First Day of School

Ages 3-6

  Curator Rebekah K.

Curator Rebekah K.

Why I Built This Kit

Excitement (and sometimes a bit of anxiety) fill the air on the first day of a new school year. A new pencil, a new eraser, a new lunchbox, and a new teacher make some children skip happily into the classroom. The unknown: Who will I sit by? Where is the bathroom? What if I need my parent? 

My family moved to a new city the summer before I entered kindergarten and I was thrilled to have my favorite Auntie Marsha as my teacher. I didn’t face the pre-kindergarten angst I see in some kindergarteners every August, I knew I’d learn to read in this classroom. Auntie Marsha got down on the floor with us to sing & act out songs and stories. I left kindergarten with two souvenirs: the ability to read and a scar in the palm of my hand -- the boy next to me stabbed my hand with a pencil. I’ll never forget Mahmoud.

Twenty years after my kindergarten career ended, I was back in kindergarten as a caretaker and tour guide at the sight of America’s First Kindergarten.  

Talk About It

Many children are worried about the first day of school. In addition to fears that there will be no friends, or they will embarrass themselves in some way, children are worried about the unknown and sometimes concerned that parents will forget to return for them. Anxiety is normal and many children need help knowing how to deal with their worries. Although you may feel sad when your child exhibits anxiety, it is important to remember that your child does not choose to feel anxiety.

If you are concerned that your child is facing separation anxiety, reassure him / her that you are returning for him / her. You may want to talk to your pediatrician, your child’s kindergarten / preschool teacher, and family members about ways to reassure your child and put his / her worries to rest.     

  • Child psychologist, Renee Clausell, advises that you talk with your child about the new experiences and traditions. You could ask your child how he / she feels about events and items at school, “_____ will be at school, is that a sad thing or a happy thing? Why?”
  • List together the new experiences your child will have in school: morning and lunch routines, using a backpack and cubby for storing supplies, story time, etc. and answer questions your child has about kindergarten.
  • Create family traditions for drop off and pick up such as a special song or saying.
  • Author Elizabeth Pantley suggests sharing a “magic bracelet” with your child. This should be a small bracelet that is sturdy enough to be worn during play throughout the school year. When sharing it with your child, remind him / her that this bracelet is for them to remember how much you love him / her. Pantley also suggests having one or two backup bracelets, in case one gets lost.
  • Pantley advises planning some time together so you and your child have something to look forward to after a day of separation. This after-school time could include time to listen to him / her tell about the day, reading a book together, or a walk.
  • Don’t Go! by Zalben suggests allowing your child to choose a family picture to place in his / her cubby at school.

Let's Read About School: First Day Jitters


Noni is Nervous by Heather Hartt-Sussman, illus. by Genevieve Cote

Ages 2-5

Noni is nervous about playdates, and global warming, and most of all, about the first day of school. Her parents are worried too, and even her brother is a little wary. But Noni finds a friend, someone a little more outgoing than herself, and discovers that through friendship, she can belong and succeed in a world that once filled her with dread. [Amazon]


A Few Blocks by Cybele Young

Ages 4-8

Ferdie doesn’t want to go to school, but go to school he must, and fortunately his imaginative older sister Viola paves the way. First she urges him to put on his rocket blaster boots, which enable him to leave the house. When he stalls again she convinces him to take command of a ship in search of buried treasure, and at the next meltdown, she tells him that as a knight, his duty is to fight the fierce fire-breathing dragon who has stolen the princess. But then it is Viola’s turn to fall apart, and Ferdie, following her example, draws on his own inner resources and imagination to keep them on their way. [Amazon]

