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Getting Ready for School: First Impressions Do Matter


By Nancy Olsen-Harbich, MA

How your child responds to his first days of school is important because it may affect his feelings about school for a long time to come. If he has a good first impression of kindergarten and he isn’t disappointed or made to feel ill-prepared, he’s more likely to believe school to be a place where he will succeed and be happy. Children with a positive, can-do attitude not only come away from their early days in the classroom with a good first impression of what school is, they also make good impressions on their teachers, signaling a readiness to cooperate and learn.

 Help Your Child Have Realistic Expectations

 Don’t paint an overly optimistic picture of how great school will be. Focus instead on those positive things you know to be true.

  • Most five-year-olds are ready to take the kindergarten plunge. Generally, children of five are confident and easy-going, eager for new challenges, and enthusiastic about performing tasks by themselves. As parents, encourage their healthy development by letting go a little and helping them to build the self-esteem and independence they’ll need in school.
  • Your child will be exposed to a variety of learning experiences. She may not enjoy all of them, but with so many from which to choose, there are sure to be some she’ll like.
  • School is full of kids. Your child will make friends with some of them, but he shouldn’t expect to like all or even most of them.  

Give Your Child Tools for Independence

Before school begins, practice self-care skills with your child. This will help your child to avoid embarrassing moments and increase confidence.

  •  Make sure your child can handle snaps, buttons, and zippers on clothing. That new school outfit can cause tears if your child can’t unzip in time when using the toilet. Easily pulled down and up elastic waistbands make good sense.
  •  Do lunch with your child. Show your child how to open and close a lunchbox, plastic food containers and thermos, and how to pour a drink. If you child will be buying lunch, try to give him exact change.
  • Work with your child so she can recognize her name in print. This will help her to find her cubbyhole or coat hook, and bring home the right lunchbox or schoolbag.
  • Teach your child how to approach a potential friend and introduce herself.
  • Let him know you’ll miss him, just as he will miss you, but don’t fuel separation anxiety by suggesting how lonely or sad you’ll be. Instead, tell him that you’ll be eager to hear what he did while you were apart. You may want to give your child a small comfort item, such as a paper heart, that he can keep in a pocket and hold in his hand when he misses you most.

Nancy Olsen-Harbich is Program Director and a Human Development Specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program. She can be reached at 631-727-7850 ext. 332 or at



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