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I’m not really the worrying type, but we’re sending our child off to kindergarten in the fall, and thanks to Covid, none of us have ever seen the inside of the building (except during a “virtual tour”). We met the teacher online, but that’s about it. It’s a big school (K-8), and the whole thing just feels overwhelming. How do we get our kid feeling comfortable and ready to roll?

Partially Panicked

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Kate McGovern

Kate McGovern is EdNavigator’s Editorial Director, a children’s author, and mom to a preschooler and an infant. She cannot remember her last full night of sleep.

Dear Partially Panicked,

I get it. This is such a tough situation for parents, especially when our kids are JUST starting school and we want everything to get off to a good start for them. Our family is in a very similar situation. My four-year-old will be off to pre-K in the fall, and we haven’t been in the building except to vote! I’m hardly an expert—just another parent muddling along—but I can share some strategies we’re using in our home.

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Talk a lot about the transition to “big kid” school. We’re really trying to bill this transition as an exciting one (because it is!) and not over-focus on the fact that she isn’t familiar with the building itself. I think, honestly, that’s a larger concern for us as adults than it is for the kids. There are a lot of fun books that address the start of school, so that’s always a nice way to ease into the conversation. (If your kid likes Daniel Tiger, there are many great school-themed episodes available through PBS Kids, and Llama Llama has a back-to-school episode available on YouTube Kids, too.)

Visit the outdoor space regularly. We can’t go inside the building, but no one said we couldn’t stalk the outside, right? If you’re lucky enough to be nearby, I’d try to make this a semi-regular thing. Is there a playground on site? If so, start playing there, so your child gets familiar with it and starts to feel like it’s their usual playground.

Ask a lot of questions. When we had a chance to talk to our daughter’s new teacher on Zoom, we had a list of questions. (It was a pretty long list, I’ll admit. I suspect pre-K and kindergarten teachers are used to this, and if they’re not, well, they should be.) Your questions are probably different from ours, but here are some examples that might be relevant: Since this is a large school with a wide age range, how are the spaces separated? How much interaction is there between younger and older students, and how is that time structured and supervised? Where is the bathroom for my child’s classroom? How will they enter and exit the building? Can we go inside with them at the start of school, now that Covid restrictions are somewhat more relaxed? Speaking of Covid restrictions, what safety precautions are still in place? What’s the deal with masks? Are teachers required to be vaccinated? The answers to these questions might or might not give you comfort, but at least you’ll have answers. I highly recommend making a list of your own questions and setting up time to talk through them with the teacher before the start of the school year, if at all possible.

Connect with other families. Can you get a class email list from the teacher? (Or, if not, are they willing to email everyone with addresses hidden, and ask anyone who wants to meet other families to reply to the list?) Playground meetups over the summer are a great way to form friendships that will make your child feel more comfortable heading off to school.

Check out Camp Kinda, Jr. We’ve got some suggestions for other school prep activities over at Camp Kinda, Jr. (and big kid options at Camp Kinda, too).