Award: Elizabeth Mrazik-Cleaver Canadian Picture Book Award


Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes

Ages 3-6

Wemberly the mouse worries about everything: big things, like whether her parents might disappear in the middle of the night; little things, like whether she'll spill grape juice on her toy rabbit, Petal; and things in between, like whether she might shrink in the bathtub. What she is more worried about than anything else, however, is her first day at the New Morning Nursery School: "What if no one else has spots? What if no one else wears stripes? What if no one else brings a doll? What if the teacher is mean? What if the room smells bad?" Happily, Miss Peachum introduces her to a kindred spirit right away. Jewel doesn't have spots, but she is wearing stripes and holding a doll. As Wemberly plays with her new friend, she still worries, but no more than usual. ("And sometimes even less.") (Amazon)

Lexile: 170 AD

Awards: ALA Notable Children's Books; School Library Journal Best Books

I Am Not Going to School Today! by Robbie H. Harris, illustrated by Jan Ormerod

Ages 4-6

The first day of school is a daunting prospect, best avoided. For starters, how's a kid supposed to know the names of the other kids, where the crayons are, or what kind of juice might be available? And how could a person possibly leave his or her favorite toy monkey at home all by itself? The boy protagonist in Harris' winning first-day-of-school tale decides the night before class that he will not go to school but will instead wait until the second day, when there aren't so many unanswered questions. With a bit of gentle prodding, however, his parents finally get him to school--but not without the company of his sidekick monkey, Hank. Once there, of course, the experience is happily demystified, and he learns everything there is to know about kids, crayons, juice, and more. Children with first-day jitters will take comfort in this story, which shows that the first day of school can actually be fun. Ormerod's colorful, expressive illustrations capture a child's anxiety and the warmth of family with equal success. (Booklist)


First Day by Dandi Daley Mackall, illustrated by Tiphanie Beeke

Ages 3-7

Two tiny black dots and a rosebud-shaped squiggle turn a pink daub of paint into a child's happy face; rectangles of different colors become a tower of blocks; unrestricted lines, straight and curved, thick and thin, comprise a playground slide. Using spot art and full-page watercolors in a riot of color, a perfusion of shapes, and simple patterns, Beeke shows children enjoying all the activities they might experience at preschool or kindergarten. A childlike lilt adds a youthful sensibility to a little girl's description of her first day--from preparations ("Pencils sharp, crayons stacked, / ruler, scissors, paper packed) and the "swallow hard" anxiety of leaving home and facing strangers to the wiggling, painting, sliding, and storytelling that fill out a happy, full day. A cheerful, encouraging preview that realistically acknowledges both the feelings and the fun. (Booklist)


Sumi’s First Day of School Ever by Soyung Pak, illustrated by Joung Un Kim

Ages 4-8

The first day of school can be lonely and scary, especially when you don't speak the same language as everyone else. Sumi only knows one phrase in English, "Hello, my name is Sumi." This doesn't seem nearly enough to prepare her for a big school with wide stairs, noisy children, and a mean classmate. From the author of the Ezra Jack Keats Award winner Dear Juno comes this thoughtful picture book about a young Korean girl on her first day of school. Beautiful, expressive illustrations show how a considerate teacher and even a new friend help Sumi discover that school might not be so lonely after all. (Amazon)

Let's Read About Preschool


Don’t Go! by Jane Breskin Zalben

Ages 2-3

The title refers to the cry of Daniel the elephant, facing his first day at preschool. He sobs and hides behind his mother. But she knows precisely what to do: rather than be a cheerleader for the experience, she calmly and patiently lets Daniel work through his feelings, reassures him that she will always come back and they share their special goodbye. Mollified and fortified, Daniel joins the group. He gleefully spouts water through his trunk at the water table, and "When he looked up, his mother was gone." In both her words and meticulous watercolor illustrations, Zalben painstakingly lays out the arc of the day. Like Daniel's mother, she does not beat the drum for preschool, yet clearly communicates that it's filled with nice new friends and seemingly endless options for fun. She also honestly conveys how Daniel begins to fall apart when he isn't the first to be picked up at day's end. The book concludes with some common-sense preschool adjustment tips from Zalben's editor. Children on the verge of experiencing this milestone should find plenty of reassurance in the steady rhythm of the prose and the tableaux-styled pictures. Ages 2-4. (Publishers Weekly)


