We talked to an expert about how to prepare your child for the first day of school.
My kids are 11 and 9-years-old now, but I still remember how I felt in their year leading up to the first day of school. I was particularly worried about my youngest because he was so different than his sister in terms of development at that age.


Since then, I've heard countless other parents express their own anxiety over their children starting school.

Belinda Watson teaches five and six-year-olds in Toronto, Canada, and I spoke to her to find out what teachers DO expect of their new students.

Related: 5 Early Readers for Your Kindergartener

Q. What can parents and children expect from the first few weeks of school?

A. From my experience when students are entering kindergarten (or, in Canada, first grade), they are often coming from a range of different experiences and backgrounds. Within a class, there is always a wide range of abilities, both socially and academically. Some children have been to full-day kindergarten previously, and others have been to Montessori school or pre-school/daycare. There are also those who are coming to us straight from home and it is their first "school" experience.

The first few weeks of school are very much about creating an environment where everyone feels comfortable, and giving students an opportunity to explore the school community. I teach in a French Immersion school where half the day is in English, then the other half of the day the students are learning French. This is a big change for kids (two languages, two teachers and two classrooms).

It takes a lot of time just getting the kids ready for the transition between the two classes. A BIG part of our time is spent developing class routines and expectations. We do a lot of games to practice social skills and role play different social situations (e.g., turn-taking, sharing, problem solving). In the first few weeks, we talk a lot about roles and responsibilities (and rules) at school and at home. I am very fortunate to have an amazing teaching partner and we try to keep our classroom routines and expectations very similar to create consistency for our students.

Q. As a teacher of 5/6-year-olds, what are the things you expect they can do by the time they start school? knowledge-wise, otherwise?

A. We often tell parents that it is very important that students be able to dress themselves independently (put on shoes, winter clothing, etc). If they aren't able to tie their own shoelaces send them to school with velcro shoes or slip-on shoes. Even simple things like unpacking and packing their backpacks and lunch bags, and knowing how to open their reusable lunch containers.

Students should be able to recognize their name and write it. It is always beneficial if students are able to identify the letters in the alphabet when starting kindergarten (U.S.) or first grade (Canada) and have good knowledge of letter sounds.

It's also helpful for parents to expose children to books with rhyming words and to give them opportunities to talk about the stories that they have read together (retelling events, sequencing events, favorite part/character etc.). READ together!!!! We do a lot of shared reading the first few weeks of school (read alouds, poems and songs). I want my students to develop a love of reading and often give them time throughout the day to explore books in the classroom (unstructured time).

We also work on reviewing basic math skills the first couple of weeks - identifying numbers, 1-to-1 correspondence, practice counting skills.

We also focus on listening skills during the first few months of school.

Related: 8 Great Word Activities to Build Your Child's Vocabulary

Q. What are the things that parents tend to worry about unnecessarily?

A. I find parents are sometimes too focused on their child's academics (reading ability in particular) at the beginning of the year. There are always students with such varying abilities and very different learning experiences and learning needs.

Q. What can parents do to help prepare their kids for the transition to school?

A. Talk to their kids about what they can expect at school, and ask them about their fears/worries.

I think it's great if the kids can visit their school before school starts so they can become familiar with their surroundings. It can really help kids who are feeling anxious about starting school. Seeing their new environment and possibly meeting their teacher can make them feel more at ease. I often have new students popping into the classroom the week before school starts. I love meeting them and they feel more comfortable on the first day of school having met me before.

Q. As a teacher, what is one (or more) things you wish kids/parents did do to prepare?

A. Have your kids practice following simple instructions. (I am still working on this with my 8 and 11-year-olds!!!)

I also feel it is important that students practice their oral language skills and are given opportunities to express themselves (recognizing and talking about their feelings) as well as working through problems that they might face when playing with a friend, for example.

Using complete sentences is something that I am big on. Even when answering simple questions in class, I think it is important that students answer using a complete sentence to help practice and develop oral language skills.

Also having kids in team sports or activities where they are interacting with other kids their own age is a great way for them to develop their social skills.

Q.What should parents NOT worry about prepping their kids on before starting school for the first time?

A. Children don't need to know anything beyond identifying numbers up to 10 and understanding that 10 buttons, for example, represents the number 10.

The Expert
belinda-watson


Belinda Watson is a public school teacher in Toronto, Ontario. She holds a Bachelor of Education degree and has been teaching elementary school children for the past 16 years.