It's a day you've both dreaded and dreamed about: your child's first day of grade school. On the one hand, it's yet another sign that your baby is growing up and, wish as you might, you can't keep him tiny enough to fit in your arms forever. On the other hand, it's a rite of passage that starts the next chapter of your child's life - a chapter that will last the next 12 years and beyond. How children are introduced to this important step of childhood can impact their perception of school and education in general, so it's imperative that you prepare them appropriately.

Practice new skills

A few months or even a year before schoolstarts, you could introduce your child to the types of skillsand abilities that grade school will teach. In kindergarten, kids learn their ABCs, the ability to complete simple coloring projects, the spelling of their names, and the capacity to sit and listen as their teacher reads a story. These skills can be practiced in the safe environment of your home ahead of time so that when it comes time to participate in them at school, children aren't overwhelmed by the complexity of what's being asked of them.

Take a tour

The idea of school might be foreign to kids at first, especially if they're the sibling in the family or never participated in a preschool or daycare program. Kindergarten is a fairly low-pressure environment, but it can still be new and scary to kids that are unprepared for change. To introduce your child to this new environment in a non-threatening way, see if you can take him on a tourof the school a few weeks before the first day. Show him what a classroom looks like and introduce him to his teacher if you can. This allows him to see that you endorse this new adult as good and friendly, rather than a scary stranger.

Take them shopping

Let your kids get involved in the school preparation process. Take them shopping for their school supplies, letting them pick out what type of pencils, crayons, notebooks, etc. they want. Backpacks can be iconic symbols in a grade-school student's mind, so letting your child pick out a backpack that he or she likes can make that first day when they get to wear it even more exciting. Help them pack their backpacks with the supplies and let them guess what they might do with each implement. Get excited along with them and they'll be even more thrilled.

Talk to former kindergarteners

If the opportunity arises, you might have your child talk to an older sibling or other child who has recently completed their first year of grade school. Let them hear about the fun stories they get to hear, the toys they get to play with, and the games they play at recess. This should all help to build the excitement for school. However, you might do well to supervise the conversation so that the older child doesn't try to scare the younger one with wild tales or untrue horror stories.

As your child takes that big step of entering grade school, take a moment to think back on how far he (and you) has come. Entering school isn't just a momentous occasion for children; it's an achievement for parents, too. So while you're wiping away those nostalgic tears, remember to find time to celebrate.

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