It’s Time for Preschool by Esme Raji Codell

Ages 2-5

Hooray! It's time to go to preschool. And that means it's time for . . .Having fun, Making friends, Learning about the world, Sharing with others, Using your manners, Playing games, Running, jumping, and swinging Imagining and creating, Snacks and naps, Drop-off and pick-up More, more, more! (Barnes & Noble)

Let’s Read About Kindergarten


Countdown to Kindergarten by Alison McGhee

Ages 3-7

It's just ten days before kindergarten, and this little girl has heard all there is to know--€”from a first grader--about what it's going to be like. You can't bring your cat, you can't bring a stuffed animal, and the number one rule? You can't ask anyone for help. Ever. So what do you do when your shoes come untied, if you're the only one in the class who doesn't know how to tie them up again? (Barnes & Noble)

Lexile: 380

Award: Minnesota Book Awards


Mom, It’s My First Day of Kindergarten by Hyewon Yum

Ages 3-5

Yum, known for using text and artwork to explore emotions (There Are No Scary Wolves, 2010, etc.), looks at the first day of school from two points of view--that of a little boy who is more than ready and a nervous mother not quite prepared to let him go. The author's watercolors are the true standout here, the colors and relative sizes of the characters masterfully conveying their emotions--many spreads could stand on their own without the text at all. Readers first see the pair when the 5-year-old shakes his mother awake on the firstdayof school; he is huge and pink-faced, towering over his tiny mother, who is blue-faced and cowering in the bed. As the text enumerates her worries (that he won't have time to eat, she forgot some vital supply, he'll be late, he'll get lost, he won't have any friends), the exuberant boy's facial expressions, body language and oral responses counter her fears…until they reach his classroom door, and their sizes and colors flip. He quickly gets over it and has a great day at school, greeting his blue-toned mother exuberantly at dismissal, and the two, regular sizes and colors again now that they have survived the day, reunite and share the day's events. Yum has perfectly captured the emotional ups and downs of both parent and child in a visually expressive work that will shore up adults as they send their children off on that momentous day. (Kirkus, starred review)

Award: Ezra Jack Keats Award


Eliza’s Kindergarten Surprise by Alice B. McGinty, illus. by Nancy Speir

Ages 3-5

McGinty (Ten Little Lambs ) offers a twist on a well-worn solution to separation anxiety. The imaginary parental-kiss-in-a-child’s-pocket is meant to soothe and comfort on the first day of school, but to Eliza, “her pocket felt empty, too empty inside,” after her mother slips a pretend kiss inside it. The new kindergartener then goes through the day collecting various items in the pocket of her jumper (which has a symbolic pink heart appliqué on the outside) that remind her of Mommy: “she found a pebble, smooth and bright like Mommy’s skin.” With the pocket full, but her heart still feeling empty, Eliza finally uses her assorted treasures to craft a miniature clothespin doll resembling her mother. While few five-year-olds could independently create such a clever stand-in, the message here is one of resourcefulness and perseverance. Speir’s illustrations are rendered in cheery, uplifting colors, with a vibrant yellow backing many of the spreads. A spare, cartoon quality evokes an easygoing, childlike feel. The reassuring penultimate scene of Eliza’s mother withdrawing a photo of her daughter from her own suit pocket ably demonstrates to apprehensive students-to-be that their parents, too, have homesick feelings and similar ways of coping. (Publisher’s Weekly)

Finger Play, Poems, and Songs

Finger Play : Ready for School

Two little houses all closed up tight

(make fists)

Open up the window and let in the light

(open fist)

Ten little finger people tall and straight

(ten fingers)

Ready for school at half past eight

(walk with fingers)



Poem : Two More Days Till School

by Leslie Kimmelman

I'm finally going to school this year,

and now the big day's almost here.

