It is bittersweet to send your child off to school for the first time. On one hand, you’re excited for this milestone. On the other, it’s heartwrenching to send your baby out into the real world. In order to help both parents and children feel ready for kindergarten, I assembled ten dos and don’ts for kindergarten readiness.
Get a printable cheatsheet at the bottom of this post
This was originally published August 28, 2015.
My “big girl” starts school next week.
In preparation, we toured her school, met some of the teachers, and the principal. Despite being told multiple times we were just there to finalize paperwork, she insisted on packing her backpack, bringing a snack, and was disappointed when we left her school after a half hour.
While my sweet, eager little girl is only attending preschool for the first time, it got me thinking of how grade school isn’t that far off. Her planning, declarations to neighbourhood kids that “I’m going to a new school!” and requests to be at school before it starts has our whole family excited.
The person especially proud?
My recently retired, elementary school principal mom.
“The secretaries used to joke that I could sense a parent coming in for kindergarten registration from a mile away. I’d jump out of my office to greet them.”
Though our little girl is not starting elementary school yet (her preschool is in an elementary school), I wanted to ask my mom, what she recommends parents do to make their child’s transition into kindergarten as smooth and successful as possible. Because my mom has 40 years of experience as a primary school teacher, principal, and university instructor for students in the teaching program, she has a wealth of knowledge when it comes to school readiness and success in kindergarten.
Though these are important ‘dos and don’ts’ for kindergarten readiness, they generally apply to starting preschool, daycare or at a new school as well.
Here are 10 dos and don’ts for a successful start to kindergarten
Do: Work with their strengths and interests.
Don’t: Work on skills they don’t want to work on.
As an example, let’s say your child doesn’t want to work on writing his name. It will come in time in the classroom. Research shows children’s skills are more advanced in the context of play and their vocabulary is richer.
So, if your child does not want to print his name but loves art, find fun ways to work on his fine motor skills by using play dough or crafting. But drop their name for now. It isn’t worth creating a power struggle before school and, in the later years, homework battles have begun. If your child doesn’t have her numbers down but is eager to kick a ball, keep score as your play! Not only will focusing on a skill that isn’t going well frustrate you both, but it also won’t be particularly effective.
In terms of developing their strengths and interests, look for opportunities to say yes to or join in an activity your child loves:
- Say yes to reading as often as possible. (Having books out helps encourage your child to ask.)
- Leave out toy money, magnetic letter/ numbers and writing materials, when your child wants to engage with these, join in.
- Colour and draw often.
Do: Instil a sense of identity in your child.
It is helpful (and empowering) for a child to be able to say who his parents and siblings are. It is also great if they are able to explain who they are and where they’re from. For instance, we recently moved from the east to the Pacific North West. My children love talking about how where we used to live got piles of snow and how it was so cold.
Do: Tour the school with your child and take pictures.
Once home, you can create a social story or simply refer back to them and explain which one is the classroom, point out where certain things are (i.e. the bathroom, the kitchen centre, the tables where they will eat their snack, the cloakroom, etc.).
Do: Be honest with the school staff about any concerns you have about your child’s health, developmental milestones, or learning.
It is natural to want to minimize your child’s struggles so that he can make the best impression. By being upfront, you are setting your child and the school up for success. If your child has any struggles, the school will work to ensure the best possible environment for the child’s individualized needs and will minimize any guesswork.
Do: Establish a routine before the start of school.
In the last week or so leading up to the first day of school, establish and maintain a regular routine in your household.
Starting kindergarten is a big change. Predictability will help your child feel secure and less anxious leading up to such a big milestone.
Don’t: Linger too long before leaving when school starts.
Don’t: Drop in just to say hi.
In the case of the former, you’re delaying the inevitable and also prolonging their anticipation of you leaving. In terms of popping in, it may seem like a nice idea. However, this could disrupt and remind your child of your absence. Chances are, she will want to leave with you and will be distressed if she can’t.
