Starting Kindergarten During COVID-19

Quite a few members of our team have little ones slated to head off to kindergarten this upcoming school year. While there are no easy or even good choices to make right now in regard to school, it feels like the transition to kindergarten makes the decision to do in-person or virtual learning or another alternative all the more difficult. COVID-19 has created wide uncertainty, which is being compounded by information (especially information about schools) that is constantly changing. When navigating this sort of chaos, hearing from others can bring a degree of comfort, clarity, and validation. There is some overlap in the choices described below, but each family navigated the decision-making process based on their unique circumstances.

We feel this struggle deeply and want our readers to know, you are not alone. Big hugs to all the little ones and mamas as we all start to navigate the road ahead.

Anne Williams

Our children are already going to preschool, but I have still wavered some, thinking about sending our oldest to elementary school for the first time. Why am I having trouble deciding about kindergarten if I’m already sending my kids to preschool? I feel comfortable with the safety precautions in place. My concerns were more related to how it feels to be the youngest kid in a new big school. I want to know he will be allowed a hug from his teacher if he’s having a hard day. I am worried about how he will meet new friends if he never sees their faces. We will be signing him up for the in-person learning option (when that is safe) trusting that these amazing kindergarten teachers have already thought of innovative solutions about all the ways to help kids with their masks, to make friends, and feel comfortable in a new place during these strange times.

Brieanne Hilton

We found out recently that our district was offering in-person or virtual learning. Unfortunately, neither of those options work for our incoming kindergartener. Patrick has multiple disabilities and is unable to engage meaningfully with online learning… but requires too much hands-on contact to safely attend school in person. He simply cannot function in school without literal hands on assistance, from feeding to classroom learning to walking around. The physical proximity is just too much of a risk. We considered holding him back a year, but he really needs the services provided by the school district. So, we opted to apply for a homebound teacher through our school district. We had to have his doctor’s authorization first, and if approved, a teacher will come to our house a few times a week to help him one-on-one with basic kindergarten concepts.

On the one hand, I feel a little guilty for taking this third option that isn’t on the table for most kids. But, on the other, it is the only option that doesn’t make me feel like our child with special needs has been forgotten in the stark binary of a virtual-only or classroom-only school year. It feels right.

Claire Reagan

When your baby is born, milestones flash before your eyes…that first day of kindergarten is a big one. Because our oldest is on the autism spectrum, we’ve been talking about kindergarten a lot over the last 2+ years with his team at school and his private service providers. Kindergarten has been our first major destination on this journey of early intervention. Well, nothing like a pandemic to force a detour.

After much thought and discussion, we were hit with a moment of clarity last week: Why not just delay a year? We are expecting our third child in November, which has guided a lot of our decision-making during the pandemic. For the sake of consistency with the kids and safety with the pregnancy and my ability to do my part-time work from home prior to the baby’s birth (and hopefully after my maternity leave), we’ve decided to keep our three-year-old daughter home from preschool and delay our son’s transition to kindergarten since we can lean on his private therapy.

This choice is not ideal, but it is the right one for us. We do recognize, however, that we are fortunate to have the ability to consider our options since many families don’t. My heart aches for those who feel trapped into a decision.

Jollene Hastings

Our family has chosen the virtual option offered by our school district. This means we have decided to keep our kindergartener home for the first semester. It was not an easy decision to make, but the driving force was thinking about our son’s safety and health. Not only is this choice because we care about our son, but we care about his classmates, teacher, and school administration. My son does well with wearing a mask, but trying to keep him socially distant from friends would be a challenge. Though I have no doubt schools will do their best to take all the necessary precautions, exposure is exposure, and I don’t think it’s worth the risk.

I am fortunate not to have to worry about childcare since I am a stay-at-home mom. I know this isn’t the case for everyone. I am thankful he is a kindergartener versus much older because he won’t really know any different. Of course, I worry about my teaching abilities compared to that of an actual teacher, but I am committed to giving him my best. In the last two months of Pre-K, when I was teaching him at home, I noticed incredible growth in my son. That has given me the confidence I need to know that I can do hard things. I will always rise to the occasion to do whatever it takes in order to ensure the best for my children. That’s the mantra of moms, though. While what’s best for every family may look different right now, I know we are all taking these decisions seriously.

Kelly Burnison

We will have a kindergartener this year. We’re sort of in a situation where he HAS to go to in-person school because my husband and I both have to work. I am a first grade teacher. I’ve missed traditional school so much since March. I miss my first grade babies SO much! However, I’d be lying if I told you if I won the lottery tomorrow and had the chance to stay home that I wouldn’t. It truly breaks my heart to think about him not starting in a traditional way, especially the thought of not being able to walk him into his first day.

