By HarvardHomemaker

I'm a Harvard graduate and homemaker who blogs about living (and loving!) the domestic life with my husband and four young daughters. My blog now permanently resides at www.harvardhomemaker.com. Please visit me there!

10 Things to Think About Before Your Child Starts Kindergarten (That Have Nothing to Do With Academics)

Is your child starting kindergarten soon?  As a mother who has now sent three children off to kindergarten (with one more to go), I know that can be an emotional period of transition for the whole family. You may be wondering if there is anything you can do to help your child be more prepared for that experience. 

Oftentimes we worry mostly about the academic side of things when our child is starting kindergarten—especially when it's our firstborn because we’re not sure what to expect:  Will she know as much as her peers?  Is she behind?  Is she ahead?  What should she know on that first day of school?!  But I’ve come to realize that we don't need to lose any sleep about this.  When my oldest daughter started kindergarten, she had five kids in her class who couldn’t speak a lick of English.  Many students had never attended preschool or even spent any real time away from their parents.  Some kids had never even heard of the alphabet, let alone been able to recite it.

My point here isn’t to say that these parents somehow did a disservice to their children by not having them “ready” academically (because no part of me believes that); it’s to let any nervous parents know that it’s okay to relax about the whole thing.  Trust that your child will be just fine.  If you are anxious about everything, it will probably lead to your child being anxious, too, and the last thing you want to do is make the first days even more stressful for your child.  You want your child to start off on the right foot, feeling excited!

I now view kindergarten as a year where everything is equalized.  The kids all become more comfortable separating from their parents; they realize there are expectations and rules to follow; they work on forming relationships, sharing, and getting along with others; some even learn how to speak English (it’s amazing to see how quickly they develop this skill!); and most of all, the kids are forced to find their independence.  Of course, expanding their mind comes along with all of this, but I personally think the more impressive changes are social.  You won’t believe how much your child will mature during that kindergarten year.  Yes, he or she will have a new understanding of letters, numbers, and so on, but the person he/she will be at the end of the year will surely surprise you.  

So if you are feeling stressed that your child might not know everything that he/she “should” know as kindergarten begins, I want to reassure you that it's okay to just let things happen--all kids learn and develop at their own pace.  Your child’s teacher, along with your support throughout the year, will give your child everything he/she needs academically--you can always look into extra assistance as the year progresses if needed.  But the last thing you want to do at this point, right before school starts, is to instill anxiety in your child by doing all kinds of workbooks to cram in a bunch of learning ("C'mon!  You need to know this stuff!!").  And if your child already knows the alphabet inside and out, can count to 20, can name every shape, color, day of the week, etc.?  Well, that is awesome!  But can she open her applesauce container at lunch without help?  :)

Below I have compiled a list of things you may want to consider as your child prepares to start kindergarten—and not one has anything to do with reaching a certain academic standard.  Most are simple, practical tips I received myself from teachers or friends as my oldest daughter was about to start kindergarten—a time when I was an anxious parent and feeling unsure about the whole process.  I hope this list makes you and your child feel more prepared and more confident on that very special first day of school so you can truly enjoy the moment.  Kindergarten will be your child’s introduction to school (which they will be attending for years and years to come!) so you definitely want that first year to be the most positive experience possible!

P.S.  If you want to help your child with learning letters and early reading without causing any stress (for you or your child!), please see this post on creating doorknob mailboxes.  It's a fun way to sneak in a little bit of learning, and your child will absolutely love getting "mail" each morning!  

1.  Can They Take Care of Themselves and Their Clothes?

If your child goes to the bathroom at school, can she button her pants up again?  When it's time for recess, can your son zip his jacket?  What if your daughter's shoes come untied--can she tie them again without help?  (No worries--not many kids can tie their own shoes at the start of kindergarten; perhaps you want to stick with shoes with Velcro straps until shoe-tying is mastered at home.  For us, first grade was the time when tying your own shoes was really encouraged.)  Of course teachers help your children with these kinds of things (especially early in the year), but there are a lot of kids in a classroom--wouldn't it be wonderful if your child felt confident about doing these things solo?  And the teacher would surely love the help, too!

