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How to Prepare Your Kid for Kindergarten

A group of six children smiling with their arms around each other.

Have a little one on the way to kindergarten? Here are some things you can do at home to prepare your child for school.

The transition to kindergarten is often overwhelming for both children and parents. Even if your child already attends full-time day care or preschool, kindergarten is a big deal. Your child will be expected to work more independently. And she will learn a range of new skills, including reading, writing, how to work in a group, and more.

But don’t worry—we’re here to help make this transition as smooth as possible!

Skills to Focus On

Your child’s preschool or day care might already implement basic skills into your child’s daily routine. If you can, try to set aside some time each afternoon to work through some of the things your child is learning.

He doesn’t have to master all these skills before kindergarten—it’s just helpful if he’s on the right track. Try to make learning fun, creative, and inspiring. This helps prevent your child from dreading school.

The list below covers some things you might want to work on with your pre-kindergartner. Again, though, don’t stress—your child will learn all of these when he starts kindergarten:

  • The alphabet: Help your child identify all the letters of the alphabet, both lower- and uppercase. Let him try to write them if he’s interested.
  • How to hold a writing utensil: Teach your child how to hold a crayon, pencil, or marker between his thumb and forefinger.
  • How to use art supplies: Does your child know how to use scissors to cut paper? Can she glue something to a piece of paper? These basic art skills will come in handy in kindergarten.
  • How to write her first name: This one might be a challenge if your child’s name is long, but just try your best. She’ll definitely hone this skill once she starts kindergarten.
  • To recite basic info: Help your child memorize his name, address, phone number, and birthday.
  • How to get dressed: You can start this one early—even as young as 3 years old.
  • Counting: Most Pre-K kids can count from 1 to 10. But don’t stop there—go on to 20, 30, 40, or even 100.
  • How to sort objects: Help your child understand shapes (circle, square, triangle), sizes (big, small), and directions (up, down, right, left).
  • Communication: Teach your child to vocalize her needs, such as “I need to go to the bathroom” or “I’m thirsty.” Also, reinforce basic manners, such as saying “please” and “thank you” (believe us, your child’s teacher will thank you).
  • How to follow directions: It will be helpful if your child can follow basic instructions, such as “Please put your shoes by the door” or “Go wash your hands.”
  • How and when to clean up: Resist the urge to do everything for your child. Kindergarten-age is old enough to clear his plate and even put it in the dishwasher. He can also make his bed, put his dirty clothes in the hamper, put away his toys, and wipe up messes or spills.
  • How to use the bathroom: Kindergarteners are expected to be independent in the bathroom. She’ll have to know how to pull down her pants, wipe, flush, and wash her hands. Definitely work on these skills if your child still needs help in this area.
  • How to play independently: Does your child engage in activities by himself or with a friend, for at least 10-15 minutes at a time? It’s important your child can work alone, as there’ll be lots of self-directed activity in school.
  • Okay when separated from parents: If your child goes to day care or preschool, you might think she’s fine with being away from you. Remember, though, kindergarten is a new environment, and it might cause your child to experience stress or separation anxiety. Explain to her what will happen on the first day, such as, “I’ll walk you to the door, but I won’t be able to stay. You’ll be with your new teacher and friends.”

Above all, you want your child to feel excited about school. Build it up—talk about all the new friends she’ll make, the new games she’ll play, how awesome the playground is, and so on.

Visit the School

Most schools offer some type of orientation. If not, call up and request a tour. Check out all the areas, including the cafeteria, gym, playground, even the principal’s office. Ask to meet your child’s teacher face-to-face.

The first day of school is a big deal and, again, parents often have just as much (or more) anxiety than their child. If you can meet his teacher beforehand, it will reassure you that he’ll be in good hands.

Connect with the School Community

Mom holding her daughter's hand and walking her to school.

See if there are any school events you can attend the year before your child starts. If you already have another child who goes to that school, great! If not, see if you can connect with other parents whose children attend that school.

If you can take your child to a school play or concert, it’s a great way for him to see the students having fun. He might also be able to walk some of the hallways and meet future teachers.

Establish a Routine Before School Starts

As summer draws to a close, it’s a good idea to prepare your child for the new schedule that awaits him. You don’t want to wait until the last minute to get him back on schedule with an early bedtime. You start to ease him into the routine a couple of weeks (or even a month) before his first day of kindergarten.

After you implement a regular bedtime, you can also wake your child at the same time each day, and allow enough time for a nutritious breakfast.

If your child still naps, now is also the time to change that. Some kindergartens have a dedicated “rest” time, but it won’t be anything substantial.

Get All Supplies Ahead of Time

If you can, shop early for your child’s backpack, lunch box, scissors, notebooks, and whatever else she needs. Take her shopping with you, so she can choose which backpack she wants, or even pick out a new school outfit. This will make her feel more grown-up and involved in the whole process.

Talk About Emotions

It’s important your child understands emotions—both his own and other people’s. Long days at school can be tiring, and it might be hard to navigate the space with new teachers and kids. If your child learns how to be empathetic and helpful, as well as how to express his own emotions thoughtfully, it will help him adjust to this new environment.

If you can, describe to your child how it feels to be stressed in a new environment, or bored between activities or lessons, and how to deal with those feelings. This way, he might be less surprised if he experiences those feelings and will also know how to talk about them.

Work on Fine and Gross Motor Skills

Sadly, kids’ fine motor skills aren’t what they used to be due to the overuse of screens and devices. Give your child plenty of practice time with crayons, colored pencils, markers, and a pad of paper. Let her write, draw, scribble, or whatever. Again, avoid pressuring her, or she might start to resent this time (and school). Instead, try to make it fun and explorative.

Gross motor skills are just as important. Give your child plenty of opportunities to run around outside, free and uninhibited.

Read, Read, Read

Research shows if you read to your child every day, it helps her develop language skills, expand her imagination, and, above all, instills a love of books and learning.

There’s even an incredibly apt storybook about The Night Before Kindergarten!

Kindergarten is a big change for your child and you. If you can prep her a bit—both academically and emotionally—it’ll help her get into the groove.

Before you know it, your kindergartner will be having a blast and bringing home some sweet paintings and colored pictures for you.

Jill A. Chafin Jill A. Chafin
Jill A. Chafin is a freelance writer, aerialist, dancer, food enthusiast, outdoor adventurer, and mama, based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Read Full Bio »
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