Preparing for a New School Year: Kindergarten

Shelia Pleasants
Director of Community Giving

As the future high school graduating class of 2031 prepares to enter kindergarten in the next few weeks—full of excitement and armed with new bookbags, school supplies and open minds—there also may be feelings of uncertainty and a little fear of the unknown on the part of both the child and the parent. This is all normal.

Your child’s preschool and their new elementary school are both well aware of the emotions that come when you bridge from preschool to an elementary learning environment. A quality early learning center spends a great deal of time preparing children for this transition. Preschools use activities like stories, learning centers, field trips to elementary schools and special classroom guests (such as elementary school teachers). All of these things fill young children with information they will need to navigate “big school.”

How can families help prepare their children for this transition?

  • Make sure your child is registered at the school they will attend. Kindergarten registration opens in the spring, and families should register their children as early as possible. Doing so helps the school and staff prepare properly and know how many teachers, supplies and programs will be needed for a successful school year. Registering your child also ensures you will receive mailings, emails and phone calls with important information, updates and requirements related to your specific school. This all will help ensure a smoother start for both you and your child.
  • Fill out all required paperwork and return it to the school on or before the first day. If there are medical needs that your child has, make sure you stop by the school and your physician’s office to prepare the proper paperwork the school will need to administer the medical treatment starting the first day. Also please make sure you understand the policy and procedures that must be followed before that first day.
  • Contact your child’s specific school and ask about supplies needed for their classroom and/or grade level. Many times the list that you find in retail stores may not be updated yearly. You may end up with supplies that your child may not need, or find out you need additional supplies. Remember to shop sales and look for the best deals!
  • Check the schedule of before- and after-school programs. If your child is going to attend a new before- and/or after-school program, make sure the schedule is coordinated with your child’s new school. It’s also a good idea to begin before and after programs at least a week earlier then the first day of “big school.” This helps children get used to the staff and routine of the program.
  • If your child is catching a bus to and from school, make sure you talk to them about what to expect and make sure they understand the bus safety rules. Communicate with your child if changes will occur in their pickup routine.
  • Work on your “getting dressed” routine. As children begin to remember what is “theirs” more and more, families should allow them to have a say in picking out their outfits, hats, gloves, coats, shoes and other supplies. Give your child 2-3 choices for what to wear so they can have some ownership, which will make your mornings run more smoothly. Also, make sure to label everything with your child’s name!
  • Attend “Back to School Night” and “Visitation Day.” Most schools host dedicated events for families and students, particularly young children entering kindergarten. Make time to attend these events so that you can experience your child’s new learning environment, meet their teacher, understand the curriculum and expectations and gain insight into what the school day is like for your student.
  • Align behavior and reward systems. Behavior and reward systems at home should be similar to those in your child’s classroom so your child better understands actions and consequences.
  • Talk about the drop-off routine for the first day. Give your child an idea of exactly how you will approach the first day. Make sure you know if your school allows family members to walk their children to the classroom. Giving your child a clear idea of what to expect will help calm their nerves in the morning on the first day of school.
  • Have supplies for home. Homework is a time for children to show you what they have learned or will learn. Make sure you have supplies at home such as construction paper, crayons, washable markers and glue, so your child has the tools they need for home projects. Also, families should support students but should not do homework for them. Trust that your child’s teacher knows their capabilities and makes assignments accordingly.
  • Get involved! Become a member of your school’s Parent Teacher Association (PTA) and/or its Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA). Find other ways to get involved by offering to volunteer for classroom, library, field day and cafeteria duties. Ask your child’s school about opportunities and try to do as much as possible.
  • Lastly, always remember you are your child’s best advocate and a critical part of making sure your child is successful in school. So be involved, understand policies and procedures and ask questions!

Big school, here we come!

More Information:

Read the rest of our series of guest features on preparing your child for a new school year:

  • Elementary School (Shelby Bartilotti, Exceptional Education Teacher at Bellwood Elementary School)
  • High School (Don Wilms, Award-winning Virginia educator)
Shelia Pleasants, United Way’s Director of Community Giving, worked in early childhood education for more than 20 years, including 14 years as Executive Director of a Richmond-area early childhood center. We asked her to share her thoughts on the importance of early education and the critical link between programs and families.

View all Back-to-School Content