Back to School, Parenting

Starting School: Getting Kids Ready for Nursery, Pre-K, and Kindergarten

Starting School: Getting Kids Ready for Nursery, Pre-K, and Kindergarten

Recent months have been extremely difficult for New Yorkers, especially parents with young children. Many parents are eagerly anticipating starting school again, even though we’re not sure yet whether schools will reopen as usual this fall. 

The transition back to school will be challenging for parents, students, and teachers, but it will be particularly demanding for families with children entering nursery school (sometimes called preschool), pre-K, and kindergarten this fall. Thankfully, pandemic quarantine conditions offer more opportunities than ever to prepare young children for entering a formal school environment. Read on for tips on what to consider in preparing your young child for school this fall. 

Starting School: Nursery/Preschool

It is understandably stressful for children to leave home and attend school for the first time. Children always grow to love preschool, but the first days might cause tears and tantrums that drain both kids and parents. While nothing can fully prepare children to start school, you can minimize abrupt change by taking these steps: 

A Few Months Before Starting School:

  • Practice activities that will help your child succeed in preschool. Get a head start on the key skills that your child will gain in nursery school by introducing activities targeting fine motor dexterity, planning and responsibility, and social cooperation. These activities practice one or more of those skills: blocks, puzzles, identifying shapes and colors, feeding themselves, putting garbage away, drinking from a cup, putting on and taking off shoes, turning the sink on and off, cooking or baking with a parent, following sets of multiple directions, and playing games that involve taking turns.

  • Begin adjusting your child to a set schedule. Lay out a simple schedule with a few blocks of time for different activities (playtime, lunch, naptime, etc.). Post the schedule in a central location and refer back to it consistently to help your child get used to planning for what comes next.

  • Prepare your child for practical necessities of nursery school. Spend time focusing on potty training over the summer to ensure your child is prepared to handle using the bathroom at school like a big kid. This is not required, but now that you may have more time at home, why not cross this off the list? However, if they are very resistant to the idea- don’t force it! It’s also a good idea to introduce your child to new foods on a regular basis in order to prepare them for the wider variety of snacks they might encounter at school.

Shortly Before Starting School:

  • Introduce your child to their new school. If possible, FaceTime with your child’s new teachers so they recognize a friendly face on their first day of school. If FaceTiming isn’t possible, try to find photos of the teachers to show your child and explain that they’ll be spending their days with this teacher. It’s also a good idea to walk past the school a few times in the weeks leading up to the first day.

  • Build positive excitement and anticipation. Try to be consistently positive (rather than stressed or afraid) about your child starting school, so they sense that they’ve reached an important, celebratory milestone. Make a countdown calendar a week or two before school starts and make a habit of involving your child in crossing off days leading up to the first day.

  • Prepare for separation. Parent-child separation is one of the most difficult parts of starting preschool, for both students and parents. The Kissing Hand is a classic children’s book that helps children understand that separation is not the end of the world and that their family will always be there at the end of the day to love them; read The Kissing Hand to your child several times before school starts. 

On the First Day

  • Bring familiar reminders of home to school (if allowed). Let your child choose a lovie or toy to bring with them and keep in their cubby, and/or print photos of your family and tape them to the inside of your child’s cubby. Encourage your child to hug their toy or visit the family photos if they feel homesick at school. 

Preparing for the First Day as a Parent

Parents often struggle just as much or more than their children on the first day of school. Particularly given the anxious times we’re living through, it is more difficult than ever to let your child out of your sight. Try to keep the following tips in mind: 

  • Remember: schools will always put health and safety above all else. Your child will flourish in their new surroundings very quickly, even if they are upset on the first day. Children are very resilient. 

  • Keep in mind that children are very perceptive and will sense if you do not trust their school or the teachers. Your child can read that distrust and will in turn begin not to trust their school/teachers either, which will make the transition much more difficult. No matter how you feel about your child’s educational situation, try to stay relentlessly positive about it when your child is in earshot. 

  • Try your best to make the first-day dropoff as quick as possible, even if your child is screaming and crying. Nursery school teachers have handled this situation many times and know what is best to encourage children to transition to school – follow their cues on when to leave. As you detach from your child, remind them that Mommy or Daddy always comes back and that you will see them in a few short hours. 

Starting School: Pre-K/Kindergarten

Children entering pre-K or kindergarten are usually a bit older than those entering nursery school and have a slightly easier time transitioning to a new environment. Some students will attend pre-K/kindergarten at the same school where they attended nursery school, which makes the transition even more seamless. If your child is starting a new school for pre-K/kindergarten this fall, refer to the tips above in the nursery school section: most of the same advice for transitioning to a new school applies. 

The most important thing that parents can do to prepare their children for pre-K/kindergarten is focus on skills: knowledge of basic language and math, independence, imagination, etc. Here are a few skills and activities to focus on this summer to prepare your child for Pre-K or kindergarten: 

  • Build independence by involving your child in their own care. We all know that it’s usually faster to put your child’s shoes on yourself, but use more relaxed moments to encourage them to figure out how to do it themselves. The same goes for getting dressed, brushing teeth, and other simple activities: supervise as your child grows more and more independent in accomplishing these activities on their own.

  • Encourage creativity and develop fine motor skills with art projects. Simple artistic activities like coloring are crucial to help your child refine their fine motor skills and express themselves creatively. If coloring gets too boring, introduce a new creative activity like collage-making. For example, provide your child with tissue paper and a glue stick: tearing the tissue, scrunching it up, and sticking it to a paper background helps them explore new textures while practicing precise motor movements. You can also find a toy catalogue or parents’ magazine and encourage your child to cut out toys that they want; bonus points if they sort their cut-outs into groups, like toys with wheels, blocks, dolls, etc.

  • Head to the kitchen for lessons in following directions. Cooking or baking is one of the best ways to teach your child about following directions. Preparing recipes also helps children practice counting, learn about units of measurement, build new vocabulary, and practice using all five senses to experience their culinary creations. It will be a while before your child can cook for themselves, but these early lessons in the kitchen will pay large dividends later on.

  • Build familiarity with language and math. Your child benefits from as much exposure as possible to the basics of reading, writing, and math before attending school. To build language skills and vocabulary, integrate as many new books as possible into storytime. Stories from specific domains like science, animals, travel, etc. introduce new words that your child may not have heard before. To build math skills, encourage your child to count, group, and sort objects at every opportunity. Arrange crayons by color, or count all of the triangles that appear around the house.

  • Encourage imagination with pretend play. Make-believe is a core element of many kindergarten curriculums, and it’s also an easy at-home activity. Follow your child’s lead or interests and use materials around the house to invent new storylines and activities. Lay out a set of random household materials and toys (blocks, empty paper towel rolls, books, etc.) and encourage your child to make up a game. Play dress-up with old hats, ties, scarves, or jewelry. Set up a pretend classroom with stuffed animals as students. Any pretend play is good pretend play! 

Transitions are always challenging, but even casual preparation over the summer can help your child feel significantly more prepared for starting school. If you would like more information on any of the tips above, or have any other questions about starting school, reach out to us at Best of luck! 


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