I'll learn to write and count and read--

Only two more days till school.

I got new pants and shirts and socks,

a brand-new red and blue lunch box;

I'll paint and sing and dance and play--

Only one more day till school.

My hair is washed, my sneakers squeak,

I'm so excited, I can hardly speak!

New things to do, new friends to meet--

Hooray! It's the first day of school!


Games & Apps

Dora the Explorer: First Day at School

Ages 4 and 5

Dora helps your child with the essential kindergarten skills of counting and estimation with lively games and colorful graphics.


First Day of School Countdown

Developer: Appracadabra (iTunes Cost: $0.99)

“How many days unitl I have to go to school?” Help your child keep track of time and prepare for this big event by counting down from day 7. Mark off the days in a fun loving way and take a moment each day to talk about going to school.

“First Day of School Countdown” is great for kids that first start preschool -- and for older kids who can’t wait to get back to school after a holiday.

Personalize the app by taking your child’s picture, fill out his / her name and the date school starts -- then put your device away. You’ll get a reminder 8 days before the big day so you won’t forget to start counting down.

“First Day of School Countdown” is illustrated by Dutch illustrator and mom, Caroline Ellerback of Homemade Happiness.”


Owen’s First Day of School

By Hoa Ton-that (iTunes Cost: $0.99)

With colorful illustrations and accessible text, early readers help Owen get ready for his first day of school & follow him as he makes friends on the bus and moves through his day.


Franklin Goes to School

Franklin eagerly anticipates his first day of school. After a special breakfast and first-day-of-school picture, Franklin’s parents reassure him about his anxieties. Franklin and his pals share their fears: is there a bathroom? what if the teacher yells? what if the teacher asks me to spell chrysanthemum? Mr. Owl, the teacher, turns out to be a kind, fun, teacher and Franklin had a great first day.

Sesame Street: First Day of School 

Kermit brings us the news report on the first day of school. Cookie Monster talks about his fear during his interview so Kermit and the other characters reassure him that he is not the only one to be afraid. What will Kermit do when the teacher mistakes him for one of the students?

Family Experience

Memory Making

Help build first day of school excitement with a first day of school time capsule. Open the time capsule at the end of the school year or before next school year, to add updates.

For a family time capsule, you will need:

  • A container: a lunch box, scrapbook with pockets, or an oatmeal container you decorate together
  • Different colors of yarn or ribbon
  • Scissors
  • Measuring tape or ruler
  • Paper and colored pencils, markers, or crayons
  • Favorite things

What to do:

  1. Use a different color of yarn or ribbon to measure the height of everyone in the family, including pets. Label each piece with name, height, and date.
  2. Use a different colored pencil or marker to trace the hand of everyone in the family, including pets who can participate. Start with the smallest hand in the center of the paper, then add the next size of hand, so all hands nest. Label each hand with name and date.
  3. Conduct an interview with your child & record their answers. You can ask specific questions, such as:
    • What is your favorite number, color, cereal, toy, game, etc.
    • What do you think or hope you will learn at school this year?
    • Where do you hope you’ll go on a field trip this school year?
    • Who do you think you’ll sit next to at school this year? or Who do you hope to invite to play at the park with us the weekend before / after school starts?
  4. Ask your child to draw pictures to accompany the interview.
  5. Write a family letter, giving every family member an opportunity to write or draw on the family letter. Include favorite summer memories, plans for school breaks, family traditions for going to school, etc.
  6. Create a first day of school breakfast menu and ask your child to draw the pictures next to each item.
  7. Take first day of school pictures to include in the time capsule. One picture in first day outfits, one picture with special pets or toys, one picture with the entire family, one picture in front of the house, one picture in front of the school, one picture with the teacher or friends in the same class. Make sure the backpack or lunch box get in at least one picture so you can be reminded of what it looked like.
  8. Other items to include: a coin with this year’s date, the front page of a local newspaper or a magazine your family reads together, a favorite summer t-shirt that has been outgrown, a lock of hair collected after end-of-summer hair cuts (label it), ticket stubs from an back-to-school family event (movie, fair, concert). What else can you think of to include?
  9. Tuck everything in, with any notes, and place it somewhere, like the bookshelf in your child’s bedroom so you can open at the end of the year and include new information and some favorite school items from the year.

