Motherhood

Toby’s First Day of School

Toby started school this month, and on the first day, Alex and I took him together.

We went upstairs to his class, and he chose a car to play with. (Oh, that little belly.)

He slowly took it all in…

I sat for a few minutes to get him settled (and to check out how the awesome car doors opened!)…

He said hello to the other kids and introduced himself (“Tibby!”).

Finally, after a few minutes, I hugged him goodbye. My heart was in my throat. Alex and I left quickly (like a Band-aid, right?) and Toby burst into tears. It was so tough! But we knew the teachers were great and that he’d settle down in a couple minutes and have a happy morning (and he did).

He had an awesome first week (he goes three mornings a week), and we were feeling great. But last week was harder. At night, I’d ask him if he wanted to go to school the next day and see his friends, and he’d shake his head, “No.” And when Alex would take him in the morning, he’d start crying as they walked through the gate. The teachers told us, interestingly, that a lot of kids will seem fine the first week and then have a hard time adjusting the second and third week. We’ll play it by ear—the school seems lovely, and has a pretty backyard with a playground and sweet teachers and art projects and a guy who comes to play guitar! Toby could, of course, wait a year to start school, but I think he’ll adore it once he gets comfortable and really thrive in that fun social environment. To help him along, we have been talking excitedly about school and packing his favorite snacks (Cheerios, strawberries, bananas); and our beloved babysitter gave him a funny monkey backpack, which instantly became his best buddy (see above:). This week, he seems happier about everything, fingers crossed.

Did your kids ever have a tough time with school? Was the first day hard? When did your little ones start? I’d LOVE to hear any thoughts and advice. It’s hard for both babies and parents! xoxo

  1. Thanks so much for this post! i am going through this right now with my little guy and reading this post and comments is so reassuring! I never thought i would cry so much! My husband and I can watch him on video. I call my husband from the car sobbing after drop off and he is so confused bc he looks on the video and Luke is already done crying and is busy playing. Much tougher on the Mums.

  2. My daughter just started too….she’s 2 yrs 5 months. And it went the same way. The first few days were super easy, no tears on the first day! But once she realized that she’d be there without me, she started to cling to me as we neared the school. I try to slip away quietly, but sometimes it’s impossible since she’s clinging to me so much. She loves her teacher, so that’s a huge help.

  3. Our kids don’t begin school here until 5 years old, so it’s a little easier. Hard on the parents, still, but most kids have a different understanding and maturity level to know what’s going on. My little one is only 21 months, so she won’t begin school for 3 more years!

    Preschool, obviously, is considered 3 years-5 years, so she’ll probably start preschool in a year, but we may wait. We’re not worried about rushing into it just yet. Hope he’s having fun now! I bet he has that school charmed and wrapped around his sweet little finger.

  4. Anonymous says...

    my girl started school right around her third birthday and it has taken a few MONTHS for her to really get into the swing of it. some major “is it really worth it?!” self-interrogations there for a while [on my part], but I’m so glad she [and I] stuck it out. she loves it!

  5. I don’t think it ever gets easy even when they grow up. My mother cried sending us off to COLLEGE. ;-)

  6. That is exactly what happened with Magnus!
    The first week he barely looked back
    but week two was HARD. He would cling to me
    (and he has never been a clingy sort of a guy)
    and I felt horrible leaving. I would often call
    5 minutes after I left and they would report
    he was happily playing again.
    Magnus has been there over a year now and
    he LOVES it and has made lots of lovely friends.
    Now I can barely tear him away when I pick him up.
    Hang in there!

