First Day of First Grade

First day of first gradeI just walked Cavanaugh to school for his first day of first grade. Unlike last year, I was not in tears before he even walked through the classroom door. I did not go to the library to be comforted by the PTA. I walked him in and walked home.

Okay, I felt a few tears in my throat.

I woke up Saturday morning so sad that it was the end of summer, thinking about how in two days all of our time would be structured by someone else, and how the time between school pick up and bedtime would be so short, and how I would miss him. How could summer have passed so quickly? What had we done with the time?

Then, when we’d been up for about an hour, instead of playing a board game or doing a jigsaw puzzle or listening to an audiobook with Cavanaugh, or going to the pool or trying to think of something new to do, I realized that what I really wanted was to get on the computer for hours to get some work done. Or be able to run errands or do research for work. I wanted hours. Not snippets of time when he would play by himself and I would make food or return a quick email. Not the times when he would visit his dad and I would be scheduled with clients,  computer work, housework, and trying to capitalize on every minute without him.

I am out of energy for summer. I don’t have any more adventures in me. At least not day after day, all day long–until summer bedtime, which is way closer to 10 p.m. than 7 p.m. And the question of how we’d spent the time, well, I could write a dozen five paragraph “What I Did on Summer Vacation” essays. We visited his grandma, cousins, aunt, uncle, grandpa, saw his godfather and family. We had playdates, hosted a kids’ book club, went to high tea, went to the river, the pool, the mountains. We baked, played games, did home improvement projects. We read, had tickle fests, danced in the living room. I afforded time instead of money because we have a lifetime to go on big ticket adventures, but it feels like the time is fleeting when we’ll want to just hang out with each other all day, cuddle into a storybook, or hold hands as we cross a parking lot.

Boy in a BookHe was out of energy for summer too. Last week, when I asked what he wanted to play, he went into his room to read with his door closed. When I checked on him half an hour later to see if he was hungry, he said, “I’m reading Mama” and went back into his book.

We were both ready for school to start, because we know what it looks like, how the days run, what to pack for lunch–so much so that I could write about how to get organized for back to school.

This year, he’s not a stranger in a strange land. Before we even reached his classroom for Meet the Teacher on Friday, two kids had run up and hugged Cavanaugh, announcing, “You’re in my class. Come this way!” We walked in the door and the teacher got down on her knee to look Cavanaugh in the eye as she introduced herself. When she asked his favorite subject and he answered, “Math,”she looked at me and said, “He’s a really good reader too though, isn’t he?” because she’d heard about him from his kindergarten teacher, and the principal had given her a copy of our teacher request letter. He knows he’ll have music class, art, and PE and that they’re called Specials. He knows where the library and cafeteria and bathroom are. It’s not all about what he’s losing this year–the time with me and his dad, the freedom at home to play or rest or not be an introvert surrounded by people. He walked in this morning excited about what he’s going to learn and who he’s going to see.

And I walked out feeling like I was leaving him with a kind teacher, in a place where he’s okay without me–which gives me the room to come home and write instead of spending the day wondering if he’s okay. He’s just fine, and so am I. It’s amazing what a difference a year can make.

Set Up for Summer Fun with Kids

As excited as I was for Cavanaugh to get out of school for summer, I was also a little worried that we could spend months inside hiding out from Texas heat and mosquitoes while playing LEGOs and Minecraft. We needed a to do list of fun.

Luckily, one of my organizing clients was working on a summer intentions banner created by fellow Austinites Bernadette Noll and Kathie Sever. I was inspired by the banner, but worried about the execution. Sewing and stamps would have meant we completed ours sometime after school started this fall. Summer Fun List

What I loved was the idea of setting up our summer so we could get the most of the time with each other without gong stir crazy or bickering our days were so unstructured (exactly what we wished for all school year long).

So we set summer intentions and planned great adventures without locking ourselves into a schedule or spending a ton of money. Here’s what we did.

First, we brainstormed lists of people to see. We thought of friends from school and outside of school, plus family members and the characters from Rick Riordan’s The Kane Chronicles series we’re listening to on audiobook.

