1. Visit your school before the first day.
Take a day to go visit your children’s school so they can become familiar with the building, the hallways, the walk to the classroom. Most importantly, they’ll want to see how awesome the playground is, right? We hear that some schools even do a practice bus run, where parents can ride along with kids to show them how the system works, which is pretty cool.
Our editor Kate has a tradition of taking her kids by their school on the day teacher assignments are posted; her kids have the opportunity to meet their new teachers, and then she takes them out for ice cream.
Bottom line: the more comfortable a young child is anticipating a new school, the easier it will be when you drop off that first day. And probably all the days after.
2. Organize a playdate with a classmate
The first day of school is easier when there’s at least one familiar face in the class, so give your kids a chance to make some friends by organizing a playdate with their future classmates. Some schools will share emails of other parents with rising kindergarteners, or you may be able to just work your social networks and neighborhood friends to figure out who else has Miss Johnson or Mr. Goldstein this coming year.
Our editor Liz always talks about how grateful she was when one preschool mom tracked her down in August, introduced herself by email, and set up a playdate. The girls remain friends years later.
The playdate doesn’t have to be some big high-pressured YOU MUST BE FRIENDS kind of thing, either. You can just meet for an hour in the park or the neighborhood pool; or host it at your place with some easy kid-friendly playdate snacks and collaborative activities. All that matters is that the kids bond over some shared interests, whether it’s a video game, kicking a soccer ball, playing dress-up, or taking on an oversized coloring poster together where there’s plenty of room for all.
(Just keep in mind that five year-olds can definitely still be territorial when it comes to their stuff.)
3. Work on those pre-reading skills
This tip is so easy, because your kids will have no clue they’re even doing it. While you’re together this summer, play I Spy with your kids to identify shapes, colors, numbers, and letters. Or do rhyming games in the car. These are all great pre-reading skills that will help your child learn quickly when school starts.
And be sure download some of our favorite educational apps for preschoolers so when your kids want a little bit of screen time, they can be learning more about shapes and sounds too.
4. Have fun shopping for school supplies together.
Aren’t new school supplies kind of the best thing ever? We are big believers that gearing up for school gets special for your kindergartener when you make a big deal out of back-to-school shopping. Set aside one day for a shopping trip together, and load up on a new backpack, lunch box, clothes or uniforms, shoes — the works. We always have tons of recos in our annual back to school shopping guide. Throw in a stop for lunch, kids’ choice, while you’re at it. You’ll have so much fun.
In fact, Liz got an awesome story about her own daughter’s first-day-of-kindergarten shopping trip.
If you’re more of an online shopper, just grab your laptop, your kid and some special snacks and have a fun online-shopping date, maybe while the siblings are watching a movie. What’s important is that your child feels involved and has something familiar to look forward to, even if it is just a fun new pencil or a backpack pull.
5. Help your kids to be independent. (We know, it’s hard.)
When your kids go to school, they’re going to have to do things on their own that they may or may not be doing on their own consistently at home. Like going to the restroom. Zipping up their coats. Opening their milk cartons. Closing up their lunch boxes. And wow, do we feel for those kindergarten teachers who have to help tie shoes all day. If your kid is struggling to figure out shoelaces, try one of these three ways to tie shoes from Skinny Mom or watch this shoe-tying video tutorial by Ross Elementary School’s PTA. It’s pretty brilliant.
When you’ve picked a couple of things to let your kids start doing on their own, just be sure to stick to it, even when they beg you to do it for them. Independence FTW!
6. Teach them their ABCs and 123s
Do not stress about this! We don’t think four-year-olds have to be tearing through books on their own — learning to read is kind of what kindergarten is about, after all — but it is a good idea to get your kids feeling comfortable with their letters and numbers. We are partial to the Curious George: Adventures in Learning workbooks (for grades Pre-K through 1) because they use stories about George to teach concepts like math and reading, while also teaching emotional development and social skills. And we’re big fans of whole-child development. You know, since our kids aren’t robots.
If you want to test-drive it, start with a free download of one of HMH’s free printable mini-workbooks, which include 25 pages of activities and learning help on the basics.
