The backpacks are jammed with pencil boxes, folders, and lunch boxes. We remind our little ones to wash their hands before they eat and eat their sandwiches first. We practice pulling on stiff new shoes and try not to lose our patience when they cry about the shoes not feeling “right.”

This is the plight of the parent preparing to send a little one to kindergarten.

An undercurrent of anxiety threads through the final days of summer. There are concerns about behavior, shyness, whether this child is truly ready, and more. It feels like launching into an unknown world, and everyone’s just a little unnerved by the process.

After nearly a decade serving students as a Special Education teacher, I now know how it feels to send my own child into the unknown world of elementary school for the first time. We’re gearing up for first grade in our house, and I recall the many challenges that come with the first day of school, especially for those who are doing it for the first time.

 

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We soared through kindergarten, but we were nervous when the first days unfolded. Here are some of our tried and true tips to make the first day of kindergarten as smooth and stress-free as possible:

Eat from the lunch box for two weeks prior to school

Much of a kindergartner’s day is guided by the adults in the building. While most cafeterias have monitors who help open tiny containers of applesauce and juice, the child who has practiced eating lunch independently will have greater confidence than the child who has never unzipped her lunchbox.

If your child wants to bring his lunch from home, practice eating from the lunch box for a couple weeks prior to the first day of school. Pack the lunch exactly as you will pack it for school, and make sure he can open the baggies and containers. If your child will buy lunch, adults will help him through the lunch line.

Ease anxiety by teaching your child how to open small milk cartons and fruit containers at home. If possible, research the available foods in advance and purchase similar foods for practice at home. This will ease both of your minds when it comes to lunchtime.

Change your daily routine a week in advance

Most families slip into different routines when summer comes. Daylight lingers longer in most parts of the northern hemisphere, and we let bedtime slide a bit later. Some children sleep longer in the mornings or settle into quiet morning routines without changing from their pajamas until later in the day. These are the blessings of a slower summer pace.

It’s wise to change these routines about a week prior to the first day of school. Not only will children benefit from getting to bed earlier, but they will also be far more likely to brush their teeth, get dressed, and eat breakfast before the school bell rings if they’ve been practicing these behaviors at the scheduled time of day.

Establish the morning routine before the first day of school

Many parents attest to the reality that mornings are difficult. There are clothes to match, missing shoes to locate, and little teeth to brush. On a good day, beds are made. Practicing the morning routine just as it will be on the first day of school prepares everyone for the start of the school year in a healthy way.

The age-old routine of packing lunches and laying out clothes the night before school is a wise practice for those who’d rather not wrestle over twisted socks and matching outfits at 7 a.m. Helping a child eat breakfast in a timely way will go better when the anticipation of an actual school bus is still a few days away.

Walk through the day with your child

As much as possible, describe what your child’s day will entail. Review the location of the classroom. Share any classroom procedures to which you might already be attuned. Speak optimistically and remind your child of the fun he will have in classes like art, physical education, music, and more. Reassure your child that this will be a good experience.

Breathe

Finally, take a deep breath. Embrace this as the first of a series of life changes. Your child will acquire necessary life skills through her school experience. The discomfort of diving into a new year is worth the cost. She will learn important social and academic skills, and the adults in her school will do all they can to help her succeed.

In a few short weeks, this school routine will be old news, and anxiety will dissipate. It’s going to be a transformational year!