For places to go and things to do, we added some of our favorites from previous summers, like going to see the symphony in the park and baking, but we were picking from what’s already routine and that would not keep us going through August. So we read through two of my favorite books: 101 Things You Gotta Do Before You’re 12! and 101 Places You Gotta See Before You’re 12!. Cavanaugh put stickers by all the things he was interested in, then we went through the pages together to figure out which of those things we could do during this summer. They included items like seeing a meteor shower and eating a flower.

Then to see if some of the items he’d found were even available in Austin, we went to the Free Fun in Austin website and added to our list with going to a ghost town and a junk cathedral. On Facebook, a friend had posted the 50 Ideas for a Slow Summer list. They helped too! So did the email from Cavanaugh’s school librarian and the one from his kindergarten teacher with summer reading clubs at some local bookstores and the library and with different learning activities and websites.

Once we had all of our lists, we went to Hobby Lobby and used their handy iPhone app to get the ever-present 40% off a full price item coupon to get a copper foam board. Copper is Cavanaugh’s favorite metal right now. It meant no sewing fabric and the foam board will travel well so when we go visit family in New Mexico, we can take our lists with us. We also used Cavanaugh’s favorite font, “Wonton” which I downloaded for free from dafont for his ninja birthday party last year.

We wanted to keep our lists out where Cavanaugh and I could read them when we needed ideas. As we see people, go places, and do things, we are putting checks or dots next to the items on our list. On the calendar, I listed only events that were date specific, like Mr. Popper’s Penguins being shown for $1 at the theater down the street.

We have a Summer Fun Board in our living room and enough ideas on it to have more adventures than we have time for. I’ll end this post with some items from our list.

Things to Do:

  • Make a Bast board game: The Path of Bast
  • Do experiments in DNA Kit
  • Explore backyard habitat #35
  • Build Volcano
  • Host book club with school friends
  • Play marbles
  • Build a fairy home in the garden
  • Reading Clubs: Book People, B&N, Library
  • Replace front doorknob and lock
  • Eat a flower #45
  • Watch a Meteor Shower #12
  • Bake
  • Play cards
  • Build robots 
  • Do puzzles
  • Make YouTube videos
  • Finish LEGO Ninjago Village
  • Play board games
  • Reading time in bedroom
  • Make up a Spy Name #65
  • Practice handwriting
  • Do 2nd grade Word Wall Words
  • Go through photos
  • Play learning games 

 Places to Go

  • High Tea
  • Taos
  • Splash Pad
  • Camping/Sleep Under the Stars #4
  • Movies
  • Picnic
  • A Famous Road #92 Route 66
  • Junk Cathedral #44
  • An Artist’s Studio #3
  • Swimming Hole #16
  • Rock Art Site #19
  • Radical Rock Formation #69
  • A Canyon or Gorge #86
  • Ice Cream Factory Tour


What are you up to this summer?

Almost the Last Day of School, Finally!

No towelDo you notice here how my son–the one in the middle–is the only one without a towel? He started to shiver right after I took this pic and the boy next to my son leaned over to share his towel. I remembered to send the sandals and the swimsuit to his dad’s for a sleepover. His dad remembered to pack dry tennis shoes and an outfit to change into. But none of us remembered a towel.

The forgetting is part of a larger problem really. It’s the end of the school year. We’re exhausted. As Jen Hatmaker puts it in her “Worst End of School Year Mom Ever” post, “We are limping, limping across the finish line, folks.” I can’t tell you how many nights I’ve forgotten to check the homework folder in the last month, or checked it and decided we’d just have to do it the next day.

Getting used to waking up at 6 a.m. took us almost all fall. Just as we got into a groove, winter break happened. We went to a different time zone, came back, and had to figure out the waking up business all over again. Then there was Spring Break, and the time change. In the midst of that, there’s been getting used to public school, switching classrooms, learning, emotional politics of kindergarteners–making friends, who to play with at recess, how to say “stop” when your classmates are really bugging you–keeping track of things at school, at both parents’ houses.

We’re all so ready to be d0ne now, though it’s, as Cavanaugh’s teacher would say, “bittersweet.” Cavanaugh goes back and forth between counting down how many days he has left to saying, “I want 199 more days.” Because he’s going to miss his teacher. And even though some of the kids in class really annoy him, he loves others. And he’ll miss them. No matter how many play dates we have over the summer, he won’t be in class with some of them next year and who knows what that means for his closest alliances. Change is scary, and exciting, and sad, and exhausting.

