Kindergarten is a big transition for many children. Some kids might even be entering a structured classroom environment for the first time. Starting kindergarten is an exciting but sometimes scary stepping stone in a child’s life. Thankfully, there are some simple ways to help your kid transition well and make this time less intimidating for them. Here are a few things to keep in mind and try before and on that first day. 

Academic Preparation

Kindergarten students gathered around a teacher during learning time.

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There are a few basic skills that a child will learn and use in kindergarten. For a smoother transition, let your child have some experience with these skills before starting school. Such skills include using kid-friendly scissors, writing with a pencil, and forming and recognizing simple shapes. Your child certainly doesn’t need to have these skills totally mastered that first day, but some experience with these things at home can help them feel more comfortable in the classroom. 

Children will also need to understand how to follow clear instructions to succeed in kindergarten. Work on providing instructions to your child at home and help them learn to follow the steps provided. Try to keep things simple with only three to five steps at a time. Another simple skill that is vital to a successful kindergarten experience is sitting down at a table. Encourage your child to sit at the dinner table or a small child-sized table and work on something quietly for a few minutes at home.

Emotional Preparation

If your child isn’t used to being away from you or other family members for a few hours at a time, they may need some emotional help preparing for kindergarten. Maybe they play at grandparents or aunts and uncles’ houses regularly, but kindergarten will likely be with a lot of new faces, including a new adult. This can easily be overwhelming for any child. 

Several weeks before the year begins, help prepare your child for what to expect in kindergarten by describing how the day will go and what they will do. You might not know the specifics of the classroom or the teacher’s plans, but you can say things like, “You will be in a classroom with other kids and will learn fun things.” Talk about how they will likely create drawings, do crafts, learn songs, play outside, have snack time, and meet new friends. Try to keep all of your descriptions positive and exciting because your attitude toward kindergarten will affect your child’s attitude. 

Many parents also struggle with being emotionally prepared to send their little ones to kindergarten. Even if you’re nervous, sad, or just generally emotional about sending your child to kindergarten, try to stay positive in front of them. If you are crying on their first day, your child will probably pick up on your feelings.

There are lots of great, fun books available about children starting kindergarten, and reading is another great way to help your child academically and emotionally prepare for kindergarten. Here are a few recommendations from Scholastic:

  • “Tool School” by Joan Holub
  • “Clifford Goes to Kindergarten” by Norman Bridwell
  • “The Kissing Hand” by Audrey Penn
  • “Pete the Cat: Rocking in My School Shoes” by Eric Litwin
  • “How Do Dinosaurs Go to School?” by Jane Yolen

Social Preparation

Children have all different types of personalities. Some are very excited to meet new people and make new friends, while others can be shy at first. No matter which category your child falls into, they will benefit from some social preparation before kindergarten. If you know any of the other families sending their children to the same kindergarten class your child will be a part of, try to set up a play date before school starts. 

In general, play dates with multiple children are a great way to encourage early socialization for children. Even if you are at the park with strangers, you can encourage your child to speak to and even play with other kids they don’t know. Of course, if the other child or their parent is uncomfortable with such interactions, you can gently help your child move on and give space. Preschool is another great way to socialize your child and prepare them for kindergarten. 

Practical Preparation

There are also a few practical things you’ll need to do before school starts to get everyone ready for your child’s first day of kindergarten. Start your school day routine early. If your morning routine will need to change at all when school starts, make sure to practice that routine at least a few times before the first day. 

According to the National Sleep Foundation, children between the ages of three to five need 10 to 13 hours of sleep each night. If you need to be out the door by 8 a.m., make sure you provide enough time for your child to get the recommended amount of sleep for their age between bedtime and wake-up time.

Before the first day, help your child and your child’s teacher enjoy a smooth transition by labeling your child’s belongings, including their backpack, lunchbox, water bottle, and anything else they will be regularly taking with them to class. It’s also a good idea to provide their teacher and the school administration with any information about allergies or medical concerns like EpiPen use and avoiding certain foods. 

On the morning of the first day, avoid any behaviors that might stress out your child. Try to avoid arguments about what they are going to wear or eat that morning. Be flexible, recognizing that they may be nervous and therefore not very hungry or not wanting to wear a brand new outfit. If the bus shows up late or something happens that throws off your plans, try not to react too strongly and deal with the matter once your child is out of sight. 

The transition to kindergarten can be a bit of a process, and it might take your child a while to adjust. A little bit of help preparing your kid can make a world of difference for them and their teacher. Finding the right school for your child is an important part of making a smooth transition, so be sure to search for a good fit.