Donna Kiblin couldn't help but cry for each of her four children on their first day of school.
"It's kind of scary," the Buffalo mother said, "because you don't know. You're trusting your child with someone else that they're with all day long. It ends up being OK. But it was scary."
Soon, thousands of 4- and 5-year-olds across Western New York and their anxious parents will be making the big leap to pre-K or kindergarten -- aka Big Kid School.
Many already have attended either day care or preschool, while others stayed at home with a parent, trusted relative or a beloved nanny. But now it's time for them to don their Disney-themed backpacks, maybe step onto the school bus and begin a new chapter in their lives.
While there's no way to guarantee a tear-free morning -- particularly for parents -- some local mothers who brought their young ones to a recent boat-making workshop at the Central Wharf sponsored by Explore & More Children's Museum shared their advice on how to make the transition a little bit easier.
Melissa Kirkley, a science teacher at East High School, sent all three of her children to the Bennett Park Montessori program beginning at age 3.
"We went through the process a little earlier," she said.
With her oldest child, Alaya, who is now 10, Kirkley wanted to make sure she had a good idea of what to expect on her first day of school.
Bennett Park offered two things that helped: a trial run on the school bus and a couple of half days before going to full days.
"They had a bus orientation," Kirkley said, "so [the kids] could see there was a bus aide and a bus driver."
The short days also helped get her daughter used to the idea of going to school all day long.
Her two younger children didn't need to go to the orientations, she said, because they had been watching their big sister get on and off the bus and go to school.
But Kirkley urged parents to take advantage of an orientation program if they feel it would make their child more comfortable.
Kirkley also suggests that parents make sure their children can deal with their clothes on their own.
"Parents send their kids with belts and snaps and buckles that kids can't do," she said. "Then they can't go to the bathroom, and then they have accidents."
The same principle applies to lunches: Her kids have containers and baggies that they can handle themselves. There might not be someone available to help open a tricky applesauce container or juice box.
Kerry Schmidt, a Grand Island mother of 4-year-old twin boys and a 3-month-old boy, is getting her sons ready for three half-days a week of pre-K at the Grand Island Co-op Nursery through a two-week summer camp the preschool offers.
The boys did the same thing before entering the preschool last fall when they started going two days a week.
"They had a weeklong camp, which was two hours each day," she said. "They met their teachers. They saw where they're going to be. They met some of their future friends."
She believes that experience "made the very first day an easy transition."
Schmidt has the added challenge of trying to get her twins, who are the best of friends, to make new friends. "They're not used to making friends," she said.
It's a similar challenge for parents of children who haven't attended preschool or day care.
To get the twins to interact with other children, Schmidt has been taking them to places like Explore & More, the Buffalo Zoo and the Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester.
"We go to things where they can be exposed to other kids," she said.
Kiblin's youngest child will be going to a Kenmore preschool this fall. It will be Alexis' second start at pre-K.
Kiblin says she learned that some children just aren't ready for preschool and that parents should consult with the teacher if there's any concern.
"I have four kids, and the rest were fine," Kiblin said. "She just wasn't ready socially and academically."
She hopes other parents realize there's nothing wrong with delaying the start of pre-K. A teacher told her that many children aren't ready for kindergarten until they're close to 6.
To get her children ready for the idea of school, Kiblin is a big believer in taking them to the school before classes are in session so they get acquainted with their new environment. She suggested calling the principal and asking "if your child can go in and meet the teacher and meet the room and get acquainted with the room."
She also likes to make a big deal out of back-to-school shopping, letting kids help pick out their backpacks, school supplies and clothes.
But more than anything, she said, she's learned good tips from other moms and dads. "Just talking to different parents," she said, helped her prepare herself and her children for their big day.