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Getting Ready for School

Going from preschool or home to kindergarten is a big step for young children: The new school environment is different and bigger, most (or all) of the classmates are unfamiliar, the student-to-adult ratio is greater, and rules and expectations may also differ greatly. First-day jitters are normal and expected; however, for some children, this change can be an overwhelming experience. Below are some suggested activities that may ease some of the stress and anxiety that your child may feel during the first few days of school.

Read stories together. Stories about other children’s experiences (human and animal!) can relieve some anxiety in children, as they may see in stories about fictional characters ways to handle their own experiences. Story time may also provide opportunities for your child to ask you questions that you had not anticipated and that can allow you to address concerns and fears. Use the Suggested Book List below, and/or ask your neighborhood librarian for recommendations.

Have a friend over. Arrange one or more playdates with another child entering kindergarten at the same school and, if possible, the same class. Going in already knowing someone else in the same classroom can go a long way to ease anxiety! If your soon-to-be kindergartner has no older siblings at the same school, ask a slightly older child in your neighborhood to act as your child’s “mentor”—someone to whom your child can turn to if the jitters return.

Do a walk-through. Some school districts host “getting to know you” meetings for incoming kindergarten classes just before school starts. If this is not the case in your school district, visit the school and playground ahead of time. Show your child where the drop-off/pick-up area is, and, using a clock face, indicate the times your child will leave for school and will be picked up. Share where you will be and what you will be doing at specific hours during the school day.

Don’t forget to set healthy routines. Start slowly but be consistent. Encourage healthy sleeping, eating, and physical activity. Setting the stage with these good habits early can have long-term positive effects on a growing child’s body and on children’s capacity to learn. The focus is to establish these healthy habits early when children start forming patterns of behavior. This is the time to work together as a family to make healthy habits easy and fun.

Celebrate the special day. This is a big deal! Make the first day of kindergarten special and memorable. Take a photo of your new kindergartner before leaving for school to stress how important you know this day is for your child. After you pick up your child from school, have a special lunch or treat together or shop with your child for a new item for school, such as clothing, shoes, barrettes/ribbons, a backpack, or a lunchbox. Maintain a celebratory tone during this exciting new phase in your family. However, if your child seems uneasy, encourage your child to share his or her feelings. Acknowledge your child’s feelings, and share your feelings, too, but keep it light and positive.

Keep it fun year-round. Children enter preschool or kindergarten at different stages of preparedness. Use natural opportunities year-round to continue practicing drawing shapes, writing numbers and letters, and recognizing letter sounds. For example, to practice writing letters, begin with your child’s name. Or to practice counting, have your child count out the number of items needed in a recipe that you’re making or the number of plates needed to set the dinner table. Have your child match the number as a symbol with the number of items counted (e.g., 4 = ****). Keep it simple and have fun.

Enjoy being the parent of a kindergarten!

Suggested Book List (PDF 130KB)

  • The Berenstain Bears Go to School by Stan and Jan Berenstain
    Brother Bear is excited about going back to school, but Sister Bear is afraid to start. Some planning and a good first day change her mind about kindergarten.
  • Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten by Joseph Slate
    Kindergarten teacher Miss Bindergarten readies her class for the first day of school and makes it a delightful place to be for an anxious little girl.
  • First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg
    It is scary starting at a new school where you don’t know anyone, until one person helps with the transition.
  • Mom, It’s My First Day of Kindergarten! by Hyewon Yum 
    A boy entering kindergarten comforts his nervous mom and reassures her that he is ready for school.
  • How to Be a Friend: A Guide to Making Friends and Keeping Them by Laurie Kransy Brown and Marc Brown Dinosaurs explain the importance of friendship. Finding friends makes every new situation better. 

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families
Transition Planning Resources provides useful resources and planning tools to support children and families as they move from preschool or home to kindergarten:

  • Effective Transitions To Enhance School Readiness gives parents and educators practical information about transition experiences and their effects on children.

National Institutes of Health
“The Effect of School-Based Kindergarten Transition Policies and Practices on Child Academic Outcomes” (PDF 436KB) is a study that examines the importance of parent involvement to ensure positive school-based kindergarten transition practices.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
Building Blocks for a Healthy Future Guide Preschoolers
“How to Manage Preschool Separation Anxiety” gives parents practical ideas on how to reduce and manage preschool separation anxiety.

Early Childhood Research and Practice
“Starting School: Effective Transitions” (PDF 99KB) identifies the significance of starting school for young children, their families, and educators.

Rhode Island Kids Count
“Getting Ready: Findings from the National School Readiness Indicators Initiative—A 17 State Partnership” (PDF 1.75MB) gives parents useful information on how young children’s earliest experiences and environments set the stage for future development and success in school.

University of North Carolina at Greensboro and National Head Start Association
Terrific Transitions: Supporting Children’s Transition to Kindergarten is a website that provides parents and educators with information and resources on how to help build continuity between children’s early care settings and an effective transition to kindergarten:

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Updated on 3/22/2014