I'm also a believer in encouraging your kids to get dressed by themselves each day.  From the time my daughters could manage it (around age 3), I would cheer them on as they struggled with their shirts and pants.  And when my daughter's smiling face finally peeked through the neck of her shirt and her hands popped out of her sleeves, I could see just how proud she was to realize she had gotten her shirt on (correctly) all by herself.  Eventually that led to her wanting to choose her own clothes each morning, and I always just went with it.  Some outfits were crazy, and occasionally the shoes were even on the wrong feet, but teaching your child to be independent trumps all of that.  (And it makes your life easier because there's no power-struggle each morning over what to wear.)

By kindergarten, I really think it's great to let your kids choose their own clothes.  (Just be sure he/she can reach everything--you can even hang a double-rod in the closet to bring things down to their level.  I'm also a fan of folding everything vertically in drawers so the clothing is all visible to them at one glance.)  It might seem like a small thing to us adults, but to children, where everything is organized for them (from what they eat, to what they do, to when they go to bed), the freedom to choose their own clothes is empowering.  And as long as they aren't in a swimsuit when it's snowing outside, try to let them be.  I don't even let my girls criticize their younger sister's outfits because they all went through the "awful combination" stage, too.  I'll overhear things like, "Wow, that's a lot of stripes..." or "That's quite a look you have there today!" and it just makes me smile.  Soon enough I'll have teenagers who are worried about outfits in an entirely new way, so I'm actually really appreciative of the stage where kids look like they got dressed in the dark most mornings!  The outfits are always a source of entertainment, that's for sure!  The number below that my daughter put together last fall is no exception--nothing says "Thanksgiving" like jean shorts over turquoise leggings!  But look at her face--she's clearly feeling good about herself and confident, and that makes any parent happy.

2.  Encourage Being Responsible for Their Own Things

When you go somewhere with your kids, do you always pack everything up and then carry it yourself?  It might be helpful for your soon-to-be kindergartner if you started passing off some of those duties.  Maybe if you head to the pool this summer, you can have your daughter gather up a towel and her goggles, and then have her be responsible for those things--for getting them to the pool and then home again.  If your son is still in preschool, goes to daycare, or is attending a summer day-camp, maybe he can start carrying his own backpack (and lunchbox) each day without any help.  You could even encourage him to pack his bag himself, or retrieve his own lunchbox from the refrigerator every morning on the way out the door.  

Becoming more responsible in this way can really help your child transition more easily into kindergarten.  No teacher is going to carry 20 backpacks to the carpool line.  Each child will be responsible for packing up his/her bag at the end of the day, and each child will be expected to carry his/her own things.  So why not start encouraging that skill at home so it simply feels like more of the same in a school environment?

I also think it's great to set up routines at home, too, once the school year starts.  In our house, our kids grab their own lunchboxes and pack up their bags every morning.  (Of course, I'm right there saying, "Do you have everything?" but in general, they have it down to a science now.)  And then when they come home after school, it's not my job to go fishing for their lunchboxes.  They need to unpack their bags and bring their lunchboxes to the kitchen for me.  These things quickly become habits if you encourage the behavior right out of the gate.  Your child is learning to be more responsible along the way, and your household runs more smoothly when every little task doesn't fall on you--we all win!

3.  Lunchtime:  Can They Open Everything?

I remember attending a "Meet the Teacher" event at school the spring before my oldest daughter was to start kindergarten, and while the kids went off to the classrooms, we parents got to listen to a teacher give us tips to help us prepare our children for their big day.  My favorite one was this:  you may pack your child's lunch with the utmost love and care, but can he/she even open everything when it comes time to eat it?!  That thought never even occurred to me!  And of course, the answer was no--my daughter couldn't open a darn thing.

So starting the next day, I had her begin trying to open everything herself.  I showed her how to hold her bag of Goldfish crackers against her chest for leverage as she pulled each side of the bag in opposite directions.  I taught her how to pry the lid off her plastic container holding her fruit, and I made sure she could open her water bottle--and then close it again properly so it didn't leak all over everything.  (If you send a juice box, make sure your child can open the plastic around the straw and then insert it.)  In a few short weeks, she could open just about anything--granola bars, yogurt, even stubborn applesauce containers.  

Well, our practice proved successful because a few months later she was quite proud to tell me that not only could she open everything in her lunch, but she became known as the "official opener" in her class, too!  If kids couldn't open something, they would just pass it down to her at the lunch table.  She was beaming with pride.

