6 steps to prepare your child for school

The prospect of starting school can be exciting, but also nerve-wracking for children. To set your child up for a successful first day, try these strategies.

Table of Contents

Start a Countdown

Children often don’t have a clear concept of time. They may know that school is starting “soon” but have no real concept of what that means.

Creating a countdown can help your child understand that their routine will be changing and that school is coming up. It’s a good idea to do this on a calendar so you can SHOW them exactly how many weeks, or days, are left until school starts.

How often you show your child the calendar is a bit of a balancing act, but for most, a weekly update is enough. For example, every Monday over the summer holidays, go to the calendar with your child to show them “five weeks to school…”, “four weeks to school…”, etc.

Of course, if your child brings up the topic themselves then follow their lead.

Starting school is exciting, so make sure you reflect this in your tone of voice when you go to the calendar to do your countdowns.

Talk to your child about what happens at school

Talking to your child about what happens at school, who their teachers will be and what drop off will be like will create familiarity and confidence. Having these conversations early, and with visual cues is also a great way to create space for your children to share their concerns.

The Courageous Kids app offers a carefully crafted set of stories about starting school. These can be further personalised for your child, as the app allows you to upload your own photos (of your child’s teachers, the school environment, their classroom, etc).

When adults start a new job they get an orientation and welcome pack, why shouldn’t our children get the same? Printing out the Courageous Kids stories about starting school and reading one book every few days is your child’s welcome pack to school.

Starting school is an important, exciting but sometimes daunting milestone. This is an easy and fun way to share their excitement and soothe their fears.

Visit Visit Visit

Even if your child has siblings or friends at their school, it’s still a new environment, likely to be larger and more intimidating than childcare or kindergarten. Take your child to see their new school several times over the school holidays to make it more familiar. On the first visit, just go up to the gate where they will enter on their first morning. If possible, peep through the gate and point out what you can see, for example “Oh, there’s your playground!” or “Ah, there are the water fountains” and “hey, your classroom is through there”!

On the second visit walk the perimeter of the school. It’s important that your child starts to get their bearings around school. Talk to your child about the direction of your house and other key landmarks in relation to their school. This will help them feel safe and secure, knowing that familiar environments are not far away. This process gently shows children that the new school is a part of their world.

On another visit, walk from the front gate of the school to the nearest café or shopping strip. Get a drink or a snack together and tell your child that this is where you will come for a coffee after you drop them off at school on the first day. If you will never have time for this don’t make it up! Instead, tell them that this is where lots of the school mums and dads go for a coffee after they drop their kids at school. This reassures children that after school drop off parents don’t vanish, they stay nearby and are still thinking about their kids.

School is not an island

School must not seem like a distant island, far from home. If your child’s school is in a new suburb or unfamiliar area, your child may feel isolated and disorientated. You can help overcome this by showing your child the route from their house to school several times. This is best done by foot, scooter or bike. If you have to go by car, make sure you point out all the landmarks along the way and teach your child the major street names.

Every time you drive past the school or are in the vicinity, point out where it is and give it a wave “hello” and “goodbye”. You could say “Hi School!” when you are approaching, and “Bye School!” as you pass. Talk about how far school is from home, emphasising its proximity to familiar landmarks. This will cement their school as a new and exciting part of their world.

You can also discuss with your child how far school is in “minutes by car” and how long it will take them to get to and from school by your most common mode of transport (bike, scooter, walking).

All this will allow your child to locate their school in relation to other familiar places, and will help them understand that they are still connected to you and to their familiar, safe, environments.

Involve your child in getting the things they need

School is a whole new beginning. This is a great opportunity to foster excitement and joy!

Let your child choose their school lunch box and water bottle. These are exciting items, something special, just for them. Involve your child when you label these items. Your child could tell you where they want you to write their name, and how. Ask them whether they want an extra symbol next to their name to help them recognise what is theirs. For example, you could draw a little star, a flower, a ladybird or whatever will be fun and meaningful. Offer what you can manage and let your child choose. This allows your child to feel a sense of pride and ownership.

Children with an older sibling or cousin that they look up to may now identify with them more and feel they share a common bond. Those with younger siblings who are not yet at school, may enjoy doing these special “school ready” jobs and feel excited, responsible and proud. These simple activities give children agency as they prepare for school and can help them to feel proud of themselves for starting something new.

Buy and wear your school shoes early

The last thing you or your child wants for their first day of school is to be uncomfortable or distressed because of new shoes pinching and rubbing. There are so many new things about starting school, that any part of the process that can be made familiar will help.

Take your child to shop for shoes and let your child tell the shop assistant why they need these new shoes. Give your child as many opportunities as possible to look forward to starting school and talk about it with others.

Do not save these shoes for day one of school! Wear them for short periods at home and check for blisters! You do not want any source of discomfort on your child’s first days. Make sure the shoes are truly comfy and worn in a bit. It may seem a bit mad to be wearing heavy black school shoes in the middle of summer but even if you try for one or two hours a day inside the house, it is a good start.

So that’s it!

Talk about school with enthusiasm. Make those stories and read them a couple of times. Then, visit and have the gear you need.

Finally, CONGRATULATIONS Mums and Dads, for getting to this very exciting milestone.

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Dr Kathryn Hackman
Dr Kathryn Hackman

Dr Kathryn is the founder of Courageous Kids, a toolkit for parents of of 2-6 year olds to help prepare for change and reduce the anxiety associated with new experiences.

It was inspired by her own experiences with her 5-year-old, who had no problems riding his bike down the stairs but required extra time and assistance to prepare for new events or changes. Kinder drop offs were hard! In collaboration with a paediatric psychologist and occupational therapist, Kathryn has built the Courageous kIds app, a resource that enables parents to set their children up for success with new experiences.

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