starting school

5 Tips for Starting School with a Smile

Some kids are eager to start kindergarten. Others are positively petrified. And you can say the same for parents! Either way, it’s a significant milestone of childhood that represents a major change in the family routine. Prepare your child to take on kindergarten with a smile with these 5 tips for starting school. 

5 Tips for starting school—that have nothing to do with academics


1. Make sure they can take care of themselves.

Whether your child has been in preschool or at home, chances are he’s had a willing adult to help make sure his shoes are tied, jacket is zipped, pants are buttoned, etc. When he enters kindergarten, he still has a willing adult—but the ratios are very different. The teacher likely will not have the bandwidth to help your child get dressed/redressed as quickly as he might be accustomed to. And even if the teacher did have time, childhood is all about gaining independence a little bit at a time. This process begins with taking care of your personal self and your clothes.

Encourage your child as she explores how to do things for herself. Make sure she knows how to zip up her jacket, how to put on his gloves, how to put herself back together and wash her hands after going to the bathroom. Many kindergarteners aren’t yet able to tie shoes or master difficult buttons, so if you can, avoid clothing that your child can’t operate on her own. Opt for Velcro shoes, snaps, and easy zippers. If your child is in love with a certain item but can’t take care of them himself (maybe some lace-up sneakers), you don’t need to squash his style. Just explain the consequences: “You can wear those shoes, but if they come untied on the playground, you will need to stop playing and go ask for help. Can you do that?” And then try to make the rest of the wardrobe independently operable.


2. Make sure they can take care of their things.

If you’re anything like me, the back-to-school shopping aisle is like a drug. Adorable sticky notes, colorful file folders, sparkly pens, Avengers lunch carriers—all so hard to resist! And your child can be lured by these displays as well. It’s tempting to gather all the goodies that catch her eye—after all, you want to capitalize on her excitement (and yours) for starting school! But what looks so appealing in the store isn’t as appealing once you try to figure out how it’s all going to fit in your child’s backpack and how her small frame is going to lug it in and out of school.

Once you have the essentials, focus on making sure your child knows what he has and how to use it. Make a game of it: “Where are your pencils?” Where is your snack?” Make sure he knows how to open (and close) any lunch containers. Make sure she can access her things easily and with confidence. Make labels together if your child seems to like a sense of order.


3. Read together as much as you can.

Ok, I know I said this post is not about academics, and it’s not. There are times to use story time to bolster reading skills and build vocabulary, but reading is about so much more than academics.

Your child’s teacher will very likely read to the class every day. It’s important that your child develops the stamina to stay engaged with a story. It’s also important that he sees reading as part of regular, out-of-school life. The more he sees a connection between what he learns in school and what he does in the “real world,” the more value he’ll place in school and what it has to offer him. Some children love to read, and they look forward to stories. Others just don’t gravitate to it as easily, even if you’ve read to them every day of their lives. If your child is reluctant to read together, stay patient and keep reading. Find out what interests her and then find reading material about that. It can be newspapers, Internet articles, even comic books. Once you find even one reading material that interests him, you’ll be on your way.


4. Create traditions.

Even if your child has gone to preschool for years, the start of kindergarten is a milestone, and you’ll want to celebrate it. Make memories and start traditions that you can look forward to each year. As he gets older and inevitably starts to dread going back to school, he’ll have those traditions to hold on to that he will secretly relish (even if he won’t tell you).

Make a special meal or bake cookies on the evening before school. Pack an extra-special lunch, maybe one with a surprise treat. Take a picture with your child holding up a sign with the grade and maybe some other info about him (favorite food, color, book, song, etc.). Arrange a visit from the Backpack Fairy so she finds a treat in her backpack on the first day of school. Write a message with sidewalk chalk. Decorate her door while she sleeps. It needn’t be expensive or extravagant, but small gestures to mark starting school honor the moment—and the child.


5. Talk about it.

Some children wear their emotions on their sleeve. You know exactly how they are feeling. Others need you to draw it out of them. But in both cases, children benefit from talking through what they are feeling and experiencing. It helps them emotionally, socially, and verbally.

Ask your child what she is excited about, what she is scared about, what she is curious about. Don’t rush to fill the silence. Give her a chance to think and to respond thoughtfully. If she is overly excited, calm her by encouraging her to take deep breaths and really savor the moment. If he is overly nervous, support him by telling him it’s natural to be fearful of new things, even starting school. And if your child is still fearful, here’s the best advice I’ve found to date, and it came from a conversation between a friend of mine and her 7-year-old daughter, Ali, on the day Ali was going in for a small surgery. Let this conversation inspire your child to be brave:

Ali: I’m really worried about today.

Ali’s Mom: I know, baby, but why worry? What does worrying do for you?

Ali: Well, worrying helps me think through what’s going to happen so that I’m ready, but still lets me feel scared.

Ali’s Mom: But the scared part, that’s the part I’m talking about. Holding onto the scared doesn’t help.

Ali: Of course it does.  I can’t be brave if I’m not scared first.

Ali’s Mom: (silently smiles, lesson learned)


I wish you and your child bravery (which may come with a healthy dose of fear first) and smiles as you venture into starting school this year!

Terra Tarango
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Terra Tarango is a mom as well as an accomplished executive in the education industry with more than 15 years of experience in educational publishing and services. She currently serves as the Chief Education Officer at the Van Andel Education Institute (VAEI). She is an expert in instructional climate and culture and has devoted her career to helping teachers create learning experiences where curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking thrive.

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