The ABCs of Preparing Young Children For The Coming School Year

(Images & graphics: Kids’ First Years)

By Michelle Smith Howard, President and CEO,  Kids’ First Years

Alexandria, VA – Many families in Alexandria are busy preparing their young children to enter kindergarten or start preschool after the summer break. But there is much more to being ready for school than walking into the classroom wearing new shoes or toting a new backpack. When starting kindergarten, social, emotional, and independence skills are the most important skills teachers want students to have.

Kids’ First Years, a partnership of people and organizations working together to support opportunities and learning experiences for young children, asked Heidi Haggerty, principal of the Early Childhood Center. This Pre-K school is part of Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) to share some school-prep tips to help kids put their best foot forward. Her suggestions include:

  • More play time, less screen time – Children need to be able to sustain their attention span in a room without screens, so have them play outside with other kids and toys instead of sitting in front of a screen.
  • Set a consistent routine – At least two weeks before school starts, get kids back in the routine of going to bed and waking up on a school schedule. This helps them make a smoother transition when the daily school schedule is underway.
  • Foster independence – Have your child practice simple tasks such as opening food containers and milk cartons or putting a straw into a juice box. This builds confidence that they will bring to their learning.
  • Keep clothing easy to manage – Overalls might look cute, but the straps, clasps, and buttons can be challenging for little fingers to manipulate. Pants with elastic waists are perfect—no snaps or belts required. Many preschoolers and kindergartners are not experts at tying laces yet. Shoes with Velcro closures mean your child will not need help from the teacher.
  • Plan for the separation – Some children might have a hard time parting from a parent on the first day of school, and many parents struggle with separation anxiety as well. The key is to hand them off quickly and to prepare them in advance for what will happen on the big day: “We’ll go to school. We’ll see your teacher, and then I’ll leave. You’ll have a great time learning new things and I’ll see you when school is over.”

“We recommend that families not plan any major transitions for the first month of school,” added Haggerty. “Starting kindergarten is a big shift for young children, and it really tires them out, more than you might realize.” She also advises parents to take advantage of school activities to help with the transition. She noted that ACPS will host a half-day orientation on Aug. 18, 2023, called Step Up to Kindergarten for incoming students. Details can be found at

Kids’ First Years encourages parents to support teachers by providing consistent routines at home along with communication between home and school. When families, schools, and communities join forces in Alexandria, we can ensure that all young children will have the strong start to the school year they deserve.

To connect with Kids’ First Years or its partners, visit

Suggested Books to Prepare for Kindergarten or Preschool

“Kindergarten, Here I Come!” by D.J. Steinberg

“Benny the Brave in The First Day Jitters” by Julie Anne Penn

“The Night Before Kindergarten” by Natasha Wing

“On the First Day of Kindergarten” by Tish Rabe

Kindergarten-Prep Activities from The Basics

  • Find and plan occasions for your child to spend time with other children. Help your child with activities that involve sharing and taking turns. Praise your child and show how happy it makes you when they play nicely with others.
  • Play freeze games like “Red Light, Green Light.” Games involving moving and freezing in place upon command help teach listening skills and self-control.
  • When running errands with your child, look for the letters in your child’s name on store signs, street signs, or billboards. See how many different places your child can find the letters.

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