Back to School… For the First Time.

The tips of the trees are starting to change colour.  Shops and storefronts are full of new pencils, paper, a myriad of backpacks and endless racks of back to school clothes.  In the last few weeks we have been approached by many parents in the community who are looking for some advice on getting their preschoolers ready for their first day of Kindergarten.  With our shared history as childcare providers, and my past experience teaching Kindergarten (and some searching, reading and filtering of the endless internet resources available) we narrowed our best advice down to the following 5 areas.

The Routine

A set routine for bedtimes and mornings makes a huge difference in your child’s day at school.  Start thinking about how your family routines will need to change and start implementing these adaptations in the weeks leading up to school.

  • The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario recommends that your child get between 10 and 12 hours of sleep on a school night.  Think about what time you will need to get up in the morning in order to get to school on time and then adjust bedtimes if necessary.
  • If your child is still napping in the afternoon, you will want to phase that out before school starts so your child has time to adjust.
  • Choosing and laying out clothes the night before can help save time (and meltdowns) in the morning.  Get in the habit of checking the weather report with your child so they can start learning how to select weather appropriate attire.
  • Do some trial runs with your child.  Get up, eat breakfast, pack their lunch bag and back pack, get on appropriate outdoor attire and do the walk/drive/bike to school or bus stop.  Walk around the building when you get there and have a play on the playground and a snack together.  This is a great opportunity to talk about your child’s school and get excited or quell nervousness.

I Can Do It Myself!

Teaching preschoolers independence, and providing them with a few key skills will make for an easy transition into kindergarten. Preparing little ones for school in a positive way and helping them experience success can show them learning is fun, and will provide opportunities for them to feel proud of their own achievements. Independence and personal care skills can be introduced and practiced through play

Getting Dressed

  • Purchase school clothes that are comfortable, machine washable, and that you don’t mind getting dirty.  Paint happens and you don’t want your child to feel anxious about getting messy or ruining their clothes.
  • Your child should be able to dress and undress independently.  Elastic waists on pants are a great option for children who haven’t developed the dexterity to open and close buttons, snaps or zippers.
  • Your child may need two pairs of shoes, one for indoors and one for outdoors.  Make sure your child tries on their shoes before buying them.  If your child cannot tie laces, stick to velcro or invest in the elastic and toggle laces that don’t need to be tied.  Get your child to take the shoes on and off.  Feel their toes to see how much growing room is left.  Get them to take a walk in the store and check for a good fit. Their feet should be straight and their heels should stay in the shoe.  Ask them if they are comfortable or rub in any places.  Be prepared to try on a few pairs.  Keep in mind that a good fit can be found at many price points.
  • Make a game of getting ready.  Create an obstacle course with an article of clothing, coat or shoes at each obstacle and practice getting each thing on and off.  Do time trials for getting dressed and out the door, chart their times and reward them when they reach their goal.
  • Start early, toddlers love to assert independence.  Get them to start putting on and removing shoes, clothing and coats.  The investment of time now will pay off later!

Personal Hygiene

  • Your child will need to toilet independently in Kindergarten.  This means undressing, getting on and off the toilet, wiping, flushing and washing their hands.  Set up a visual chart with picture cues to help establish these skills.  You can even reward them with a sticker for remembering each part of their bathroom routine.
  • Accidents happen, prepare your child for this by teaching them how to take off clothing and underwear, wipe themselves, put soiled clothes in a bag and get dressed in clean clothes.  Stay neutral in tone and attitude, you don’t want them to feel empowered not ashamed.
  • Get a back to school haircut and tie back long hair to make sure your child’s hair isn’t in their eyes.  Keeping long hair tied back in braids or buns can also help to prevent the spread of head lice.
  • Get in the habit and teach your child to cough and sneeze into their sleeve or elbow.  You can call the inner elbow the “cough pocket” and praise your child for “catching” their coughs and sneezes.
  • Encourage frequent hand washing with soap and water.  Sing a favourite song while lathering up to ensure they have scrubbed long enough.