  7. Anonymous says...

    i don’t have any children. I am about to start college. when I started school I was nearly 3 and my patents were attending language school in France. they had an agreement that any child too old for the nursery had to go to school and let their parents study. so off I went, learned French and had the best time of any 3 year old in the world. :)

  8. Anonymous says...

    My two and a half year old has been in daycare three days a week since he turned one. The SECOND week is harder than the first, because the shock & newness of it aren’t a distraction at drop off anymore. They all really do settle down soon after the drop off, but that screaming is awful. It’ll come back too (be ready!), after months of being dismissed with a hand wave and barely a ‘bye’, all of a sudden we’ll have a week of bloodcurdling screaming and wailing for me not to go. My son STILL tells me he doesn’t want to go to school a few times a week… but when i pick him up he can’t wait to tell me how much fun he had all day and show me his pictures and tell me about his friends. Good luck, it’s hard, really mostly on us, not them. Hope my perspective helps!

  9. My little one just turned two. We haven’t started school yet, I can only imagine how high everyone’s emotions must be running. We are going to start next year.

  10. vandegee says...

    They cry once they realize this is a THING – this will happen every week. But they also quickly grow to love the independence of it, their special time away from you (“What did you do today in school.” “I don’t remember” or “Played” or sometimes even “nothing” – they’re way of keeping the memories for themselves, keeping it “special.”). Don’t worry. Muscle through the tears. (They will come and go many times over the next few years!) It will actually help him get over the separation by being consistent. So hang in there!

    p.s. It might also help to have just Alex drop him off – mom always makes it worse. Or even a friend or babysitter or grandparent. They may cry with you but will just dash on in with another adult…

  11. reading your posts about the first times in toby’s life feels oddly reassuring. i say oddly because we don’t know one another and the net can be so very impersonal but your posts are anything but that. i want to thank you for being candid and sharing these moments with us. being motherless leaves one wondering (even before having children, as in my case) how she’ll know what to do in all of these scenarios. i feel you are giving me a little peek as primer. gratzi from the bottom of my heart! you pulled me in with the fashion and i opined that the “mama stuff” might not resonate..i was wrong :)

  12. This post couldn’t come at a more perfect time! Just this morning my hubby and I went to check out a school for our son who is 16 months. He won’t start until Sept. 2013 when he’s 2.5 yrs but we needed to register now to get him on the wait list (wait lists for everything to do with kids are nuts in Toronto). We watched the one mom drop off her little girl and the daughter was sobbing…like body shaking sobbing. It broke my heart and I started to tear up a bit too, but I couldn’t stop thinking that my son was just born (in my mind, anyway) and how could we possibly be thinking about school already. You can’t blink with these kids. Before you know it they’re practically grown ups! Thanks for telling your story. I’m sure Toby will be fully into it in no time.

  13. I feel a bit confused with the term school! our daughter is 21 months old and she has been going to the crèche since she was 6 months old, but the school starts when she turns 4 years old (and this is early for me, I am from Croatia and started school when I was 6 years old). Do you just mran kindergarten or is school mandatory in US when you are 2. 5 years old???? btw, she wasnt aware of the thing when she was 6 months old until she was a year ols or so, then she loved it and round of the age of 18 months or so she started crying every time we took her there and then would love it as soon as we were out of the site. now we took her to my parents and sister to Croatia for the whole summer and are dreading the return! (she at the moment forgot all her english and is only speaking Croatian). Parenting, always exciting, ey!

  14. I have a 14-month old boy myself and I admire how you get to spend so much time with him while working from home doing a job you love (and are phenomenal at)! He is absolutely adorable.

  15. My daughter London has been going to “school” aka daycare 5 days a week all day since she was 14 months old. And unfortunately we have had to switch schools 2 times since then – she’s only 26 months now. The transition to a new school or class can be rough and result in morning drop-off tears which kill me but usually after a month she is comfortable. And we know we have a good place when she doesn’t want to leave at the end of the day.

  16. I used to teach at a preschool and that is exactly what we would recommend. One idea, that worked on most of our children, is to tell Toby that its like he is going to ‘work’ – just like mommy and daddy. Grab your ‘suitcase’ (lunch box), you’re going to stay for a bit, and then we pick you up! Easy as pie and making it really exciting every time gets them excited. We would have children crying because they didn’t want to leave! you’ll see that soon. Trust me, its harder on the parents – Good luck!

