtual learning environment. She had no warning that a massive change was coming her way. One day she put on her uniform, grabbed her lunch and rode in the car to play with friends on the playground before class and the next day she sat in front of an iPad in the middle of our living room with some clueless parents trying to figure out how to juggle work, life and school during their first pandemic. Of course we had our moments of breakdown. I broke down many times over the last few months out of confusion, anxiety and disappointment. At first I was frustrated with her breakdowns in the middle of the day. Naturally, these moments occurred when she was supposed to be logging on for an afternoon specialists’ class or when she was procrastinating her daily work. Serious anger, yelling and frustration was coming out of our usually easygoing and loving daughter. Why was I expecting our daughter to be perfect and not breakdown? I finally realized that she has a right to be frustrated and disappointed too. Somewhere along the way we learned that negative emotions are bad and to move quickly move through them to get back to the positive. Part of embracing change is feeling all of the emotions that accompany the change. Our daughter taught me to pause and think about why I am feeling the way I am feeling. Embracing change is not easy and unearths beliefs and emotions as you evolve into a new normal. I hope I can carry this reminder with me as our daughter starts a new school for first grade.