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Getting Your Young Child Ready for the First Day of School

Written by:  Dr. Ellen Wolock, Division of Early Childhood Education
New Jersey Department of Education

Young children can experience anxiety about starting school. Some children are nervous about what is going to happen. Others are completely relaxed, but when they start school, they are not emotionally prepared, and may have a difficult time in the beginning of the school year. Preparing yourself and your child will go a long way in creating a smooth transition.

Before school starts, begin to talk about school positively. Tell your child about some of the enjoyable things that will happen like playing with friends, playing outside, and reading new stories. Also, visit the school together, and meet the teacher.  Make the teacher aware of your child’s personality traits and his/her interests.

If possible, find out who is in your child’s class and try to arrange some play time. Your child will be more comfortable knowing someone in the class. If your child will be taking a bus, be sure to practice the bus route together.  Take advantage of orientations or meetings to get information about your child’s school and to understand what to expect.

Within a week before you start, remind your child about what will happen, who will be there and most importantly, that you will see him/her at the end of the day. Make sure that a consistent school bedtime routine is in effect a week before school starts, to minimize the adjustment if the child needs to go to sleep earlier in order to wake up earlier.

Some Simple Ways to support your Child on the First Day:

  1. Remind your child about some of the events that he/she can expect to happen on the first day, keeping in mind that children at this age have very little understanding of time.
  2. If you are bringing your child to school, make sure that you are not there too early, as the extended time will prolong the separation. Get to the school punctually, and leave as soon as you can after bringing your child into the room and helping him/her put away belongings. The teacher will help with the transition. Even if he/she cries, you should leave as quickly as possible, and leave the comforting up to the teacher. After a few days practice, you will most likely leave a happy child.
  3. Have your child bring a favorite toy or stuffed animal from home or a family picture for the transition.  It will help your child feel more secure.
  4. Take some time at the end of the school day to talk to the teacher about how things went. If your child takes a bus, send a note or ask for a phone call. Ask your child about his or her day, but don’t push too hard.  Children can be exhausted during the first few weeks of school.
  5. After the first day of school, be sure to provide a favorite treat (e.g. a walk, a visit to the park or a favorite meal).