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Kindergarten: Successful first day of school separation and launch

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Mark Henle/The Arizona Republic/AP

(Read caption) The first day of school at kindergarten – despite tears – can be a successful lesson in separation and launch. Here, Esabella Mendoza is comforted by her father, Manuel Mendoza on her first day of kindergarten at Eagle College Prep Elementary in Phoenix on July 30, 2012.

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I’ve watched first days of kindergarten as a mother and as a school psychologist for almost 40 years. On these days I've seen events that were heart-rending, humorous, embarrassing, and inspiring.

Some schools allow parents to stay for a while. Others forbid them to even enter the room. That usually moves the drama to the hall. I’ve watched teachers skillfully gather the group to a circle for a story and others deal helplessly with three or four crying 5-year-olds. Sometimes I have had to usher the crying 35-year-olds out of the room and to my office. 

So many kids these days have had lots of preschool so the separation is less traumatic, but not for mom and dad, camcorder in hand and tears in their eyes.

For this event I’ve never been able to maintain that professional psychological distance we’re supposed to have. I’ve often shed a few tears even before the parents and the kids, so I took my own babes into this monumental transition wondering if I would fall apart when it was our turn. 

I did – just a little. Some were tears of joy when a friend took my shy daughter under her wing (they are still friends 20 years later). With my son the tears quickly dried with shock when he introduced himself as a “junkyard dog." He was the happiest kindergartener you’ve ever seen. He saved all his tears for the last day of kindergarten when he clung to his beautiful young teacher and sobbed at the prospect of leaving her.

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