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When preparing to send your child to school for the first time, your mind is probably consumed by many thoughts:
“How is my baby so big already?”
“There’s seriously a three page school supply list??”
“What am I going to pack for lunch every single day?”
“I wonder how much she’ll change by the end of the year.”
“What outfit should he wear on the first day to look the cutest in pictures?”
There can be so many things to do and so many emotions to battle that you might not think about the ways that you should prepare your child for school.
Sure, you’ve told him it’s okay to be nervous. That she’ll make lots of new friends. That she’ll love school and do great there. But have you thought about teaching him the basic skills he’ll need to function on his own on a day-to-day basis?
Of course he’ll have a teacher to help him when he needs it, but given the fact that in most classrooms the kids outnumber the teacher by at least 12 to 1 (usually much more), the teacher will have many students occupying her time and attention.
Ensuring that your child has mastered basic self-help skills before the year begins will not only help your child’s teacher focus on the reason she’s there (to teach the kids), but it will also allow your child to feel confident right from the start.
By drawing on my former experience as a kindergarten teacher and through talking with current teachers, I offer you the following list of self-help skills your child should know before starting kindergarten.
PLEASE NOTE: The following list is a general guide. Children develop at different rates and what one child is able to do at the age of five might not be realistic to expect another child to do at the same age. Where applicable, I’ve offered modifications that will help your child if she has not mastered a particular skill yet.
1. Dress Herself
If something happens that requires your child to change her clothes during the school day, she should be able to accomplish this task on her own. This includes shirts, underwear, pants, socks, shoes, and outerwear!
2. Use the Bathroom Independently
This includes wiping and flushing. I’ll get into the other particulars further down the list.
3. Zip and Button Pants
This goes along with the first two skills. In order to dress himself and use the bathroom independently, your child needs to be able to zip and button his own pants.
Modification: If he has not mastered this yet, allow him to wear elastic-waist pants to school.
4. Wash Hands
This goes along with #2, but is necessary in other situations as well.
5. Blow Her Own Nose
It’s surprising how many kids don’t know how to do this (my own included!). I think as parents, when we see our children sniffling, it’s second nature to grab a tissue, grab their nose, and tell them to blow. Here’s the thing though: As much as the teacher loves your child, she doesn’t love to hold the tissue that will soon be filled with your child’s snot.
Teach your child how to hold the tissue over her own nose and then refer to #4.
6. Open Containers
This is a biggie! You can pack the best lunches for your child, but if you’re putting the food in containers that your child can’t open on his own, he will spend most of his lunch period asking his teacher for help.
There are plenty of easy-to-open containers on the market (Rubbermaid Lunchblox are my personal favorite), so invest in some and have your child practice at home to make sure he can open them.
7. Open and Insert Straws
I considered including this with #6, but decided it needed it’s own number after talking with a preK teacher who mentioned it specifically.
If your child brings juice boxes or pouches to school, teach him how to remove the plastic wrapper from the straw and insert it into the drink. This might take a lot of practice, especially in the case of the pouches. I’ve come across particular brands that I have a hard time with, so I’m not sure how they expect a five year old to be able to do it!
Modification: If you’re set on buying the ones that are impossible to break into, you may want to transfer the juice into a different container. I know, I know, this kinda defeats the purpose and ease of buying juice pouches, but think of the children!! And also the teachers! THINK OF THE TEACHERS!!!
8. Zip Coat
If you live in a climate that has cooler temperatures for part of the year, this is an important one. When I taught kindergarten, it took longer to get the kids dressed for recess in the winter than it did to actually be out on the playground, partly because I had to zip up a dozen coats before we could go out.
Teach your child how to zip her own coat. Side note: Make sure her coat’s zipper is in good working order. If it’s hard to get started, it’ll just be one big frustration for her.
Modification: If your child is still learning to master this one, get her a coat that has a zipper and buttons (or snaps). That way if she’s in a hurry, she can at least snap it closed. This will buy her a few months of practice during the warmer autumn months so that when the cold months come along, she’ll be an accomplished zipper-upper.
9. Clean up after self
If you’ve never required your child to clean up after himself, he’ll be in for a rude awakening when school starts. Teachers expect kids to know how to pick up the toys they were playing with, their snack containers and trash, and their school supplies when transitioning from one subject to another.
BONUS: ONE TO WORK ON
10. Tie Shoes
Most children going into kindergarten cannot yet tie their own shoes. If you think your child is ready to master this, by all means, work on it before school begins. It is immensely helpful to a teacher when a child can tie her own shoes. If your child is not ready to master this one, don’t sweat it, but don’t ignore it either. Start small and continue to work on this skill as the year progresses.
Modification: If you’d like to lessen the teacher’s load, send your child to school in shoes that slip on or have velcro straps and save the shoes with laces for the weekend. Side note: I would still make sure that at least one pair of your child’s shoes have laces. Otherwise, he’ll have no reason to practice!
Janine Huldie says
These are great tips and admit that my soon-to-be kindergartner still needs help with tying her shoes, but the rest she is pretty self-sufficient with. However, I still can’t believe she will be a kindergartner in a few short weeks. Crazy, but she is no longer my baby.
Nicole Johnson says
My third goes into kindergarten next year. These are very helpful (and true) tips. My son didn’t know how to tie his shoes and his teacher wouldn’t help him. It was awful. He came home with his shoes in knots. I think we assumed since that was a skill we learned in kindergarten it would a skill my son would learn there as well. I am going to share this on Twitter! Thanks!
Thanks so much Nicole! I don’t remember if I learned how to tie my shoes in school or not, but I DO remember practicing over and over again in my living room and being so proud the first time I did it!
This is REALLY good….any tips on shoe tying?
Not so much :/ I’m working on it with Samuel, but it’s slow going.
Herchel S says
These are awesome tips! Am I the only one whose kids clean up after themselves at school but suck at it when home?!
My youngest is going into first this fall and I am way less stressed than when I had kindergarteners 🙂
Um, no. You are DEFINITELY not alone!
It’s funny…my son did KG twice because he’s a December birthday and he truly learned so many different skills each time. He started reading his first year, so the second year he built on it. But, there were many “life skills” like tying shoes that he didn’t know how to do. The teachers had a bunny ear tying book that showed kids how to tie their shoes. That worked like magic. He was motivated to try and continued to practice so that he could show his teachers. Sometimes, I find that I can push, promote and promise gifts, but he will react most effectively when he can prove himself to his teachers.
I’ve often asked my kids, “Do you act like this for Mrs. Fill-in-the-blank? Then you shouldn’t act like this for me!!” LOL!