With this pandemic, there is still so much “what if” that I don’t even know how to handle it. I teach in a different district than where my son will go to school. Between my school, my son’s school, and my twin daughters’ school, there are three chances of possible need to quarantine. This alone overwhelms me.

So, I am choosing to trust the sweet kindergarten teachers at his elementary school. I know they are going to do the best they can to keep all children safe and feel loved. I can imagine they’re just as scared as I am to go back into the classroom. I will pray for them. I will support them. And I will be flexible as plans most likely change from week to week. I am also going to be a germaphobe for a while. Don’t mind me while I burn our clothes daily and douse the house in a Lysol bomb.

Kristin Ruthstrum

I am sad. Because of his older brother, I know what my sweet kindergarten boy will be missing out on this year. Walking him into his classroom to meet the teacher for the first time, school field trips, assemblies, hugs, high fives, and all of the other heart-swelling, picture-worthy parts of his first year of school won’t be experienced. If they ever get to set foot in a classroom, it will look and feel very different, and it’s just not fair. This is not the way it was supposed to be.

As we closely monitor the local and national developments for the virus, it becomes clearer every day how much we truly don’t know. Politicians are spouting one stance; friends and family are saying another. The weight of the decision on whether to send our kids feels like one of the most vomit-inducing choices I have ever had to make. So, as we do often within our family, we have decided to trust the experts in guiding us to what is best for our little boys. In this case, that would be pediatricians, scientists, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, who are all advocating for children to return to the classroom. We will continue to reduce risk in every other part of our lives and are reluctantly trusting fellow community members to do the same so that our kids may resume some semblance of a normal school year. They deserve it. I hope it proves to be the right choice.

Megan Coffey

Our oldest child, Peyton, will start kindergarten this fall. I’ve been looking forward to this day since leaving my own kindergarten classroom to stay home when she was born six years ago—this was not exactly what I pictured. Having taught the grade myself and also being a stay-at-home mom, keeping her home this year seems like it would make sense except for us, it doesn’t. I have zero desire to be her teacher and she has zero desire for me to learn from me (in a “school” setting). She wants to experience the real deal, even if it’s not how it “should be”—and that’s what I want for her, too. It’s vital for her to establish a relationship with her teacher so if (more likely when) school goes remote, she has that buy-in already.

I’d be lying if I said I haven’t received some overt judgment for our decision, but like anything else in parenting, we know our child best and what will work for our family. All other options I seriously looked into just did not sit right—it’s the deep down feeling us moms all have. My advice is to listen to it.

Tiffany Basinger

We have decided NOT to send our son to in-person kindergarten in the fall. The decision wasn’t easy, and we didn’t come to it lightly. In fact, we went back and forth several times. There are benefits to in-person schooling that we cannot deny: the essential academic, social-emotional learning, formative relationships with peers, and opportunities to play. However, my husband is a kidney transplant recipient and at high risk. We had to take that seriously and with great consideration. We discussed it as a family. Our son’s response, and I quote, “I will do my school work on the laptop and go back to school when the pandemic is over. I don’t want to bring it home to Dad.” Hearing these words made it all that much easier to make our decision.

As much as we want to send our son his first year of elementary school, we must wait. The health of our family means more than a short period absent from the classroom. We recognize this isn’t permanent. Our son will return. And we will revisit our decision at the end of the semester.

Tiffany Wall

When we moved to Kansas, we had to pick up and change what little our kindergartner knew of her first year of elementary school. And after only a few months into the second semester, the pandemic began and we were in lock-down. Fast forward five months, our school principal is speaking to 150+ other concerning parents over a Zoom discussion trying to give us all a better understanding of what school this fall would look like in-person versus virtual learning.

Before the meeting, my husband and I knew we were going to send our kids back to school because we couldn’t imagine doing the same distance learning we had been thrown into during March. However, our biggest concern was curriculum and consistency, and after hearing our principal, we agreed virtual learning was best.

As a mama who loves and celebrates all of the milestones, I am sad. Sad that my first child missed so much of her first year in elementary school. Sad that my soon-to-be kindergartener will not be having her first day of school at what we’ve dubbed “big kid school” with her older sibling. And sad that we will continue to all be stuck at home. But dare I say it, also a little happy to be stuck at home with those I love—home where it’s safe.

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Claire made her way to Kansas City after graduating from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where she met her husband Scott (a KC native and Mizzou grad). Both are high school educators; she teaches English while he often schools her in history. They live in Olathe with their two small children -- Evan 5 & Abbie 3. Claire regularly spends time advocating for early childhood education/intervention and is always looking for ways to become more civically engaged. She loves cheering on the Huskers and the Royals, date nights, reading five books at once, writing, contemplating the deeper issues of Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood, and listening to her kids giggle together. Catch some of those giggles on Instagram @clairebear_kc.

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