Recognizing and Reproducing Their Name

  • Learning to recognize their own name and the letters it contains is one of the first steps of early literacy. For young toddlers the key is to introduce and make them familiar with the letters in their name. For preschoolers learning to trace and reproduce the letters will help prepare them for writing their name in school and recognizing their hook or cubby.
  • Make it fun by using alphabet cookie cutters, stencils or foam letters to create collages using only the letters in your preschoolers name.
    Write out their name on small cards and place in an envelope labeled with the name, have them take out the letters and build their name. Make a name plate for your child’s door with their name on it and read out the letters whenever you go into their room.  Have your child use their finger to practice writing their name in sand, paint or pudding.

The Backpack

When in comes to backpacks there is a lot of choice out there!  The Canadian Chiropractic Association recommend a bag with two wide, adjustable and padded shoulder straps and a padded back (no messenger bags).  Your child’s full backpack should not exceed 10 to 15% of their weight (For a 45 pound child their backpack shouldn’t weigh more than 4.5 to 6.5 pounds).

  • Label your child’s belongings with a permanent marker or label stickers so that it is easier to track down misplaced items
  • Send and extra change of clothes in a large Ziploc or reusable wet bag with your child’s name on it. It should include underwear,pants, t shirt, and socks.  As well as an extra bag for wet or soiled clothing.  Have your child help you to pack it so they know what is in there.  Don’t forget to replenish when needed and add a sweater and extra mittens and a hat in the winter time.
  • Reusable and leak proof water bottle.  Get your child to practice opening and closing their water bottle to make sure they can do it easily and you prevent backpack floods.
  • Toys and other special items should stay at home unless your child’s teacher asks them to bring something in.  If you child wants to bring a toy on the walk, make sure to let them know they will need to give it to you or leave it in the car when you arrive at school.

The Lunch

Packing your child’s lunch can be a daunting task.  What if they don’t eat anything?  What if they eat everything and they are still hungry?  Which lunchbox or lunch bag is the best?  Who knew it was so hard to open a yogurt or peeling the plastic off of a cheese string?!

  • NUT FREE ALWAYS!  All schools require that your child’s food and any food brought onto school property are nut free.  Read the fine print on prepackaged snacks and check labels for the nut-free logo.
  • Your child’s school may have a “litterless lunch” or “boomerang lunch” policy.  This means your child will bring all of their lunch garbage as well as any uneaten food back home so you will know how much garbage their lunch creates as well as what they are or are not eating.
  • Send food in reusable, resealable containers that your child can open and close easily.  Before school starts pack up some practice lunches and take them to the park or another special outing and let your little one get their own food out, eat and let them pack up again.
  • Get your preschooler help to pick out foods to make a healthy and balanced lunch.  Pack nutritious foods that your child likes.
  • If you send foods that spoil quickly (like deli meats, eggs or yogurt), choose an insulated lunch bag and pack a reusable freezer pack next to the foods that need to keep cool.

A Hug and a Kiss

Sending your little one off to school for the first time is emotional for all parents, regardless of whether they are your first or fifth child.  It is a big milestone for all people involved.  I found this article so helpful with the emotional piece of this transition.

  • Be prepared for your child to cry on the first day, for a week, or longer at drop off.  They may also be fine for the first little while and then find separating from you more difficult as the weeks go by.  On the other hand, your child might not cry at all and walk away from you with a smile and a wave – which can also be emotional for parents.
  • Stay positive when talking about school and make sure your child knows they can talk to you about their anxieties.
  • Let your kiddo know that on the first day you will give them a hug and a kiss and say goodbye and that you will be waiting for them at the end of the day.  Try to keep the drop of quick and positive, they will pick up on your feelings if you are emotional.
  • Feel free to fall apart on the way home.  We all do!

Contratuations Moms and Dads!  You did it!

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