Do: volunteer when you can and become involved in the school community.
This builds up relationships in the school and generates a greater sense of community for both you and your child.
Do: keep a regular and ongoing dialogue with the school principal and your child’s teacher.
This helps keep everyone on the same page and fosters feelings of connectedness and involvement.
Get a free printable on kindergarten readiness by entering your email below!
Here are more valuable resources for kindergarten readiness and back to school
11 Insights Your Child’s School Principal Wants You to Know
How to Respond when your Child Hates School
How to Ease Separation Anxiety in Young Children
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Books to read to your child for kindergarten readiness
On the First Day of Kindergarten
On the Night Before Kindergarten
Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten
Such awesome tips here.. I still have an issue sticking around too long! I cant help it! ha!
Lauren, there’s no chance I’d leave quickly even though I’ve been told I should ?
Thank you for your tips..I too have a kiddo who is about to start preschool
That’s so exciting! Thanks so much for reading!
Char Johnson says
Don’t let yourself feel anxious or scared- kids pick up on that and can have a hard time. Send them in with confidence that they will have a great time and meet new friends.
Do encourage them to ask someone to play with them – – kids are so much happier as soon as they feel they a friend in kindergarten and lots of times they are too shy to ask and the other kids pair up all around them. Try for play dates to help them feel connected to someone at school.
Don’t wait until school to establish reading routines!
Can’t express this one enough! Read to and with your kids all the time starting from months old!
In k and the rest of their elementary years, they should read a book every night- try reading them their favorites until they start reading them back to you (memorized, wrong, all is good!) Or read a line and have them read it after you. Teach them small words they can recognize like “no” and pause and let them say predictable words to make them feel empowered and capable. Never let them feel like they are struggling- it’s ok to help them out! Confidence is key.
I could go on for days – sorry!
Kindergarten teacher and it’s back to school time!!
These are AWESOME tips!!!!!!!
I love every single word of what you wrote, Char!!! ❤️❤️❤️
My girls are staring K in a week and one thing we have been doing is practicing eating lunch from lunch kits. They are so excited to use new lunch boxes plus I have time to talk to them about what is a snack, what is a lunch and how to pace so they eat in time given and not miss out because they are talking
That is AWESOME…I am a kindergarten teacher and I wish EVERY parent did that..it is sooooooo helpful
Thank you so much for reading and for such an encouraging comment ❤️❤️❤️
This is brilliant Kirsten!!! Thank you so much for sharing!!!
This is right on the money! Your mom is awesome! I would also add DO teach them to put on their own shoes and zip their own jackets! The teacher will love you for it! 🙂
This is incredibly smart! Thank you ❤️
My rule of thumb is not to ask him if he is nervous or scared… Then he wonders if he should be. I just help get him pumped!
That’s so smart, Susie! I think that’s a very contentious approach!
Oh I used to teach Kindergarten and I agree wholeheartedly with all of your tips. It’s so important to remember that parents and teachers are a team, so I love that last point. I also love the idea of taking pictures of the classroom beforehand to really get your child familiar with the space. Oh, this makes me miss teaching Kindergarten! It’s such a great age!
It’s no surprise you taught kindergarten because it seems kindergarten typically attracts the best of the best ❤️ thank you so much for reading and for your thoughtful comment ❤️❤️
Oh that’s so sweet of you to say! Kindergarten is a lot of fun. I may go back once my kids are in school too.
Wow, what an awesome, comprehensive list! I don’t have kindergarteners yet, but I can use many of these for preschool!
Thank you! And thanks to my mom for keeping me in the know 🙂 I’m using them for preschool too ?
This is brilliant, Alana. It is great advice for any parent dropping their child off at a new school.
These are so great! We are starting kindergarten TOMORROW!!! Yikes. Still can’t believe it. We’re going to meet the teacher today and drop off stuff. I’m going to make sure and take pictures so we can talk about it when we get home. I also am going to reiterate the full name, mom and dad’s names, etc. Thank you so much to your Mom!