  17. My little Charlie (she’s a girl) has been in daycare two days a week since she was three-months-old. As a result, she is more social, more independent and has even developed a bit of an English accent (we’re Americans living in London)! Starting her so early meant that she didn’t really know what was going on, and it just smoothly became a part of her world. Now when she wakes up and we tell her she gets to go to school, she gets excited; it is the sweetest thing!

    My only issue with the whole setup is that she’s been bitten by kids at school and is now starting to bite. Ugh. Whenever I ask anyone how to remedy the problem, they say to bite her back (which I just can’t bring myself to do). I know it is a normal instinct for kids, but it is just so humiliating when my sweet little girl bites her playdate when she tries to play with her doll!

  18. Mathis is 20 months old and he has been to the daycare since he was 10 months . Daycare in France is almost school, they have activities such as music , painting, pottery . He goes all day long, he had very tough time at the begining , it was much better in the middle of the year and it seems it has been getting back to the tough time . I know the teachers are very good with him , he is with others kids and I feel good about it even if it is sometimes hard

  19. Celine says...

    AGAIN, some input from France ! First, good to hear that Toby is slowly but surely making his pace towards school – growing so quickly ! None of my kids ever made a fuss about separation (first time with the grans, first time in school) as we worked a lot on (in a nutshell) “that’s the way it is, no other way round, you’ll enjoy it, and we’ll be back soon”. We are lucky enough they are very keen on socializing. In France, school starts at 3 – it’s called “Maternelle” and say, is not compulsary but i know no parents who skip it. Lasts for 3 years before things get really serious. Maternelle is an excellent First Course as they really learn a lot : socializing, becoming a pupil, plus all the stuff about writing, counting, singing, and pre-reading. But still, I understand this is hard for both parents and kids as all of this is new. And you have to adjust with it. My motto has always been “The More I Personnaly Feel Comfortable with this New Event, The More My Kid will Feel The Same”. They really are like little sponges, so try to keep as cool as you can when leaving cute Toby off to school. Thanks for reading through this loong comment ! I am confident this will get to normal very soon. Kids are surprisingly adaptable.

  20. We tried when my son just turned 3 and it was horrible. I don’t think the teachers were all that supportive/interactive and I have a sensitive one. After about a month of class (where he was doing okay – no crying) we were literally driving home from a short vacation, it was 9PM and a little voice from the backseat said, “My stomach hurts, I don’t think I should go to school” Broke my heart – from there, we pulled him and it was the best decision. I found other ways to work in social interaction – a one day a week “class” with a teacher who happened to be very warm and inviting. Just what he needed to build his confidence.

  21. Anonymous says...

    I am a firm believer that if a child is saying they don’t want to go to preschool and is crying when you drop him off, you should listen to him. He has some many years of school ahead of him, and you have so few years to enjoy just being with him, why does he need to be in preschool now?

    Take him to parks and museums and music classes. Play cars and trucks and smear finger paint on paper. Enjoy being with him.

    It’s over so fast.

  22. Anonymous says...

    Who said Toby was too young? I asked what this was all about because I genuinely wanted to know… I am American but didn’t (until another commenter sort of cleared it up) understand the use of the term “school” for something which a two-year-old attends and begins in summer. I began to wonder if New York State has some sort of crazy new school system. Joanna sounded like at LATEST Toby could start at three, as though that were some commandment by the state.

    There was no critique and I find it very odd that mothers always imagine they’re being critiqued. If anything, not having children opens you up to extreme criticism. (Frankly, as a non-mother, I have no clue when any child should start school or “school,” and I don’t get about the issue, I just want to understand.)

  23. I sit for a boy who’s nearly three, and it’s always interesting to me to see how he reacts to different situations. I’ve been sitting for him for about 4 months and at first he was a little lukewarm with me, and now gets excited to see me. He usually likes going to school, but sometimes when I drop him off at his gymnastics class or go to do music and movement classes he gets really shy and cries. Little ones are so funny and interesting!