We parents often take these small skills for granted, but they can really instill so much confidence in a child.  The woman who gave us parents this great tip told the story of how her daughter was barely eating that first week of school--most everything was coming back home again in her lunchbox.  The mother thought her child was just nervous and not eating much as a result, but when she finally asked her daughter about it, the little girl admitted that she couldn't get most of it open, and she was too embarrassed to ask for help.  Poor sweet thing!  That would have been my child, too, if I hadn't been given such great advice.  So don't forget to give your child that lunchbox tutorial!  :)

* Love, love, love these personalized lunchboxes with a chalkboard inside so you can write a note for your child!  I just came across them and had to share--such a cute idea!  

4.  Naptime:  Phase it Out if Possible

My husband and I are pretty much the sleep police.  We really believe in bedtime routines and being sure that our children get plenty of sleep.  It's so obvious that it affects everything--without enough sleep, our girls are whiny, emotional, miserable, and often wind up sick.  We don't even like to wake them up in the morning for school.  If we have to wake someone up, that night she has to go to bed even earlier if possible (I know evening activities and homework can sometimes determine bedtime, though.)  But the goal is that each daughter wakes up on her own every morning--that tells us that she got a sufficient amount of sleep.  So just to be clear, this tip isn't meant to suggest that your child must suddenly learn to function with less sleep... but perhaps that naptime sleep can be added at night.

If your child is still a napper, it might help to start phasing that out before kindergarten begins--especially if your child will be attending all-day kindergarten like we have here.  (They go 9:15-3:45 every day).  Yes, most kindergarten classes do have naptime at school for at least the first half of the year (and even if your child hasn't taken a nap in years, don't be surprised if he/she falls asleep at school!  They are physically and emotionally exhausted!).  But the kids don't nap for a very long time at school, and you probably don't want your child to be dependent on that little bit of sleep each day.

Perhaps you can try putting your child to bed earlier at night to make up for some of that sleep that previously came with naptime.  If your child really needs some downtime in the middle of the day, maybe he/she just sits alone quietly for a while with a few books or a coloring book in lieu of actually sleeping.  (Easier said than done, though--my kids always found me when I tried to encourage "quiet time"!  Eventually I just started letting them chill out with some TV or a movie in the afternoon.  Hey, mama needs a break, too!!  For the record, I have let my daughters watch plenty of kids' TV shows from a very early age, and they are all turning out just fine.)  :)  

I know it can be hard to transition out of the napping stage because some kids really seem to need that mid-day sleep (and we parents like the break, too!), but it might be easier to phase out naptime before school begins rather than afterward when your child is absolutely drained from the stress of starting an entirely new routine.  It's a lot for them, so if your child is still dependent on a nap that he/she can no longer take, you might be faced with a very emotional child.  Maybe your child starts out by napping only every other day--and then maybe just on weekends.  Little by little, perhaps you can help them adjust to a new sleep cycle that fits better with a day of school mixed in. 

5.  Getting Along Without Their Favorite Comfort Toy or Blanket

My oldest daughter was completely obsessed with her blanket.  We are talking OBSESSED.  It was great in a lot of ways because she could be a disastrous crying mess, and one touch of that blanket would magically calm her right down.  But she needed to take that thing everywhere.  One day it hit me that she might fall down in kindergarten and be unable to settle herself down without that blanket!  So I started telling her that she was going to need to give her blanket up when she turned 5 (she also sucked her thumb, but only when holding her blanket--so we thought it was better for her teeth if she put a stop to that sooner than later, too).  She quickly informed me that there was no way she was giving up her blanket at age 5, and that was all there was to it.

A while later with her fifth birthday right around the corner, she was still not willing to give up the blanket, so in a weak moment, I said to her, "Listen, if you give up your blanket and stop sucking your thumb, I'll let you get your ears pierced!"  Her ears perked up, but I didn't think she seemed too interested.  Well, the very next morning, she appeared at my bedside, woke me up, and said, "Here--take it before I change my mind.  Can we get my ears pierced today?!"  I couldn't believe it.  I told her she had to prove to us that she could get by without her blanket (remember that this child was obsessed!!) for 7 nights, and then we'd go to the mall.  

Well, the first night she found a silky doll blanket and used it in place of her blanket to suck her thumb.  The next morning, she handed it over:  "Here, you better take this, too."  The following day, she passed off a few more things that she said couldn't be around her--I felt like I was clearing an addict's room of all temptation!  But one thing I've now learned with this daughter:  when she puts her mind to something, she's going to do it.  And she wanted those ears pierced.  Sure enough, she made it through all 7 nights, and she came home from the mall with shiny new earrings.  She still asked for her blanket back after all of that, but we had to stick to our guns.  There would be no getting it back again if we ever handed it over. 

