Preparing your kindergartner for the first day of school

With a little planning, your kindergartner's first day of school can be as easy as A, B, C.

By Marian Wilde

As the lazy days of summer slip away, it will soon be time to put away the beach chairs and corner lemonade stands and prepare your kindergartner for school. Here are some tips for making the transition easier.

Adjust to the new routine

Ease into the school-year schedule. Getting into a school routine can be a challenge for everyone in the family. To make adjusting to the new routine easier, start early.

  • A few weeks before school starts, move bedtime back to an earlier time.
  • Put a positive spin on going to school. Talk about the fun things your child will be learning, the friends he'll make.
  • If your child is anxious about starting school, reassure her that other children have these feelings too.
  • Don't make plans for big trips right before the start of school.
  • Establish school-day schedules for homework, TV, baths, and bedtime.
  • Arrange play-dates with children that are going to the same school to make connections or to create new ones.

Books help ease the transition

Reading books together about the first days of school is a good way to start conversations about the excitement and fears. To get you started, here are some suggestions for your kindergartner:

  • Berenstain, Stan and Jan. The Berenstain Bears Go to School. Random House, 1978
  • Bridwell, Norman. Clifford's First School Day. Scholastic, 1999
  • Carlson, Nancy. Look Out Kindergarten, Here I Come. Harcourt Children's Books, 1999
  • Davis, Katie. Kindergarten Rocks! Harcourt Children's Books, 2005
  • Penn, Audrey. The Kissing Hand. Child & Family Press, 1993
  • Rey, H.A. and Margret. Curious George's First Day of School. Houghton Mifflin, 2005

Get organized

Take advantage of the slower pace during your time away from school to set up for the busy school year ahead.

  • Many schools send out school information and a packet of forms to fill out before school starts. If you can discipline yourself to fill out the paperwork several days before it's due, you'll avoid a last-minute panic.
  • Have the necessary immunization records available for easy reference.
  • Prepare a school emergency contact and health information for the coming year.
  • As you read through all the school information, mark important dates (such as back-to-school night, parent-teacher conference week, and school holidays) on the family calendar.
  • Start a folder for school newsletters and other papers so that you can easily find them and refer to them if necessary.
  • Establish a "Get Ready the Night Before" policy. Pick clothes for the next day and pack the backpack every evening before bedtime and you'll save precious time in the morning.

Shopping: take advantage of the sales and stock up

School clothes

It's always a great idea to buy what you know you'll need early, if you can. Go through your child's wardrobe and weed out everything she's outgrown. By reducing the clutter, you will be able to get her dressed quickly and easily.

Keep in mind school dress codes while shopping. Some schools prohibit short skirts and tank tops for girls and "sagging" (baggy trousers that hang low) for boys. Schools may also have rules regarding printed words or phrases on clothes.

School supplies

Although it's difficult to predict what different teachers will require, you can get ahead of the game by buying certain staples. Here's a general list of items that elementary school students usually need:

  • Glue stick
  • Pencils
  • Scissors
  • Washable markers
  • Eraser
  • Box of crayons
  • Kleenex
  • Pocket folders
  • Construction paper
  • School supply box (for storing supplies)
  • Scotch tape
  • Backpack

Nutrition: planning healthy meals

Get creative with easy, healthy ideas for school day meals. If you plan and gather what you need on the weekends, you'll make life a lot less stressful and meals more nutritious during the week.

Breakfast

Remember the most important meal of the day. Fruit smoothies make a quick and healthy addition to the usual fare. How about making a yogurt fruit parfait or a breakfast burrito?

Lunch

If you will be packing a lunch from home, be sure to have a sturdy lunch box or a supply of paper bags on hand. Here are some quick and creative ideas for making school lunches healthy and fun:

  • Use cookie cutters to make sandwiches into interesting shapes.
  • Sneak vegetables like lettuce, cucumber, or zucchini slices into sandwiches.
  • Buy baked chips and low-fat crackers or pretzels. Avoid items with trans fats in them such as packaged cookies, snack cakes, and regular chips.
  • Choose 1% or fat-free milk or 100% fruit juices.
  • Make fruit fun to eat by cutting it into slices and putting it on a skewer or include small containers of applesauce or pineapple packed in its own juice.
  • Write a surprise message or draw a funny picture and put it in her lunch.

Dinner

Plan dinners for the week ahead and shop on the weekends to avoid last-minute trips to the grocery store.

Set priorities and schedules

To make the best use of your time and keep life from being harried, think about priorities for family members and then schedule them into the week.

For children

  • Before school begins, discuss what extracurricular activities your child will participate in. If your child needs a little extra encouragement to take piano lessons or to take swimming lessons, now is the time to go over the benefits of these activities. If, however, your child needs to have limits set, have her pick her favorite activities and forego the rest. Be realistic and don't fall victim to over-programming.
  • Make sure to leave enough time to do homework and for family time.

For parents

Determine how much time you can give to the school each month as a volunteer and an involved parent: in the classroom, on field trips, for fundraising events, and on school-wide committees.

For the family

Start a family calendar in a common area where each family member can have their activities written down.

Arrange for transportation

Everyone will feel better if transportation to and from school is addressed well before the start of the school year, particularly if your child is taking the bus.

Taking the bus

  • Remember to get the new bus schedule!
  • If your child will be taking a bus for the first time, discuss the bus route and bus safety rules with her.

Driving

  • If you will be driving your child, have a backup arrangement with another parent in case you are delayed for some reason.
  • Confirm carpool arrangements in advance and make sure your child knows who will be picking him up before and after school.
  • Become familiar with your school's traffic safety rules, as well as drop-off and pick-up procedures.

Confirm your after-school care arrangements

Most after-school care arrangements must be made months ahead, frequently in the winter or spring before your child starts school. As the school year approaches, however, it's a good idea to confirm your plans.

  • Make sure your child knows where he is going after school.
  • Double-check on your care plans and communicate with the provider a few days before school starts.