Starting kindergarten is a big life event for a little one. How can you help them make a successful transition?
Starting kindergarten entails many changes for your child, and it’s normal for them to be a bit stressed about it. Find out how you can help them tackle this new adventure.
Kindergarten: A world of changes
Whether or not your child has been in daycare, there are many changes that they will have to adjust to when they enter kindergarten, including the following:
Research has shown that the transition to school has an influence on future levels of academic perseverance and motivation.
A new environment
A new group of children, often larger than what they are used to in daycare
New rules (for both learning and behaviour)
A new teacher and the relationship they will have
All of these changes, happening all at once, can be difficult and stressful for your child. To help them get used to this new environment, you can talk to them about school and the emotions they’re feeling.
You can help them along by doing some transition activities together, such as going to visit the school in the springtime. You can also do a few things before school starts and during the first few days of school to help them adjust.
Kindergarten transition activities
For the transition from daycare or home to school to go smoothly, it needs to be planned and gradually implemented.
Download this snakes and ladders game to prepare both you and your little one for school (in French only). Courtesy of the Comité de la Transition préscolaire réussie de Jonquière.
For this reason, your child’s school probably offers kindergarten transition activities: classroom visits, meeting the teacher, touring the daycare, other in-school activities organized for future students, etc.
Stay in the know, since these activities are important. They allow your child to familiarize themself with this new environment and to more concretely imagine what starting school will be like.
If the school has a playground, you can even spend some time there with your child to let them play and get used to it.
A portrait of your child for the teacher
Some daycares use La passerelle
(in French only) or another similar tool to create a profile of your child and share it with their kindergarten teacher. In some regions, staff even meet directly with kindergarten teachers.
Information about a child is shared only with their parents’ permission. Find out about your child’s daycare’s kindergarten transition practices. These will allow for some continuity between the two.
What you can do to help your child
Before the start of the school year
- Help your child meet school friends. Find out who else in your neighbourhood will be attending the same school. Feel free to talk to their parents and organize a play date so your child can begin to make friends.
Ideally, your child’s transition to school should be supported at all levels, in all environments: at home, at daycare, and at school.
- Explain the new routine to your child so that they are ready. For example, tell them that there will be no more naps in kindergarten, and that they’ll be going to daycare before and after school. You can also watch videos that show what a day in kindergarten is like.
- Reassure your child that some things will stay the same. Tell them there will still be time to play, since kindergarten is all about learning through play. Give them examples that show that not everything will change after school starts: “It’ll still be Dad coming to pick you up at the end of the day.”
- Share in their joy of becoming a “big kid.” The first day of school is a big step, and your little one knows it. They might see themselves as not being “little” anymore. Talk to them about how going to school makes them feel. They may feel comfortable finally being a ”big kid.” On the other hand, they might feel a bit overwhelmed. Listen to them talk about how they feel.
- Involve them in getting their school supplies. For example, bring them with you to buy their pencils or their backpack.
- Show your enthusiasm for school. Talk about all the things they’ll do there: meet new friends, do all kinds of fun art activities, and of course, learn new things.
- Talk about your own memories of school, and how it felt to go there for the first time. If your child has older siblings, ask them to share their memories as well.
- Avoid sharing your concerns about starting school with your child. They need to feel that you trust their new environment so that they can adapt well.
During the first days of school
- Get ready together. Involve your child in preparing for school, such as choosing their clothes and snacks for the day and packing their backpack.
- Explain to your child what will happen after school. If they take the school bus, tell them who will be there to welcome them home. If they go to daycare after school, tell them who will pick them up.
- If your child starts to cry when they get to school, quickly give them over to the adult who is responsible for them. Don’t prolong leaving more than you have to. Show your child that you trust the staff at their school and that you know that they’re safe in their new environment. The tears usually don’t last long.
- Ask the teacher if your child can bring an object from home to ease the transition during the first few days. It can be a plushie, a family picture, or a piece of clothing that smells like their parents that they can have with them when they miss home.
- Put a simple message in their lunchbox with a drawing like a heart or a smiley face to make them happy. It’s also reassuring for them to know that you’re thinking about them even when they’re at school.
- Put a calendar up at home that shows school days and days off. Take a look at it with your child to help them understand their schedule. For example, you can count how many sleeps are left before the weekend.
- Set aside a place in the house where your child can display their school work. You can even decorate this area together (e.g. a bulletin board, a bedroom door).
The staggered system
To help ease the transition, many schools use a staggered system at the beginning of the year. These models vary from school to school.
On the first day of school, your child may spend an hour or two in the classroom. In some schools, the group of students is divided into two or even four. Each group then comes to school at different times. This means that your child might attend school every other day or only for half-days.
In some schools, this system is in place for several days, while in others, it is only for the first day. In any case, it allows the students and the teacher to get to know each other.
This might complicate your schedule, since you will have to work around this during this time. Some schools are no longer using a staggered start for this reason, but others still deem it to be necessary.
Some schools offer daycare for this period, but this is not always the case. Find out the schedule for your child’s first two weeks of school. This will help you get organized.
The Passe-Partout Program
Some school service centres offer the Passe-Partout program. This is a part-time educational program offered free of charge to 4-year-olds and their parents to promote a smooth transition to kindergarten. This program includes workshops at the school for students twice a month. Parents are also invited to participate in the activities a few times a year to have fun in class with their child. The program also includes evening meetings for parents to discuss attitudes to support their child’s academic success. Your toddler must be 4 years old by September 30 to register. Registration is done directly in a school that offers the Passe-Partout program.
To learn more about life in kindergarten, check out our fact sheets:
Things to keep in mind
Starting kindergarten is a big change in your child’s life, so it’s normal for them to feel a bit anxious or stressed.
You can help them adjust by talking about kindergarten with them and going to visit their school together.
Organizing play dates with classmates, going together to get their school supplies, and talking to them about the kindergarten routine are other good ways to help your child adjust.
Scientific review: Annie Lamontagne, kindergarten teacher
Research and copywriting: The Naître et grandir team
Updated: November 2022
Sources and references
Note: The links to other websites are not updated regularly, and some URLs may have changed since publication. If a link is no longer valid, please use search engines to find the relevant information.
Bergeron, Alain M. and Maco. À l’école, les grands! Montreal, Éditions Imagine, 2012, 32 pp.
Charlesworth, Liza. Let’s Go to School. Scholastic, 2015, 16 pp.
Cuthew, Lucy. Teacher. QED, Busy People series, 2015, 24 pp.
Karst, Patrice. The Invisible String. Little, Brown, 2018, 40 pp.
Lallemand, Orianne, and Éléonore Thuillier. P’tit Loup rentre à l’école. Montreal, Éditions Auzou, 2013, 20 pp.
Litvin, Eric, and James Dean Pat le chat – J’adore aller à l’école. Markham, Scholastic, 2014, 40 pp.
Pallotta, Jerry, and David Biedrzycki. Who Will Be My Teacher This Year? Markham, Scholastic, 2014, 32 pp.
Pelletier, Dominique. Je suis capable! C’est la rentrée! Markham, Scholastic, 2015, 24 pp.
Penn, Audrey. The Kissing Hand. Tanglewood, 1993, 32 pp.
Soulières, Robert and Christine Battuz. Le premier jour. Montreal, Éditions les 400 coups, 2010, 32 pp.
Yoon, Salina. Bear’s Big Day. Bloomsbury, 2016, 40 pp.