When the school bus arrives at the home of 5-year-old Ayden Sluder Thursday morning, there will be no surprises for him on his first day of school.
He already knows how to buckle his seatbelt, to listen to the bus driver, talk quietly and walk – not run -- on and off the bus.
When he arrives at Old Mill School, he knows where he’s going to sit in Mrs. Conway’s class. He knows where his cubby is, and where to put his lunchbox.
He knows lots of other things, too, such as the importance of raising his hand, taking turns and pushing in his chair when he’s not sitting in it. It’s a class rule -- number four on a list of six posted on a wall in Mrs. Conway’s kindergarten classroom.
“I forgot to do that,” Ayden said as he read the rules during an orientation session held Wednesday.
Lindsey Sluder, Ayden’s mom, beamed with pride as her kindergartener ran back to his seat to fix his minor infraction, squaring him with the new regulations as he embarks on his academic career.
The Sluders were among dozens of parents and first-time students-to-be who attended Old Mill School’s kindergarten orientation session held a day before the kindergarteners begin their school year.
It’s set up to ease the transition for young pupils, who may be overwhelmed if thrust into a new year without preparation, said Old Mill School Principal Eric Laughlin.
“It’s new and it’s scary for some of them,’’ Laughlin said. “It’s important for them, starting off at a new school.”
And by all accounts, it works.
“One of them just said how nervous she was before, and now she sees there’s nothing to be nervous about,’’ said Kindergarten teacher Lauren Conway, a 10-year veteran of the district. “I think it helps, too, with their parents. Because it helps them just ease in and kind of hand the reins over to me.’’
At the classroom door, parents and students are greeted warmly by Conway, who invites them to look around the room, acclimate themselves, and find their desk. The same is repeated next door to Conway’s class in Mrs. Griffin’s Kindergarten class.
Cubbies are off to the right. They’re labeled with each of the kids’ names and contain a pencil box with crayons and other supplies. There are also names on the desks, atop of which are pictures of apples for those who want to color for a minute or two.
Brianna Perkins, 5, was busily coloring her apple. Next to her was her mother, Heather Perkins. There was some discussion about what color the apple should be, since, as Brianna pointed out, some apples are not red.
“She’s ready,’’ Heather Perkins said.
The session continues in a kind of free-range format. Parents mingle with each other, sidle up to Conway with questions about snack times or allergy concerns or bus questions.
Kids busily color their apple, or meander around the room. The more gregarious among them introduce themselves to each other, making fast friends.
“It’s good for us to see where he’s going,’’ Lindsey Sluder said. “It’s kind of a big step – you’re just letting go of your child and giving them to stranger, so it’s good to see where they’re going and who they’re going to.”
Outside the school, a bus pulls up near the gymnasium. Students and parents are invited outside to enter and exit the empty bus, to get familiar with the seatbelts in a sort of stationary dry run before the big day.
Ayden couldn’t wait, walking ahead of his mom and dad, Ely Sluder. He walked up the steps, disappeared and didn’t come out until coaxed by his father.
He’s ready, Ayden told his mother, because he knew how to work the seatbelt.
“I did a try and try and try and then I did it,’’ Ayden said.