Parents, don’t sweat the big stuff when it comes to getting ready for the very first day of school.
From all the educators and early childhood experts I’ve spoken to, the big stuff can all be worked out – if you can pay attention to the practical stuff.
You can find lots of lists out there of what academic stuff your kid should know for heading off to school and how to prepare you both for the separation, but this list is all about the little things that can help you get off to a good start.
Practice going to the washroom. Seriously. Find public washrooms at the mall, a restaurant, etc. Have your child go in to the stall by themselves. Even if they’re used to going solo at home, being in that small space with different types of toilet paper can be intimidating. Let them do it all; no one will be there to hold their hand – or wipe their behind – at school.
Double check the route and learn it. Find out how long it takes those little legs to walk to the bus stop or to school and try to minimize the distractions along the way by getting used to walking the route now. If your child will be on the bus and this is a new experience, try to take a few rides on public transit to practice basic bus safety. It can also help kids to get used to the noise of the bus, as well as the distraction of other passengers. The school bus won’t be exactly the same, but it’s a start.
Set a series of weekday alarms on your phone. Time to get up. Time to be done breakfast. Time to be out the door. A week or so of hitting the marks and you should be golden. (This can be done for the week BEFORE school starts, so you’re on schedule for the big day.)
Routine. Sleep schedules can go a little wonky over the summer. Start trying to get back on track now if you’ve lost your way – go to bed 10-15 minutes earlier each night until you hit the right time. (Again, put a real push on the week before to try to make those first days flow as smoothly as possible.)
Play with the backpack and lunch can. Make sure they can do all the zippers, know which pouches you put things in, can open any containers you plan to use, etc.
Same goes for any new shoes; make sure they are tested out at home! Also sweaters, belts, etc. Anything they wear they need to be fully responsible for putting on and taking off as needed – going outdoors, to the washroom, etc.
Pick a change of clothes for the backpack/to be left at school (some schools ask that you leave an outfit there in case of accidents, etc.). Pick something that isn’t too seasonal; you don’t want them reaching for it in October and finding shorts and a tank top. Maybe even pack something that’s slightly loose/large, too, to anticipate those sudden growth spurts!
Labels. Labels. Labels. Put them on everything – shoes, hats, backpacks, water bottles – anything you want to keep! First and last name, too, if you really want the best chance of it getting back to you. You’ve got a whole school full of kids with stuff getting mixed together, not just two dozen kids in Kindergarten. (If you’re worried about strangers seeing your child’s name, just keep the labels inside backpacks, lunch cans, clothing, etc.)
Make sure your child can recognize their own name printed out with lowercase letters. Don’t worry if they can’t write it that way yet, but being able to recognize it will help.
Lice. It’s a thing. It has nothing to do with hygiene. These little critters are getting more resistant to our treatments and they. are. everywhere. Keep your kids’ hair tied up if it’s long. Grab some tea tree oil. Encourage hats. Check heads once a week. Go buy a treatment and have it on the shelf for the day you need it. Trust me, you don’t want to be walking into the pharmacy in a shell shocked state, wondering where to start with all the different options, while scratching your head and wondering how long those critters might have already been in your house.
If you’re not used to making lunches, this will likely become a big part of your new routine. A few tips for keeping it simple: Make a list with your child of all the things they like to eat and post it somewhere easy to reference. Set up a snack station with a week’s worth of options and let your child pick which ones to eat which days. Consider packing everything the night before (my whole day is thrown off if I have to make lunches before breakfast!). Keep snacks sorted within the lunch box so they know what’s for recess.
Last thing to remember: Expect some turmoil. These are big changes for everyone. Even if your family is used to daycare or preschool, there’s a lot happening with this transition to Kindergarten. Take time to talk. Take time for things to settle into a routine. Give everyone until Thanksgiving to find their balance. And don’t let yourself get wrapped up in what anyone else is doing. From first day of school photo props to after-school activities, learning milestones to social adjustments – it doesn’t matter what anyone else is doing, as long as you and your family are doing what’s best for you.
(I shared these tips with Buzz Local TV, too; check it out!)