The bottom line is that your child isn't going to be able to have that blanket or comfort toy at school.  So if you are worried that your child might be overly attached to something (like mine was!), perhaps that's something you want to address before school begins to prevent future problems down the road.

Side note:  My younger three girls all got attached to a blanket, too, but I got smart after the first one and never allowed them to take their blankets out of the crib/bed.  So they were still a comfort at night and helped them fall asleep, but their blankets weren't something they relied on during the day.  Much easier! (They still had to give their blanket up at age 5, though, and then they, too, could get their ears pierced whenever they chose to do that.  We also said if they were old enough for pierced ears, they were old enough to make their own beds each morning... so in our family, turning 5 is a big deal, just before kindergarten starts!)

By the way, speaking of blankets... my 17-month-old is completely attached to this super-soft blanket that she received--she curls up with it in her crib, and it really helps her go right to sleep.  Every mother's dream!  All my girls got attached to a silky blanket like these by Little Giraffe--they make the best baby gifts!!   

6.  Limit After-School Activities Early in the School Year

It's going to take everything in your child's power to be "on" all day at school.  Odds are, you will have a very tired, emotional child at the end of the day--certainly by Friday.  Every Friday night for the first few months, our new kindergartners were always a complete disaster.  So just go ahead and expect that, and be pleasantly surprised if your child is the exception!  Your child will be trying so hard to keep things together at school, so when he/she gets home to you (their "safety"), don't be surprised if the wheels fall right off!

Because your child will be pouring everything into adjusting to this new routine, my friend gave me this great tip:  try to limit your child's after-school activities at first.  Maybe wait to sign up for after-school karate until the spring; perhaps piano lessons can start after the holiday break; you might even want to limit playdates initially.  The weekends are a different story, but just keep in mind that a long day of school followed by even more activity on a regular basis could be too much for this little person.  Based on my friend's advice, I always tried to err on the side of "less is more" early in the kindergarten year, and it seemed to really help when my child had a lot of downtime after school.

7.  Talk About It... But Not Too Much!

We really tried to pump our kids up for kindergarten--telling them about all the exciting things they'd be doing!  But each child is different, and I realized that one of my girls wasn't responding well to our pep talks.  One time I could sense some nervousness after I had told her all about getting to go to the library and check out any books that she chose.  When I asked her about it, she said, "How am I going to know where to put the books after I'm done with them?  Where should they go?  I won't know what to do!"  

Our talks about these exciting things were actually making her more and more nervous.  There were so many unknowns, and she started feeling anxious about all these questions she now had.  I still think it's good to talk about what's to come so your child is better prepared, but try to read your child's reactions.  Maybe you'll need to reassure her that everything is going to be okay, and other kids will have questions, too.   No one expects you to know everything.  :)


This tip is more for you than for your child.  Things will definitely get lost, so LABEL EVERYTHING to up the chances of things coming back to you!  It can be so frustrating to see a brand new jacket or lunchbox walk off just weeks after school starts.

I'm a huge fan of labels from a place like Label Your Stuff or Mabel's Labels because they will not come off.  Labels on water bottles can go through the dishwasher and everything.  (I use these dishwasher safe labels on water bottles and my youngest daughter's sippy cups, among other things.)  As for backpacks and lunchboxes, I put labels on those things as well--find the labels I purchased (and you see in the photo below) here.  (I do love to personalize things, but we've stopped monogramming backpacks because then you can't pass them on once my daughters get new bags.  We donate their backpacks every two years when I let my kids choose a new book bag--it's easier to pass on a bag without a monogram on it.  With the stay-put labels on their backpacks, they can still keep track of their stuff, and we can peel the label off when it's time to donate the bag.)

I not only label backpacks, lunchboxes, and water bottles, but I also put a label on their umbrella handles, inside jackets, on sports equipment, and anything else they might lose.  If you buy a pack of labels, they last a long time--I'm still using some I got here at Label Your Stuff through a preschool fundraiser more than 7 years ago (!).  I've had two more daughters since then, but I've been able to cut the labels apart to use only the last name on my younger girls' stuff.  You could also have some made with only your last name (like I recently did the second time around) and use them for your entire family, or you can get a sibling pack here with different names and save 20%.  I even put a label on the inside of my own sunglasses--I left them at the tennis courts once, and I actually got them back because of my handy label!  I also put them on containers and pans I take to pot-lucks (including the serving spoon so I get that back, too!), on my kids' electronic devices/games, on my camera and video camera, etc.  These labels really are so handy!!  So take a few moments and put a label on everything you can think of before school starts--and if you don't have labels, use a Sharpie.  It will probably rub off eventually and you'll have to do it again, but it's better than losing your stuff!