  24. HI Joanna! I love your blog and living vicariously through your life in NYC. I am coming for vacation in October and I couldn’t be more thrilled! Anyhoo, our transition to school woes were very similar to yours. We have a 5 and 3 year old. We read the book, “A Kissing hand” prior to the first day of pre-school and it has proven to be so helpful. We now use the kissing hand for anytime we are apart from each other. I encourage you to pick up a copy and take a look, it is a wonderful story of a fearful raccoon who travels to school with his confidence in a kissing hand from his mother. Very sweet…after all “the kiss will stick!”

  25. Anonymous says...

    What a cutie.

    According to my Mom, I went for 2 days and said “OK Mommy I can use a break now.”

    Best wishes for your lovely family :-)

  26. When my parents took me to kindergarten, I made such a fuss, crying and resisting to being left there, that after a few weeks they gave up and allowed me to skip it altogether. So I stayed at home until six, when I started school.

    Although everything went smoothly at school, many times in my life I have thought that if only my parents had been tougher on leaving me at nursery school, now I would be more constant, I wouldn’t change jobs every 6 months, and I wouldn’t be so terrified of breakups.

    If I have any children, I am certainly going to act differently, because I am sure it will benefit them in those moments when life is tough.

  27. Our little boy has been in day care/pre-school since he was just 4 months old because my hubby and I were both finishing college. He loves it so much now that he is terribly sad when he has to leave for the holidays and summer. Even though we know he loves it, the first couple weeks back after a long break are always kindof tricky.

  28. I’m many years away from kiddos (and 11 months away from my wedding), but I will never forget what a terrible time my younger sister had going to kindergarten! For 2 complete school years, she got on the bus in hysterics, cried on my shoulder the entire way to school, and made me walk her to her classroom before going to my own.

    I wish I could sum this up with a tale of new found independence or at least a tip, but my sister, now 23 years old, has not changed much. She didn’t fair well going away to college and still lives at home.

    I sincerely hope this challenging time gets easier and more routine for both you and Toby.

    xo,Heather

  29. Great job at leaving quickly! I have worked at week-long VBS camps, as a Sunday School assistant, as a full-time summer nanny, and as a part-time daycare assistant. In each of these jobs, my life was made SO MUCH easier when parents spent a small amount of time to introduce their child to the setting, then left quickly. It really does make it worse when the parent sticks around – the child sees that when they cry, Mommy or Daddy comes back – thus, they cry every time you leave them, because you will come back! If they realize that it doesn’t help if they cry, they move on to bigger and better things. Props to you for doing it right! I am sure as he gets used to it he will have tons of fun. :)

  30. As an Early childhood educator myself, I see this with lots of children. We call it the “honeymoon phase”..when OMG, I’m here everyday with the same people??haha He’ll settle in..I promise that it’s a lot harder on the parents than the children as children are so adaptable and accepting of their surroundings. Just be consistent with your routine and he’ll love it!

  31. First of all, congrats to you for leaving quickly! Whether parents like it or not, that is truly the best way to go. I taught toddlers and preschoolers for several years at a Montessori school on the UWS. I went through MANY difficult drop-offs. Warning… some children experience the same difficulties after vacations as well.
    If I can attempt to offer some reassurance, over the course of the 3 1/2 years I taught that age group, I never had a child continue to cry for an extended period of time after mom and dad left. I often took smiling, happy photos within 5 minutes of the sad departure to text to mom and dad.
    So trust me, he’s sad to see you leave, but he’ll have a BLAST once he settles in.

  32. My little one started at 3 months when I had to return to work. It was hard for my husband and I but we made it through. At 19 months our little guy has loved each and every day at his school and learns so much every day. His first words were “Thank You”, which I know he learned from the loving teachers.

    Maria
    http://www.mariapinkelton.com

  33. Wendy-Frances says...

    This is fantastic! My daughter was in Montesori school from 11 months old. She could read, write, tie her shoe, dress herself before kindergarten. You can completely tell the children who didn’t have that exposure in Kindergarten. She’s going into 6th grade in the fall and is an advanced student. Highly recommended! Great job!

