How we're prepping for kindergarten

The No. 7 book on Amazon’s bestseller list right now, trailing shortly behind Omarosa’s Manigault Newman’s White House tell-all “Unhinged,” is a children’s book called “First Day Jitters” about a girl embarking on the first day at her new school.

When her dad wakes her that morning, she slumps beneath her blanket and declares that she hates school. The principal later reassures her that “Everyone is nervous the first day.”

While the book is certainly well-intentioned, and may be perfectly suited for some kids who are already professing first-day nerves, I won’t be introducing my kids to it. I don’t want to inject a negative narrative about school.

As my firstborn prepares to start kindergarten and my second child begins preschool, we’re focusing on a positive narrative: how exciting it is to start school, what a mark of maturity it represents, how new rewards and privileges come with school.

And this isn’t idle self-talk; it’s actually how I’m feeling as a first-time kindergarten parent. I feel so optimistic about this milestone.

I’m sentimental my nature, and there’s a good chance I’ll shed a tear Sept. 4 as I hug Maria and pull away from school, struck by the passage of time. But I feel really positive about this new chapter.

This is not your weepy-mom-my-baby-is-starting-kindergarten column. 

A year ago I might have penned something along those lines. I used to get a huge lump in my throat when I thought about school. It filled me with dread.

But now I feel great because I know Maria is ready.

We, as a family, are ready.

We’ve been proactive about preparing for kindergarten, and it has made all the difference.

That does not mean my soon-to-be-kindergartener is a whiz kid who can already read and tell time. No, there is plenty of room to grow when it comes to tackling a kindergarten curriculum.

What it means is that our 5-year-old is ready to learn. She’s showing so many signs of interest.

She is creative.

She sounds out letters. She enjoys writing them on a white board (even though she sometimes flips her J and rotates from capital to lowercase letters at random).

She’s right on track, exactly where she should be.

 We’ve worked on a Kindergarten Toolkit off and on this summer – usually seizing quiet windows in the morning. This has not been extended use. It's been light, short, fun. I have resisted the urge to harp when she loses focus. We’ve treated it as a game, as special mother-daughter time.

More importantly, she’s benefitted from two years of preschool – two afternoons a week the first year, Tuesday and Thursday; then four consecutive, slightly longer afternoons this past year (which she declared “shorter” than the previous year’s sessions – an obvious sign of her maturity).

She’s made so much progress in those two years. The dramatic, teary drop-offs when she was 3 are a distant memory. She is confident now. Her teachers, like her grandparents, my husband and me, have focused on making it a positive experience.

And so are we focusing on the positive as we anticipate kindergarten. I think that’s the biggest reason, along with the payoff of preschool, that we feel ready for kindergarten.

Another big factor is that, after school shopping all winter, we selected a school we really like.  

In June Maria attended VBS there, which was fun and made her feel familiar with the building.

The staff has been wonderful about drawing us into the fold as a family, hosting “popsicle playdates” this summer for all the future kindergartners to meet and mingle on the playground – a perfect setting so they can get acquainted with their soon-to-be recess site.

At the beginning of the month, we shifted our schedule. (We’ve been big on sleeping in this summer!) The first morning, Maria was groggy.  

“It feels like the middle of the night,” she told me.

By day three, she woke on her own 20 minutes before the alarm.

We’ve also bumped up our bedtime, which is another win. (I plan to be vigilant about early bedtimes this fall.) We’ve refined – a.k.a. simplified – the nighttime routine.

Maria picked out a backpack she’s excited about.  

She got a new haircut she’s enamored with, as evidenced by her frequent glances in the mirror.

We’ve hung out on her school grounds together, chasing butterflies and enjoying the Little Free Library, making memories as a family.

We’ll soon be meeting Maria’s teacher and touring the classroom. I’ll snap picture, print them and tape them on the fridge to help boost her comfort level, and we’ll talk happily about Mrs. M. and name some of her classmates.

While we’re there, I plan to inquire about lunchtime so we can begin syncing our lunchtime at home, per Megan Devine's advice.

This week her grandma in Iowa mailed her a kindergarten kit from Sam’s Club that Maria plays with first thing every morning.

It’s packed with educational content, but what really matters is that it’s fun. Maria loves using the dry-erase marker, playing with all the cards and carrying the kit around.

“I have important homework,” she informed us last night. “I’m not a kid anymore.”

 Conferring that sense of importance, of dignity as a kindergartener is huge.

We’ll enhance it with a celebratory dinner after the first day of school, a special dessert and a gift.

I still have to play around with our morning routine, which will require some tweaking.

I have to determine the balance between letting her sleep in later and giving her enough time to ease into the day. That will take some time to figure out.

As of now, I’m hoping the morning routine will entail: wake up, brush teeth, get dressed (clothes laid out the night before) – getting the hard stuff over with first, a tip a mom recently shared. (My current mode is to postpone the changing out of pajamas, which can feel like the biggest hurdle and delay our departures.)

Go downstairs, do yoga together. Eat breakfast. Fix hair, go to the bathroom, do final prep, put on shoes and grab backpack.

No TV. I know my kids are not as bright-eyed and clear-minded when they’ve begun their day cartoons.

We already have a healthy breakfast in place. Maria loves to have oatmeal with a bunch of fruit. Keeping plenty of healthy food on hand and fresh produce will be a priority, and I’m hoping to make weekly stops at Hy-Vee for curbside groceries ordered ahead online.

I plan to say a prayer together each morning as we pull out the driveway in our mini-van. It’s an old-school prayer, an invocation for protection that Maria memorized long ago:

“Angel of God, my guardian dear, to whom God’s love commits me here, ever this day be at my side to light, to guard, to rule, to guide.”

On the first morning of school, I plan to follow the prayer with a song Maria knows well from My Little Pony: The Movie, “Time to be Awesome.” The lyrics are apt.

I know there will be growing pains as Maria adjusts to five longer school days. It’ll be tough on me if she complains, as there’s no good answer or remedy I can offer. It is what it is.

But the schedule her teacher established is so well planned. I see how it provides ample breaks, including morning snack and an afternoon rest period. I think she’ll come to enjoy the structure of each day.

I’m sure we’ll experience setbacks in our morning routine. Maybe one day I’ll read this and laugh at my idealism.

But this strikes me as a time for idealism. As our first child begins kindergarten – and the others will follow – this feels like our biggest start. Now is the time for aiming high, for laying the groundwork on good habits. We’ll try hard and hope for the best!




 Christina Ries is a freelance writer who lives with her husband and three young children in Inver Grove Heights. Write her at