An important tip to keep your kid from getting discouraged is that first, you need to find a topic that’s exciting to your kid. No big pressure. So if counting backwards from 20 is creating frustration, back off; you want them to be excited about kindergarten, not stressed about what they do or don’t know.
When you’ve picked a topic, work on a lesson after breakfast a couple days a week, then you can let your kids practice writing, numbers, or letter sounds while you’re cooking dinner. The time will fly, and your child will be right on track to dive into learning when school starts.
7. Let kids be responsible for their own stuff.
It’s so easy as parents to take responsibility for all our kids’ many, many, many things. After all, there’s just so much of it! Plus, kids tend to be slower than we are, and they forget stuff. But in kindergarten, they’re going to have to be in charge of their own things. The best way help our kids be responsible for themselves is to set them up for success.
Try organizing an area in your home with low hooks or cubbies for shoes, backpacks, coats, lunch boxes — we love this clothes tree from P’kolino — so kids know exactly where to put their things when they walk in the door each day.
We’ve survived far too many frantic searches for that missing homework folder when you’re already five minutes late getting out the door, that we can’t guarantee this will never happen to you (okay, it definitely will), but maybe it will happen a little less often than it used to.
8. Practice sitting still.
The kindergarten teachers we know say that one of the hardest things about teaching kindergarteners is that students at that age don’t always know how to sit still. When you’re at home, a kid running around not such a big deal. But multiply that by 10 or 12 or 22, and it’s a different story. (Which reminds us, teachers need raises!) So help your kids practice sitting still for five to ten minutes at the time, whether it’s staying in their seat at the dinner table after they’ve finished or just sitting quietly during storytime on the sofa.
For our kids who really struggle with this, reward charts have been a big help, and we happen to love these printable ones, which we’ve shared here before.
9. Read children’s books about kindergarten
We almost always turn to books when we’re looking for ways talk to our kids about difficult topics or to prepare them for big life changes, and kindergarten is certainly one of those. So it’s normal for your child to be nervous and excited at the same time. Search for some excellent and empowering children’s books about Kindergarten, then talk about what your child is scared or happy about so you’ll be able to reassure them.
10. Play school at home. It’s fun!
When your kids are bored at home this summer with nothing to do, play school with them. Make craft projects, do science experiments, explore color with sidewalk chalk, stack blocks, read books, or even just play board games together, and mention to your child how these are all things they’ll be doing at school. Knowing that learning can be fun is a great perspective for kids to have from kindergarten all the way to college. And beyond. Hey, we’re still learning every day too.
Also look for play sets that let kids role play the first day of school. How great is this Playmobil school bus? Or just turn an existing dollhouse or dolls into a classroom. Nothing like associating school with toys to make it all seem less scary.
11. Sleep well…
Our kids’ bedtimes always slide later and later as the summer goes on because they get to sleep in in the mornings. (Well, if we’re lucky.) But that’s going to change soon. About a week before school starts, start moving bedtime 15 minutes earlier each day. That way your kids will be better rested and you won’t have mutiny on your hand by by screaming, BEDTIME! an hour-and-a-half earlier all at once.
…and eat well.
It also can give parents a little extra time at night to start planning out some healthy school morning breakfasts so your kids don’t crash before lunch. If you’re not a morning person, hard boil eggs at night and put them in the fridge, or check out these ideas for 8 quick, healthy breakfast recipes for busy weekday mornings, like this adorable plate of “happy eggs” from Weelicious.
We’ve also got 7 must-try smoothie recipes which can help get a little more nutrition into a busy morning, and look at our 5 delicious ways to jazz up your morning oatmeal. Cool Mom Eats is always a great source of inspiration for back-to-school meal help. Hint.
12. Start your year-end scrapbook before the year starts.
Our editor Kristen recommends starting a school year memory book for your kids now, so you’re not scrambling at the end of the year. (You know what we’re talking about, moms who are like hm…my kid is 8. Maybe I should get around to her baby book at some point?)
Try to take a picture of your child with their new teacher on the first day, or get a photo of that important first-day-of-school outfit, and jot down the things your kid is nervous or excited about. It’s so easy to use one of the great fill-in-the-blank scrapbooks out there, which are like baby books for the school years. It may seem like another thing to add to your to-do list, but when your kids are heading off to middle school, they’re going to be so glad you did it.