  34. Jhope says...

    Toby is just too cute.. My little one started at 2.9, and she was really ready and never cried at drop-off. That said, the first week at pick-up she’d cry the minute she saw me and would say, “Mama, I didn’t realize how much I mis-sed you”. That sentence broke my heart. She starts K this September, and I’m already missing her.

  35. Anonymous says...

    When my daughter started school as a 3 year old, her older brother, 5, had to come comfort her all the time (oh those understanding wonderful teachers!) so they made a “shrine” to her brother with pictures of him, and his favorite toys (cars) and when she missed him, the teacher would take her to the ‘shrine’ and let her sit there a while and look at pictures of her brother — she always calmed down!

    PS — she is now 24 and still adores her brother!!

  36. Anonymous says...

    I think the general consensus is that it’s absolutely daycare as a two year old is not capable of schoolwork per se. If we as parents call it school, it excites the children more and assuages our own feelings. Accredited preschools usually won’t even accept students under three as they are simply not emotionally developed or mature enough yet to be in a truly academic environment.

    That said, there are wonderful daycares out there and most working families need them at some point. Children do thrive and are better prepared for actual school when they arrive.

  37. My oldest had a harder time in his second year, oddly enough, perhaps because he was a little more aware at 3-yr-old? – refusing to get dressed, refusing to go to the car, etc. I work at the school he attends, and I know his guides very well (guides = teachers in the Montessori environment). My second is starting this fall in the toddler community, and I know his adjustment will be more challenging – he has spent far less time away from us than my first did. I trust the teachers and have “counseled” parents for years now that each child adjusts differently, and that we will definitely call the parents if a child does not settle in (we care about the child first and foremost! we’re not in the business of psychological damage!). At our school, there is an understanding that if a parent feels worried, he can call the receptionist, who will walk down to peek into the room to check on a child and report back to the parent. It is very rare that a child is still unsettled after the parents have driven away.

    When I walked my first child into school as a toddler, he had no problem separating, and I cried all the way home! (and I’m a trained Montessori guide!! wasn’t expecting that!!)

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  39. Oh those photos make my heart melt! What a cutie. It would be so hard to take your little one to his first day of school. Thank you for sharing!

  40. My oldest one (a boy) barely said goodbye while walking into his classroom on his first day of K. My youngest (a girl) was about the same. My middle boy? A nightmare. He clung to me, cried the whole time I was there and for awhile after I left according to his teacher. This went on for weeks. The crying eventually stopped, but the clinginess didn’t. That lasted for a few months. Eventually he got so he would go into the small enclosed playground outside the K rooms without me, but wouldn’t socialize, even when his friends came up to him. He would just hang out quietly to the side, leaning on the wall. That? It lasted until March. Yes, March!!! After about 7 months, he finally went in without any problems and played. It was so frustrating, and quite the heartache daily. He was still very shy and seemed disinterested in school over the next 2 years at that school. Between his 2nd and 3rd grades, we moved to a different state, and he was like a completely different kid. Now he’s entering 5th grade like a pro. I think the school had something to do with his anxiety, but I also know that he’s just one of those kids.

  41. I’m doing social service in a Montessori Kindergarden and it is always funny to see how great and easy the children handle the situation and how tough it seems to be for some parents

  42. Johannes starts Montessori next wednesday and I’m pretty nervous too. I’m going to take him in a few days earlier just an hour at a time during outdoor play time so he gets used to the space and teachers, then we’ll just do half days for a bit until he’s ready for full day. He’s only 17 months so I’m pretty nervous about it too, but hopefully it goes well and he starts to like it. Its harder on us parents than it is on the actual babies though

  43. Hi Jo! My daughter’s 3 now, and her first week of school bears no resemblance to the weeks now. The first day was super – she literally pranced in.
    She changed her mind on day 3, and didn’t want it one bit from then on – for about a week!
    It’s been 6 months since, and now school’s just the coolest place. Their start in school is like a roller-coaster ride for us! Sinking heart, silly grins, et all!