9.  Create Traditions for the First Day of School

Now, the fun stuff!!  Yes, starting school can be very stressful for a new kindergartener (and the parents!), but it's also very exciting.  It's a whole new adventure, and you want to treat it as such!  When you think about it, school will be the central part of your child's life for the next 13+ years, so you definitely want to shed the most positive light on it that you can.  They will be going to school whether they like it or not, so try to make it a fun and happy time, and encourage your child to make the most of each year.  With that, why not start some first-day-of-school traditions?  This is what we do:

The night before the first day of school each year, my girls and I make the same cookies they love.  I tuck them in their lunchbox as a special treat, and then they come home to even more cookies--and they think it's the greatest way to start the school year ever!  

We also have these great keepsake school books (pictured below)--they would make a perfect gift for a child turning 5 or graduating from preschool, too.  (I actually have one that I filled out myself from kindergarten until I graduated from high school--it's a riot to look at it now!)  So each year my daughters fill in the first page on the first day of school with their height, weight, teacher's name, what they want to be when they grow up, etc.  Then they will draw a picture or even write themselves a "letter" about how the first day went, and insert that into the pocket provided.  At the end of the year, we tuck in their report card and anything else they want to include, and then they fill in the backside of the page with new friends' names, activities, their signature, etc.  It's like a time-capsule-in-the-making.  Even if you're not the scrapbooking type, these are easy to keep up with.  It's just one front/back page that you or your child has to fill out--very simple, and it will give you and your child a lifetime of memories!  I love this school-book tradition!

Find these great school books via the link I share up above--they are perfect keepsakes and help you keep report cards and photos organized!! Each of my girls has one. I even have a similar one from when I was a kid--it's so fun to look back at it now! My kids love to imagine me as a little girl, filling it out! :)

10.  Take Pictures and Enjoy the Moment!

Finally, don't forget to take a picture every year on the first day of school!!  (I know some people also take one of the last day of school for comparison.)  I often see pictures of kids holding creative signs with the date and their new grade written in chalk or in a cute font... I have never been on the ball enough to do that, but we do have an easy system to keep track of our girls' grades:  our daughters simply hold up their fingers to indicate the new grade that's beginning that day.  We also have them stand in the same place so it helps to gauge their growth--our girls stand by our front door every year.

Whatever you choose to do, just be sure to snap some kind of picture!  It can be a hectic morning, but you'll be so glad to have those photos down the road to help remember those first days of school every year.  Soak up the special moments--time flies!

I hope this post was helpful to any parents who are feeling nervous about the unknown.  In today's America, we parents definitely get all worked up about things in a way that previous generations did not, and I try not to get too caught up in that.  After all, what's the end game?  I think we all just want our children to grow up to be happy, kind, contributing members of society.  So as your kids start kindergarten, just remember that this first year will truly mold their views of school and learning--so communicate your messages to them with care.  Try to instill confidence and independence--in my opinion, those are two of the greatest gifts you can give a child.

What tips do you have for a child starting kindergarten?

Until next time... thanks for reading!  :)  


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  • Awesome post! As a kindergarten teacher I couldn't agree more! Being responsible for yourself and your belongings is huge. Most of my time in September is spent teaching my kiddos how to care for their belongings and themselves. Thanks for sharing!!

    Well, you are certainly an expert in this arena as a kindergarten teacher, so I'm glad you think these tips are helpful! I appreciate the note! :)

  • I love these. My oldest is now going into 2nd grade and is still dressing herself in crazy mismatched clothes and she also does her hair. Some days it takes all my willpower to let her walk out of the house without redoing something. When she was in Kindergarten she lived on Gogurts but couldn't open them on her own so I always sent a pair of scissors with her. I always expected an email from the teacher about her having scissors at lunch, but it was never a problem.

    Love it! :) That's so funny about the scissors. I guess that just tells you that your daughter was being responsible with them, and not playing around with them at the lunch table. Good kid! :) Thanks for the note!

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