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Ask the Experts

How can I prepare my child for the first day of kindergarten?

By Debra Collins, Family therapist

Question:

How do I prepare my daughter for the first day of kindergarten? I know the first day is a big deal for kids. With new faces and friends to make, an unfamiliar teacher, and a longer school day, kids can find "big-kids school" pretty scary before they even reach the classroom door. How can I help my daughter get ready for these unique challenges?

Answer:

It is wonderful that you recognize the exciting challenges your daughter is facing.

Here are some tips to help prepare for the first day of kindergarten:

  • Start by attending school orientation meetings. If there are none, ask if the teacher can talk with you before school starts. The more you know about the schedule, the better able you are to prepare your daughter.
  • Talk with your child enthusiastically about school without overdoing or forcing it.
  • Tour the school before the school year starts to orient her.
  • Use a calendar countdown for one month prior to the start date.
  • On the first day of school, show her where things are in the classroom (her seat and cubby, etc.)
  •  Acknowledge her worries and tell her that the teacher is there to help her if she does not understand or is scared.
  •  If she has been in preschool, let her know how kindergarten will be the same or different.
  • If she has not had school experience, let her practice being away from you an hour at a time at a playdate or with another adult. Work up to a full school day away. Have her try classes that involve participation to help her learn rules.
  • Reading books about the first day of school can help ease any fears she has. Even if she is not overtly anxious, it will spur conversations about school. Try Wemberly Worried, by Kevin Henkes, and the Kissing Hand, by Audrey Penn.
  • Buy school supplies together.
  • Be prepared for the first day of school.
  • Give her a comforting object she can keep with her. Check with the teacher to make sure you know what is permissible to bring. If no toys or stuffed animals are allowed, then try something small like a sticker she can wear or a note from you in her pocket.

Debra Collins is a licensed marriage and family therapist and has worked in both primary and middle schools as a school counselor. She gives workshops to teachers and students and offers parenting classes in the San Francisco Bay Area. To learn more, visit her website.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.

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