I’m sooooo excited for you and my stomach did a little flip-flop for you too! Glad you appreciated these tips. My mom is a pro!
These are really great tips, especially a schedule and communication with the school. It’s so important to know what’s happening on a day to day basis!
Totally! Thanks for reading and for your comment ❤️
Alyssa from The Sparkly Life says
my daughter is starting kindergarten next week (sniff, sniff!), so this case at the perfect time. thank you!
My daughter is starting preschool and I feel the same!!! Thanks for reading and best of luck next week!
That’s an interesting tip about not pushing things that your children are not already good at (or interested in). I hadn’t thought about that, because we always figured that we should work on our weakness. Thanks for the tip, appreciate the words!
These are great tips Alana! My little guy just started 2nd grade. Time can slow down at any moment… Really! lol!
Oh my goodness. He’s such a big boy! You must be so proud, but man do they ever grow up quickly! Thanks for reading ❤️
The Trophy WifeStyle says
Hehehe my daughter isn’t in kindergarten get, but she’s going to all day preschool threw the school starting next week and omg! I’ve been trying to get her to eat her own lunch and to take off her own jacket etc… Such simple things, but to little kiddos omg, it is ridiculous how something so simple makes no sense to them lol
Oh kindergarten! You are a very wise Mom. You have a pretty great list going here. I am fairly terrible at keeping up with the principal and need to do a better job on that. We smile and wave at drop off, but that probably isn’t cutting it….
These are awesome! Thank you for sharing ?
Thank you for the post! My little guy starts kindergarten on Thursday so this post showed up at just the right time!!
That’s so exciting!!! Thanks so much for reading ❤️
John Mahoney says
We are looking for a good place to enroll our son so he can start his education. Thank you for talking about the importance of touring the school with your kids. I can see that this can help them reduce the stress of a new situation and make sure the school has the proper security and programs to accommodate your child.
Ivy Baker says
This is some really good information about a child’s first day of school. I liked that you pointed out that you shouldn’t linger too long when dropping off your kid. My nephew is about to go into kindergarten and my sister will probably linger too long when she drops him off on the first day.
Oscar O'Malley says
I really like that you mentioned that teaching a child things they may be asked by others is very important in improving self-identity at such a young age. My daughter is going to start kindergarten very soon, and I want her to be as prepared as possible. Thanks for the tips-I’ll be sure to work with her on a number of different things before she starts school!
Gerty Gift says
I liked what you said about touring the school with your kid. I have been trying to think about how I can properly prepare my daughter for school, since she’s usually really afraid to go places that she’s never been before. I think that this would help her to feel safe and comfortable as she goes into kindergarten.
Stephanie, One Caring Mom says
I love the idea of touring the school and taking pictures! I think this would be so helpful but honestly I wouldn’t have thought of doing that. Thank you!
Taylor Anderson says
I love how you mentioned that one should tell the school staff of any health or developmental problems, as they will be able to better help your child. A lot of my friends are having children, so these tips could potentially help them out. Thanks for all the great advice on how to start elementary school right!
Joan Lopardo says
This is a great blog! I am a retired teacher with four grandchildren, one who started first grade and one who started kindergarten, the other two being in preschool and at home (age 2 1/2). I have shared my experiences with my daughters and offered advice when asked. This is a great resource to share with them. Thank you!
Ron Booker says
I like that you said that maintaining a week routine regarding your child’s first day of school can help your child feel less anxious. My sister told me that her son is going to start school soon and she wants him to feel comfortable. I’m going to share these tips with her so that she can apply them.
Thanks for sharing it’s very helpful for me.
Franklin White says
I love the advice you gave to teach your child in the way that they want to learn like for example how you said that you can keep score while playing with a ball to teach them how to count. I think a lot of parents give up when their kids refuse to learn the way they want them to learn. I hope that I can be adjustable and help my kid learn in the way she wants to learn.