Easing your child’s transition to school

Easing your child’s transition to school
How to ease your child’s transition to school without overdoing it.

As a parent, you have a role to play in helping your little one make a successful transition to kindergarten. Many everyday activities can facilitate this process, such as reading to your child, talking to them, and taking them to the park.

Useful skills for school

Much of what kids learn in early childhood supports the transition to kindergarten. In particular, the following skills will make it easier for your child to adjust.

  • Autonomy: An autonomous child will be able to take more initiative and do things on their own at school. They will be able to persevere when necessary and ask for help when they need it. A resourceful child is also more receptive to learning.
  • Social skills: A child who is in contact with other children and adults learns to develop social skills. For example, they develop their ability to form positive relationships with others, wait their turn, and follow rules, all of which is helpful in school.
  • Emotional maturity: To do well in school, a child must learn to control their anger, interact calmly with others, be away from their parents for short periods of time, and adequately express their emotions.
  • Language and cognitive skills: Cognitive skills include a child’s ability to group and compare objects, recognize shapes, and find solutions to small problems. By stimulating your child’s language and cognitive skills, you can help develop their interest in reading and writing as well as their mathematical reasoning skills.
  • General knowledge: Your child’s interest in the world around them stems largely from looking at books about animals, means of transportation, food, and different countries. Asking them questions about what you read together encourages them to reflect and give their opinion, which in turn helps them learn to communicate their ideas to others.
  • Motor skills: Running, climbing, jumping, and throwing are also useful skills in school, as they help children control their movements and maintain better sitting posture in the classroom. In addition, a child who can handle small objects (e.g., small blocks, beads) and tools such as pencils, brushes, and scissors is better prepared for kindergarten activities.
Provincial survey on child development in kindergarten
A Quebec survey conducted in 2017 involving 81,000 children showed that not all kids have the same skill set when starting kindergarten. According to the study, over one in four (27.7%) children in kindergarten are vulnerable in at least one area of development (e.g., social skills, language, motor skills). For example, some children have good verbal skills but less emotional maturity, meaning they have difficulty managing their emotions and may be more aggressive. Children who are vulnerable in kindergarten are more likely to experience learning difficulties in school than others.

Everyday ways to ease your child’s transition to kindergarten

Here are a few day-to-day activities that will help your child adjust to going to school.

  • Get your child used to doing certain things on their own, like getting dressed and going to the bathroom without help. Even if some tasks are difficult, such as fastening a zipper, encourage your child to practise doing them with as little help as possible, and remember to praise their efforts.
  • Provide your child with regular opportunities to play with other children, such as by going to the park or inviting a friend over, especially if your little one doesn’t go to daycare. Teach them to ask “Do you want to play with me?” and “Could I borrow your toy, please?” Playing with other kids helps your child learn to share, wait for their turn, and settle minor conflicts.
  • Read to them often. Reading develops your child’s vocabulary and makes them want to learn to read. When your child looks at books with you, they gradually begin to make connections between the images and the words they hear and to recognize certain letters.
  • Name your child’s emotions to help them recognize and control them. For example, you might say “You’re happy to be going to the park with your cousin” or “Are you angry because your brother took your toy?” Also, encourage your child to name their emotions.
  • Stimulate their language skills by talking to them about aspects of their daily routine. You can ask them how daycare went, whether they have ideas on how to fix a small problem, or what they would do if they were the character in a story. This will teach your child to think and express their thoughts.
  • Practise counting different objects together (e.g., the steps as you go up or down a staircase, toy cars, fingers or toes). You can also compare the size of certain objects (e.g., larger, smaller, longer, shorter) and point out the shape of items around the house (e.g., circle, square, triangle).
  • Leave paper and pencils within your child’s reach so they can draw whenever they want. Drawing develops their creativity and familiarizes them with using a pencil. What’s more, it builds their hand-eye coordination and is helpful for learning to write.
  • Do outdoor activities with your child on a regular basis to get them moving. Children are on average twice as active when they’re outside. You can go for a walk, go to the park, play ball games, or play tag to get them moving in different ways and teach them to enjoy being active.
The brain at 5 years old: A small revolution
Between the ages of 4 and 5, the brain is undergoing an important transition. At age 4, the frontal lobe (which organizes behaviour and attention) experiences a strong growth spurt. The child becomes more aware of the world around them, enjoys making discoveries, and asks a lot of questions. The summer before their child starts school, parents often notice that their little one seems keen to learn. For example, they might stop playing with certain toys while taking an interest in other types of games.

The importance of not overdoing it

Up to the age of 6, playing is the most important activity for your child’s development and learning.

You might be tempted to teach your child the entire alphabet and several numbers before they enter kindergarten. However, ask yourself what your motives are. Is this really what your child wants or simply what you want?

If your child shows interest in letters and numbers, you can encourage them and teach them a few things (e.g., the letters in their first name, the numbers that represent their age and phone number) without doing so as a structured learning experience.

There is no need to teach your child to recognize letters and numbers if they aren’t interested. As a matter of fact, the kindergarten program for 4- and 5-year-olds indicates that children need only have learned to recognize and name the letters of the alphabet by the end of kindergarten for 5-year-olds.

Remember, kids need to play and have fun in early childhood—it’s how they learn. When they’re having fun, they feel happy and relaxed, which makes learning easier.

When a child’s education is overly focused on performance, the consequences are quick to follow. Some children may show signs of stress. For example, they may be more agitated or complain of headaches or stomach aches. Once in school, children who have already learned a lot about school subjects may also have less interest in learning because they’re bored.

Say positive things about school
This is another great way to help your child view school in a positive light. Tell them, for example, that they will have fun, make friends, and learn a lot of things at school. If they have any concerns, you can reassure them by telling them that there will always be adults to help them.

For more information, see these fact sheets:

Things to keep in mind

  • Many everyday activities help to ease the transition to kindergarten.
  • Play is the most important activity in terms of helping your child learn. It’s important to let them do things at their own pace, to avoid pushing them to learn, and to always make sure they’re having fun.
  • Getting your child used to doing things on their own, regularly reading stories to them about various topics, and helping them name their emotions are good ways to ease their transition to school.
Naître et grandir

Scientific review: Solène Bourque, psychoeducator
Research and copywriting:
The Naître et grandir team
Updated: March 2020

Photos: GettyImages/PeopleImages and kate_sept2004

Useful links and resources

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.

For parents

  • Bourque, Solène. Petit Loup entre à l’école. Éditions Midi trente, 2012, 96 pp.
  • Bourque, Solène. Petit Loup se sent bien à l’école. Éditions Midi trente, 2015, 96 pp.
  • Commission scolaire de la Riveraine. “Habiletés pour contribuer au développement global de l’enfant.www.csriveraine.qc.ca
  • Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development. “School readiness.” www.child-encyclopedia.com
  • Institut de la statistique du Québec. “2017 Québec Survey of Child Development in Kindergarten.” 2018, 126 pp. stat.gouv.qc.ca
  • Ministère de l’Éducation et de l’Enseignement supérieur du Québec. “Getting off to a good start at school!” education.gouv.qc.ca
  • Ministère de l’Éducation et de l’Enseignement supérieur du Québec. “Your child is starting kindergarten.education.gouv.qc.ca

For children

  • Llenas, Anna. Le monstre des couleurs va à l’école. Éditions des Quatre fleuves, 2019, 38 pp.
  • Pelletier, Dominique. Je suis capable, c’est la rentrée! Éditions Scholastic, 2015, 24 pp.