You can also use an app, like Elmer’s First Day, to record first day of school pictures and photos of special things from the first day of school like your breakfast menu, drawings of favorite things, the front page of the day’s newspaper, the school, new friends, etc.  

Elmer’s First Day

Celebrate your child’s 1st Day of School with Elmer’s FREE 1st DayTM app. Every school year is an adventure; so make that very first, exciting and anticipated moment last with photos worth sharing.

  • CAPTURE - snap photos of your kids on their 1st day of school from preschool to high school and beyond.
  • CREATE - Personalize each memory with quotes or captions, and organize them by date, child or album.
  • SHARE - Give friends and family something to smile about with access to your favorite photo memories.

Works in tandem with 1st Day site: -- where you can safely share slide shows and other 1st Day memories with family and close friends to create a secure 1st Day Community.

For every photo uploaded, Elmer’s will donate one product to the Kids In Need Foundation, and is proud to help with a donation of up to 200,000 products. (iTunes)

(iTunes and Google PlayFree)


Some of the basic skills children need in Kindergarten include counting, making estimates, knowing colors and shapes, and being able to distinguish between natural items and man-made items. Check with your child’s school to see what Kindergarten-readiness activities are available at the school. You can help your child feel confident about heading to school by helping him / her become familiar with skills that he / she will experience in the coming year.

Count together: to 5, 10, 100, and Count by 2s and 5s

Estimate It!

What you will need:

  • paper
  • pens or markers
  • cups (a clear glass)
  • warm water
  • sugar
  • salt
  • chalk
  • baking soda
  • solid food coloring tablets
  • “AlkaSeltzer” tablet
  • instant coffee granuals
  • a clock / stop watch

What to do:

  1. Choose an item that will dissolve in water.
  2. Draw two clocks on the paper.
  3. Estimate, or predict, how long it will take to dissolve that item in water & record your estimate on the first clock.
  4. Dissolve the item in water, timing how long it takes to dissolve, and record the actual amount of time it took to dissolve on the second clock.
  5. Determine the time difference between the estimate and the actual amount of time needed & discuss the difference.


Extension: Ask “Do you think it would take more or less time for salt, coffee, etc. to      dissolve?” “Why” or “Why not?” Then try it, recording & comparing the results. Ask, “Do you think the temperature of the water makes a difference in the time it takes to dissolve ____ (item)?” “Why?” or “Why not?” Then try it, recording & comparing the results. Ask, “Is there anything we could do to make _____ (item) dissolve more quickly or more slowly?” “What?” Then try it, recording & comparing the results.

Create a chart together, of how long it took for different items to dissolve or how long it took to dissolve with different conditions.

Afterward: Ask, “What did we learn together?” and “What other things could we estimate?”

Mom of three, Jamie, at Hands On As We Grow, has a similar experiment, predicting which items will dissolve and which items will not dissolve.

You can estimate in the neighborhood by asking questions and then finding out if you are correct.

“Can you estimate / predict how many steps from here to the corner?”

“Can you estimate how many items are in the grocery cart?”

“Can you estimate how long it will take to walk to the park?”

Then count or time it to compare the estimate to the actual number or time.

Always encourage attempts and remind your child that an estimate does not have to be exact, it can be close.


Color Match-Up

Use an app, like Learn Your Colors, by Appracadabra ($1.99 from iTunes) to identify colors in the neighborhood. Learn Your Colors allows you to take pictures of items with your iPhone or iPad so your child can identify the colors. Together, you and your child can go on a color-hunt to find the first item in anyone of the 23 colors this app features, from red, yellow, blue, and green to shades of red, yellow, blue, and green.


