Ready for takeoff!

Here’s how to prepare for your child’s first school experience

Is your child heading to school for the first time? Angela Counter talks to the experts about how to make it easier – for everyone.

Finally, a long-awaited milestone approaches: the first day of school. You’ve got your camera ready, but how can you prepare your child so that the only tears will be yours?


Your child’s school readiness depends on their personality and experience. For example, children who attend daycare might find the adjustment easier. For children who are at home with a caregiver, “A lot of it is about routines,” says Erin Friend, marketing strategist for Kumon Canada. The change from largely unstructured time to an environment where there are set activities and rules can be overwhelming. 


You can help to get your child ready for routines by practicing at home before the first day. “Start the school routine early,” says Francine Raymond, manager of Early Years Services for Conseil des écoles catholiques du Centre-Est (CECCE). She says that following the school-day morning and bedtime routines for a couple of weeks helps when the real day comes. 


Ask the school about a typical day, and help your child get familiar with some of the key events:


  • Walk or drive the route to school, and point out landmarks to your child. If your child will take the bus, go to the bus stop. Some bus companies even offer an orientation day. 


  • Visit the school. Many schools hold an event for first-timers. If not, call the office to ask for a tour. You can see where students hang up their coats, visit the library, or play in the playground. Your child will start to identify the school as theirs, and that sense of belonging builds up their confidence, says Raymond. 


  • Make a picnic that resembles a typical school lunch, and get input from your child. Let your child practice opening the containers that lunch comes in, too. Consider including a photo or note on the first day of school. 


  • Give your child a choice in what they bring to school. Let your child pick out a backpack and decide what to wear. Remember to dress your child for play – and even messes!


  • Have your child practice writing and reading their name by tracing outlines so they can recognize what’s theirs. Use proper pencil grip, too – a skill that Friend says comes with practice and is easier to learn with help from a parent.


  • Mark the first day of school for your child in the calendar, and count down the days. Don’t dwell on it all summer, though.


Apart from routines, you can get your child used to being more independent, like when they’re following instructions. At school, your child needs to follow instructions in series. “Kids often feel unprepared for that because parents manage the routines. If you can teach them to think about the process of things, to do things on their own without reminders, that’s good practice,” says Friend. 


Raymond says that encouraging your child to play independently is important to building their confidence for school. “Provide materials and try not to direct too much. Watch your child react [when a problem comes up] before you give a solution.” When your child plays with other children, let them try to resolve conflicts on their own.  


While it’s important to be enthusiastic about school, don’t oversell it – your child won’t like everything. Focus on getting your child excited about learning. “Kids who love school are kids who love to learn,” says Friend. If your child seems uncertain, talking about what to expect can ease their concerns. If you find yourself worrying, then talk to the school and stay positive. “Have confidence in your child,” says Raymond. Even if there are tears in the morning, your child will likely come home excited and happy.


Finally, when the day comes, relax and be present. “You can’t fully prepare your child,” Friend reminds. “It’s part of growing up.”