When all of the kids went in after the big Splash Day festivities this morning, I was happy to help Cavanaugh change into dry clothes, but I just couldn’t stay for lunch. It’s crazy in the cafeteria. The kids are so riled up they can’t help touching each other and spilling food and yelling in voices that echo like crazy.

Cavanaugh says he’s missing me right now and wanted me to stay. I felt guilty leaving–kind of. We are missing each other. We’ve had house guests for the last two weeks, a family of four and then my mom. The timing of the trips was terrible, and necessary. We rolled with it as best we could. But we haven’t had a whole lot of time to just hang out, or talk about transitioning to summer, or rest. Summer is about to offer us plenty of that, however. So I came home to get the alone and quiet time summer won’t be offering quite as much of, and left Cavanaugh to the cafeteria because he only has two more lunches with this class. And he’s going to miss them.

Checklists for Cavanaugh

Settled by Spring BreakWe’re near the end of the school year so it may seem like a weird time to introduce checklists to kids, but this is the perfect time.

Earlier in my son’s life, checklists that told him to put on pajamas or brush his teeth didn’t feel like they’d be a big help considering I was still brushing his teeth and helping him dress him. Even though he’s been able to do those things on his own for a while now, I hadn’t made checklists. What prompted me to make them last month was that Cavanaugh kept saying, “You’ve told me that a million times!” and I kept saying, “I don’t feel like you’re listening to me.” Both things were true. Because he’d heard the steps in his routine over and over, he didn’t want to hear them and I didn’t want to say them. The problem was he was relying on the reminders and if I wasn’t giving them, he’d forget parts. I had to be in the middle of his stuff for it to get done.

Before kindergarten started, we didn’t have that much of a routine. We didn’t have to be out of the house first thing in the morning. Bedtime could happen somewhere in the vicinity of a time rather than needing to be at a specific time. When he brushed teeth or whether he ever needed to wear shoes changed. Checklists weren’t necessary.

Having checklists at the beginning of this school year would have been wonderful but for most of this year, we’ve been adjusting. We were both so sleepy in the mornings that figuring out when to pack lunch, what we’d have time to eat for breakfast, or how to get out of the house took months. By spring break we’d finally managed to figure out routines for homework or snacks or even when bedtime should be. A week of vacation through even that tenuous schedule out of whack.

The transition has been a hard one for both of us. When I was talking about it with a friend recently, she pointed out that one of the great difficulties is that almost all of the time we spend with our kids–at least during the week– is in transition and full of things that must be done:

  • Waking up and getting ready for school
  • Getting home, having snack, doing homework, play (in between homework and dinner).
  • Dinnertime to bedtime

Reminding Cavanaugh of all the steps those transitions require made him feel like I was always telling him what to do (and he was right). So he and I talked about what the steps were for before school, after school, and before bed. I wrote down the steps we agreed on. He tested them for a few days, then we switched the order around and added steps.

Things are so much better! Transitions are happening on time (most of the time) so we’re not rushing out to school or pushing back bedtime. We’re not squabbling. Cavanaugh feels proud of himself. I get to do my part and help when he needs help, but I no longer feel resentful because I can’t get my stuff done because I’m too busy reminding him of what he needs to get done.

I’m so glad we’ve got them in place now because they’re helping with the end of the school year this year but they’re going to be a tremendous help in getting us into a routine when school start back in the fall.

I’m including our checklists here so you can use them, adapt them, or be reminded of something you might not otherwise have thought to put on them.

Morning Checklist

  • Wake up
  • Eat breakfast
  • Put on socks
  • Put on shoes
  • Brush teeth
  • Brush hair
  • Put on sweatshirt
  • Put on backpack
  • Go to school

After School Checklist

  • Take lunchbox to kitchen
  • Put homework on coffee table
  • Hang up backpack
  • Hang up sweatshirt
  • Put shoes in closet
  • Have snack
  • Do homework
  • Play

Bedtime Checklist

  • Leave play downstairs. Come into calm upstairs.
  • Put clothes in hamper
  • Put on clothes for tomorrow
  • Go to the bathroom
  • Wash hands
  • Brush teeth
  • Get into bed
  • Gather animals
  • Stories
  • Songs
  • Draw a dream
  • Cuddle
  • Sleep

First Grade Teacher Request Letter

I wrote yesterday about why we should write teacher request letters for school. Today, I’ll share my teacher request letter for first grade.

