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Preparing young children for the first day of school

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Getting ready for school is an event that parents face with mixed emotions.

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Practicing school routines and activities before the school year begins can help ease students' and parents' minds.

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"It brings a sense of excitement about our children's development and new experiences to come; a sense of loss because our children are growing up; a sense of helplessness because we are no longer in control; perhaps apprehension because we will not be there to protect them," said Cathy Beard, family support specialist with the Early Childhood Center at the Indiana Institute for Disability and Community at Indiana University.

For parents of children with disabilities, these feelings may be even more intense.

"Planning now for that transition will help restore a measure of control, and will alleviate some of the anxiety we may feel the day our children go off to school," said Beard, who offers the tips below.

  • Build up the big day. "Always talk about school in a positive way," Beard said. Reading books about going to school and making new friends, circling the date on the calendar, and planning a special family outing to celebrate going to school can help build enthusiasm, she said.
  • Practice, practice, practice. Beard suggests taking a bus ride and talking about bus rules, visiting the new school and playing on the grounds, carrying a backpack with a book or two inside, and packing lunchbox picnics throughout the summer.
  • Assess self-help skills. Things like putting on and taking off outerwear, tying shoes and using table manners are essential skills for an independent school day, Beard said. Also make sure your child has experience using public restrooms.
  • Establish a sleep schedule you can follow during the school year. Remember to allow extra time in the morning for everyone to get ready, Beard said. Gradually moving toward the bedtime you'll use during the school year will help your child adjust. "Do this early so it is not viewed by your child as a drawback to going to school," she said.

Visit the Early Childhood Center online at Additional information is available from the Early Childhood Meeting Place, which contains resources for families of all young children,, and the Family to Family website at

To read more articles from the Indiana Institute on Disability and Community, visit