How to Help Your Kids Have the Best First Day of Kindergarten Ever

published Aug 23, 2023
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young kids at a table making silly faces and playing with shapes
Credit: kali9 for getty images

Starting Kindergarten is one of the first major big-kid milestones for kids (and just as much for their parents). They took their first steps, said their first words, might’ve learned to ride a scooter or spent a weekend with the grandparents — and now it’s time to hit the books (or, at least circle time). Kindergarten is an exciting time where kids make new friends, try new things, and learn in a classroom setting, but that doesn’t make it any less nerve-wracking.

If you want to take some steps to make sure both you and your child are ready for the big day, there’s plenty that parents can do to help kids prepare for the post-preschool adventure. We scoured the internet for tips, tricks, and activities you can do with your children to make sure they know what to expect on their first day of elementary school, and here’s the cream of the crop.

1. Make sure they can use the bathroom by themselves.

First, make sure your children can handle their business by themselves. Zipping zippers up and down, making it into the toilet, wiping, and thorough hand-washing are all things they should know, and that their teachers might not be able to help them with.

2. Drop them off with Grandma or a friend to practice independence.

This might be the longest period they’ve ever been without a parent, so make sure they know what that feels like. If you can, drop them off with the grandparents, a babysitter, or a friend for a day or two so they can practice being away from you. (And if they’re used to taking naps and their Kindergarten won’t have nap time, make sure they’re ready for that, too.)

3. Practice lunchtime with a lunch box and a packed lunch.

If your child’s school doesn’t have hot lunches, you may want to rehearse opening and eating timed lunch with them before they head to school on the big day. Ensure they can open everything (including the lunch box itself!), are cognizant of time spent eating and not playing, and switch up your lunch-packing plan if you notice they can’t eat as much as you’re planning on packing. 

4. Make sure they can take their shoes on and off.

Even if they don’t know how to tie their shoes just yet, ensuring they’re able to slip their footwear on and off is a crucial skill for the big leagues. (Psst! Crocs are a great option and are super easy for little ones to get on and off.)

5. Help them memorize important personal information.

For safety reasons, kids should know their first name, last name, home phone number (or parent’s cell), address, and ideally their parents names, too. At some schools, kids will need to know their student ID number as well. Practice with quizzes and memorization games so they can get used to knowing that info. (And before you add all that info to their school supplies directly, read this.)

6. Walk through their school gear the night before.

Anything you can do the night before to make for an easier tomorrow is always a good idea. That might mean making your kids’ lunch, prepping breakfast, filling out forms and the first-day-of-school sign, laying out your child’s clothes, etc. The night before the first day, it’s also important to get all of your kids’ school gear (backpacks, lunch boxes, water bottles, etc.) together in one central place, and to walk your little one through what they’ll be taking and how to carry everything so they feel prepared and in control. 

7. Start the morning off with a special first-day breakfast.

If you can, meal prepping or cooking your kids’ favorite breakfast — chocolate chip pancakes, blueberry muffins, or another of our favorite school day breakfasts — on the first day is a great way to set a positive tone for the day, and hopefully the school year to come. If you have some extra time (and want to get crafty), it’s a good time to throw in some extra school-themed decorations (like these moms did here and here), or even to just use a favorite plate, straw, or cup. The first day is reason enough to celebrate!

8. And a special dinner, too!

When planning for dinner on that first day, making a special meal could go a long way — especially if the day was harder than anticipated. Plan to have a low-key afternoon and evening because the day itself was probably overwhelming and exhausting. If you know other kids and parents in their class, it could be fun to get a group together for a themed first-week or first-month dinner party so you can all talk about how that first big milestone went for everyone once they’re all settled in.

9. Let them know what to expect in Kindergarten.

Got your screenshot fingers ready? This preschool teacher shares her condensed list of the most important skills that aren’t required but will make Kindergarten easier for your little ones, based on the Ohio Early Learning and Development Standards. (If they’re not quite there yet, don’t worry! Kids learn quickly.)

If your child is entering Kindergarten next year:

1. Make writing easier by teaching the pre-writing shapes.

Your child probably doesn’t have to know how to write every letter perfectly before starting Kindergarten, but if they’re struggling with penmanship or certain letters, practicing drawing these simple shapes is a great way to help them master their letters and numbers. 

2. Help them learn how to follow two-step instructions.

They may be able to complete most simple tasks, but what about activities that require multiple steps? Go to your backpack and grab your water bottle? Finish your project and quietly stand by the door with your lunch? It may seem straightforward enough, but it’s always a good idea to practice — especially for kids who haven’t been to daycare before.

3. Flex their number- and letter-writing muscles.

These smart DIY flashcards are great for helping preschoolers practice counting and writing their numbers and letters, allowing them to easily wipe them away and start again. All you need are some cardboard, tape, markers, and some (optional, but fun) pom-poms. 

4. Prioritize social skills over academic skills — and be easy on yourself.

It’s OK if your child doesn’t know their ABCs by heart or how to count to 100. Really! This former elementary school teacher mom emphasizes how much more important it is for kids to learn softer social skills like sharing, dealing with the unexpected, and how to ask for help. Teachers are prepared to teach children all of the important academic lessons, but it’s important for parents to prepare their children with all of the social skills they’ll need to make friends, listen to their teacher, and handle new experiences.