  44. Anonymous says...

    My advice– don’t ask him if he wants to go. Just be excited and say time for school, etc. I don’t ask my kids if they want to do non negotiable activities, etc. I just say today is soccer practice, today is sunday school, etc.

    He is super cute!!

  45. my first day of school another classmate threw up on me. i was traumatized but i think i got over it quickly :) your son looks so cute! good luck on his second week

  46. Toby (Tibby) is soooooooo cute! I really love your updates, you are both amazing and caring parents, a true inspiration! :) xx

  47. Hi Joanna,
    I have gone through it six times over the past twenty four years (well, technically seven if you count my grandson) and it really depends on the child’s personality. It sounds like “Tibby” (so cute!) is a bit of an introvert and it will take him a bit longer to warm up. I completely agree with what you plan to do, give it a couple of weeks and if he still resists, he may not be ready. I did the exact same thing when I went to Montessori school in the 70’s, and according to my mother, after a couple of weeks I was fine and actually cried when I wasn’t able to stay for lunch one day. It was a wonderful experience going to Montessori and I still remember it. I could figure simple addition, wrote in cursive, read storybooks and even spoke some French by the time I was four years old. All of it with no textbooks! He’s such a lovely boy, I can only imagine how hard it is to leave him. I remember one of my sons first day of school. I was walking him in and he said, “You’re going to get in the van and leave, right Mom?” He’s sixteen now and always wants to go places without us. He’s definitely our extroverted child! They are all different. My daughter cried every first day until she was in second grade.

  48. PD says...

    Joanna, I’m fascinated by how much motherhood opens women up to constant critique in our culture. (I’m thinking of a lot of anonymous comments about Toby being too young, etc.) I hope you keep sharing these moments despite the occasional entitled commenter- so, so many people (including me!) adore your blog.

  49. Oh, this is hard! The teacher is right, though. A lot of kids are fine that first week. There are new toys, new kids, new things to do…but when they realise by week 2 or 3 they have to keep coming back every day, it’s another story. My older daughter was a week 3 wailer. Then, she settled right in and was happy as a clam. My younger daughter, on the other hand, never admitted she was happy there, still parting with tears (and sometimes being peeled off me by the teacher) after several months. It was agony. Friends did observations in the classroom and assured me she was happy and well-integrated. The teacher promised the same. But the tears, the clinging and the heartache every morning often had me in tears and questioning my mothering. Hang in there. I have been a teacher and have seen the other side, and I can assure you this is much harder on mamas than it is on a well-placed kiddo. Best wishes to you!

  50. Your experience with Toby sounds a lot like my experience with both my daughters. You’re doing fine, don’t second guess yourself because from what I’ve read on your blog, you are fantastic parents you and Alex. Truly. :)

  51. I don’t have kids but I went to nursery from 2- and I just loved it! even though my Mum was at home (different times I guess and she’s deaf) I loved going home to Mum too but I was quite a handful and the Doctor said it’s good for bright children to start school a few hours a day- I loved it, worked really well for me!

  52. Oh Toby! I’m already feeling sad at the thought of my five month old beginning solids, let alone school!

  53. Annie G says...

    I well remember the first time I left my oldest at pre-school. Hated it. Wept a lot. But a year later he was fine – he wasn’t ready to do it before. However, my daughter was practically beating the door down to get in – even tried sneaking in as if they wouldn’t notice. Both of them loved the experience – and it was probably because it was a great place with lovely people. I’d say give it a go for a month and if he is still really sad, leave it a while. As a primary school teacher, we constantly see sobbing children who are beaming within 5 minutes, singing and chatting, while their mothers are miserably wandering home, convinced they have done the wrong thing. Kids are like the English summer: one minute warm and breezy, the next cold and wet with occasional storms. Bring an emotional umbrella…