Dear Principal _________,

I’m writing because I’ve spoken with (the classroom teacher) and (the school counselor) about the first grade teacher assignment for my son, Cavanaugh _________, next year. They said I should send you a letter before the end of April giving you some details about (child’s name) that you might consider when assigning teachers.

As a reminder, he started out with Ms. ___________ this year. On the second day of school, he got lost between specials and pick-up so when the class came outside, he wasn’t with Ms. _______. We searched the halls and found him but he was terrified. For the next two weeks, he was very scared and upset and cried every day after specials because he was scared he’d be lost again. Though his dad and I repeatedly tried to communicate with Ms.__________ about what was happening with our son, it was clear that they were just not a good fit for each other. After his dad and I met with Ms. ________(the school counselor) to explore options for helping Cavanaugh, Ms. ________ (the counselor) gave Cavanaugh a tour of the school, which made him feel safe and empowered, and you transferred him to Mrs. ________’s class. We are still so grateful for this.

The difference has been amazing. He loves school and looks forward to going. He has gotten almost all 3’s and 4’s on report cards in academics and behavior, frequently comes home with Super Kid awards, and is absolutely thriving with Mrs. _______.

Cavanaugh’s dad are I are hoping that he can start out with a teacher who is a good fit for him next year so the transition into first grade is an exciting instead of anxiety-provoking one.

Cavanaugh is very bright, focuses for long periods, and cares very much about being well-behaved in class. Because of that, he does not need an authoritarian teacher or a firm-hand. He is sensitive and not always able to speak up for himself, so he needs someone who can emotionally read him, who can connect with him and help him feel safe and seen. He will extend himself outside of his comfort zone, try new things, and thrive if he has a teacher that he trusts cares about him.

Ms. _______ (the counselor) asked if there were any students Cavanaugh should not be placed with. There are not any particular kids. He does come home upset because boys in his class are being silly, trying to spank each other, tickle etc. His dad and I are aware that this is just what most boys do. Cavanaugh just has never been like most boys. Because of this and because his dad and I are divorced, I wonder if Cavanaugh would benefit from having a strong male role model as a teacher. I will leave that to your discretion, but I mention it because it could be a consideration.

Thank you so much for your time. Cavanaugh’s dad and I would be happy to come in to meet with you and discuss placement if that would be helpful, or, if you need any more details, please feel free to call me.


Sonya _______
My Phone Number

Write Your Teacher Request Letters Now

The end of the school year is near and many schools are already making teacher assignments for next year.

As a parent, you can have a voice in this decision. While most schools won’t honor requests for a specific teacher by name, you still have an opportunity to let the school know about your child . . . → Read More: Write Your Teacher Request Letters Now

Avoiding Cupid

There’s been a lot of talk around here lately about how to avoid Cupid’s arrows, or avoid falling in love should one be hit by an arrow. Cavanaugh’s kindergarten teacher taught him how to do this. Apparently you’re supposed to look at your arm. Why? As she tells it, if a boy looks at a . . . → Read More: Avoiding Cupid

Learning to Read

My son and I started a kindergarten letter campaign this summer. Not a political protest kind of letter campaign, a learning-his-letters campaign designed to prepare him for kindergarten.

The current Texas public school curriculum has moved what used to be first grade expectations down to kindergarten. For boys especially, this is a bad fit. Many . . . → Read More: Learning to Read

Now We Are Six

Cavanaugh turned six today. How is it possible that I gave birth six years ago? I’ve been remembering it all week, the double-check to make sure we knew had to use a car seat, the suitcases that had been packed using lists from pregnancy books and parenting magazines, all those plans for how it was . . . → Read More: Now We Are Six

A Great Kindergarten Teacher

It’s amazing how different kindergarten looks with a teacher that fits my son’s personality. The last times I wrote were about how we were coping with kindergarten (not well) and our fears about starting kindergarten. Now we’re in week five and the view from here (thankfully) is beautiful.

Cavanaugh’s first kindergarten teacher just wasn’t a . . . → Read More: A Great Kindergarten Teacher