The first time I took Claire to the school to drop something off for Matthew she shut down so it made me realize that we needed to start talking about the fact that she would be going to school and it is a lot of fun. From that night forward she was excited about school and would tell everyone how many days were left in the school countdown. The night before her first day she realized that she was, in fact, going to school when she saw me picking out her clothes for the next day. She started telling me that she didn't want to go to school but I told her how much fun it was. Yea, that tactic didn't work all that well.
The next morning she woke up happy and was excited to get dressed and eat breakfast and was even excited to see the school saying "Claire, school!" when we pulled up. We dropped off her enrollment paperwork and I took her down to the classroom. We met her teacher who showed her around the classroom and was more than accommodating to let me stay in the classroom for as long as needed. Claire settled in and started her morning worksheet and then joined the class on the carpet to do calendar and story time. Just as I was thinking ‘this was too easy, she’s doing great!” I could hear her sniffling. When she sat down for story time I was no longer in her line of sight and she thought I’d left. This set the tone for the rest of the day. I joined her on the carpet and reassured her that I was not leaving; she got better but remained very quiet. I stayed with her through lunch and recess but once they got started on new activities in the classroom I decided it was time that I leave. I could stay all day but that wouldn’t make the next day any easier; eventually I had to leave and see how she did.
From what I hear she was pretty upset all afternoon. She cried and refused to do much of anything. They brought Emily down to her room who initially helped comfort her but then when Claire got upset again Emily did so as well. Emily is very protective and has taken her sister role very seriously so having Claire be upset made her upset as well. The counselor came and took her on a walk around the school and I think that helped a lot. She was very happy to see me when I returned and even jumped up and down saying "Claire happy happy!" but I noticed something throughout the evening. Claire will usually say "I love you" many times a day and that day she would not. Even when I would tell her that I loved her she responded with silence; that just broke my heart.
Later that evening she got quiet and said "school tomorrow?" and responded back very excited "yes, it will be fun!" and she said no, followed by "Claire no happy."
Before school I had Claire pick out a necklace to wear and she picked one with hearts on it. I pointed to each heart and said "Mommy loves you" and told her she could look at her necklace when she got sad. She fully understood that because once we were at school she pointed to her necklace and repeated "mommy loves you.' I didn't plan on staying in her classroom because I had an appointment to be at. I went in her room with her and helped her get her stuff put away but when she got seated and I told her I was going to go she started crying. I told her many times that I would be back and then I left. The counselor checked in on her several times and then called to give me an update after lunch. She said Claire calmed down but didn't engage for awhile but then decided to participate and from then on she had a great day. When I arrived to bring her home she was happy and told me "mommy, me playground 3 times!" and then showed me her good character stickers for the day. Later that evening she again said she didn't want to go to school the next day.
I did the same thing as the day before- walk her in and help her get settled before leaving. She held onto my coat this time and got a little more upset than the day before. It sounds like she didn't engage any quicker than the day before but once she joined in she had a great day.
I was hoping to walk Claire to her classroom and let her go into the room and put her stuff away without me because starting on Monday I plan on using the drop off lane instead of walking her to her room. This didn't quite go as planned. Instead of putting her stuff away, getting seated and then starting to cry she latched onto my arm immediately and refused to do anything. I kissed her several times, told her I would not leave her and that I will be back, and then I left. When I came back at the end of the day her teacher said she had a great day. The counselor reassured me that even though it seems like it is getting harder for her to separate from me that it is actually normal. She said most kids get a little bit worse before getting better because after a day or two they realize how long the day is. Today she brought home artwork and papers and was very excited to show us her work. When J asked her today if she had fun at school she said yes.
*We made the decision to put Claire in kindergarten. Age wise she would be in 1st grade if she started kindergarten at 5 years old. If we had half the school year left I probably would have put her in first grade but with only one quarter left in the year we really had to think ahead and having her ready for 2nd grade in only 3 months (they start school in July here) seemed like a much bigger jump than ready for 1st grade. I homeschooled her for a month and was able to bring her to the equivalent level of 4th quarter kindergartners so I am a bit worried that once she is fluent in English and reading she might be bored. But, a bigger worry was that she'll always be behind and struggling. Before enrolling her I spoke with the principal who reassured me that moving Claire up a grade would not be a problem if it appears that we didn't make the right decision. With that peace of mind I decided that kindergarten would be the best place for her now.
*The school has been absolutely amazing with Claire's transition. The counselor even took the time to visit with me and ask for tips because she wanted to handle Claire differently than normal separation anxiety. She understood that her situation was different because Claire truly thinks I am leaving her there and not coming back since that it is her history. Everyone at the school has gone above and beyond to make Claire feel safe and welcomed and reassured her that Mommy is coming back. Since we move often we have been in several schools and I know beyond a shadow of doubt things would not have been handled so well in past schools; another visible God moment in our journey.
*I've packed Claire's lunch each day because I'm not ready to have her tackle the lunch line and choices yet. I have packed her thermos a couple of days, one day was fried rice and today I put vegetable lo mein. She was excited to see that I packed noodles for her. My hope is that she has something familiar and comforting at lunch to help with all the different things in her day right now.
*We had to make a decision of putting Claire in a different school within our district to receive ELL (English language learners) classes or put her in our school with Emily and Matthew and forgo the ELL. We made the decision, along with the principal's support, that she would be better served in our school with her siblings than in a different school with ELL. In the first few days at school this has proved to be the right decision. Claire has seen Matthew and Emily several times during the day and tells me after school that she saw them. She's seen Matthew after lunch and on the playground and she spotted Emily outside during a fire drill. I told the counselor that walking Claire by their classroom to show her that they are still there might be comforting to her so she has done that. I know this has helped Claire because she knows she's not alone in the school. Today Emily came out of her classroom and talked with her in the hall and reassured her that I would be coming back.
*With the increase in English that Claire is speaking we have noticed a sharp decrease in her mandarin. Last night she could only write the characters for 1-5 whereas before she could write up to 10. When we asked her to count to ten in mandarin (we started with e, er, sahn 123) she counted up to 5 and then stopped and looked around. My heart broke. We counted to ten in mandarin and after a couple of times she spit it out just as quickly as she did in China. I know it's too much to expect her to maintain both, especially when she isn't with mandarin speaking people every day but it is still sad not hearing her talking freely in mandarin. My hope is that having 7 years of mandarin in her brain before learning English she will be able to pick it up later in life if she chooses. Most children stop speaking mandarin all together and won't even talk to other Chinese people after being home for awhile. We still use mandarin words for quite a few things mixed in with our normal speech. She knows the English word and Chinese word for many things now, so if we say beeng jee leeng she knows we are talking about ice cream. When we say the mandarin words for the colors she usually responds back in English. I think it's amazing that she can translate in her head at only 7 years old.
*One cute thing- Thursday was library day so Claire came home with two books that she checked out. When I took them out of her backpack she was excited to show me the front cover. It had an illustration with an Asian man and Claire pointed to him and said "something something China!" Then she flipped to the back and showed me that it had instructions for making origami birds. I asked her if the teacher helped her find the book of if she found it and she said she had found it by herself. We want to maintain her Chinese heritage and raise her to be proud of being Chinese so it made me happy to see she sought out a book with an Asian subject and illustrations.