The Shape Game

What you will need:

  • A “shape bag” or box to keep items in
  • Items from around the house, neighborhood, and playroom in basic shapes (you could choose some pictures with these shapes in them, also): circle, triangle, square, rectangle, star and others you want to review

What to do:

  1. Start by asking your child, “What is your favorite shape?” Give him / her time to answer, then ask him / her, “Can you find something in this room that is that shape?” When he / she has found the item, ask him / her to help you put the item in the shape bag.
  2. Ask your child, “What other shapes do you think we can find in the shape bag today?” Then pull out one item and let your child identify the shape. Ask, “What is different about these two shapes?” or “How are the square and circle different?” Help him / her identify the ways in which shapes are different or are similar.
  3. Alternately, you could keep just one item at a time in the shape bag and let your child feel the item through the bag and try to identify the shape by feel.
  4. Continue talking about and finding numbers, colors, and shapes as you walk and ride around your neighborhood. Make a point of asking, “Is that something from nature or something that people made?” and “How can you tell?”

Additional Resources


Twenty Big Trucks in the Middle of the Street by Mark Lee, illustrated by Kurt Cyrus

Ages 3-5

When an ice cream truck breaks down, a truck traffic jam ensues: the perfect attraction for the vehicle-obsessed in this captivating counting book. From cement mixer to garbage truck, the trucks pile up--and so does the crowd--as a young bicyclist names and numbers the vehicles in rhyming text. "I start to count each truck I see. / First 1, then 2, and now there are 3." The use of numerals in the text encourages number recognition and creates a matching game, while spelled numbers are used when appropriate. The yellow-helmeted boy weaves through the action until the solution is clear: the crane truck! His idea saves the day, and with traffic flowing once more, all ends on a deliciously sweet note. Digital illustrations done in a muted pastel palette present an amiable city block as Cyrus takes readers on a cinematic tour ofthe locale. His strength is in how he uses the boy's point of view to expand readers' understanding ofthe environment, allowing both character and readers to find an answer to the problem. Various perspectives capture the imagination, but thetrucks are the real stars ofthe show. Truck-lovers will beg for repeat reads, with little ones "reading along" from memory. (Kirkus, Starred Review)

This is one of the best counting books we've ever encountered. Our pre-reader loves the rhymes and trucks and our reader pores over the beautiful details of the city streetscapes. It's a truck/counting book that doesn't condescend and is enjoyable for everyone, child and parent. Andrea M., Zoobean Curator


How Many Seeds in a Pumpkin? by Margaret McNamara, illustrated by G. Brian Karas Ages 3-7

The smallest boy in class learns an important lesson about size in this delightful tale that combines a boost in self-esteem and a math lesson. Charlie loves everything about school except lining up by size—he is always the smallest. One fall day, his teacher presents the class with three pumpkins: small, medium and large. They must predict how many seeds are in each, then do the messy but fun work of removing the seeds. For homework, they think of how they should count them all. One group counts by twos, one by fives and Charlie counts the smallest pumpkin's seeds by tens. The final tally is a surprise to everyone, with a not-so-subtle message that "Small things can have a lot going on inside them." A page of pumpkin facts will have readers wanting to grow their own pumpkins. Karas's watercolors charmingly portray Mr. Tiffin's busy class hard at work, but having fun learning. The children's faces vividly express the wide range of reactions to pumpkin guts, as well as Charlie's uncertainty about being the smallest. This will resound well with elementary-school teachers, who will find it useful for teaching prediction, skip counting and even beginning multiplication. (Kirkus)

Lexile: 550 AD



Monsters Love Colors by Mike Austin

Ages 3-6

Take four little gray monsters, introduce them to three bigger monsters who are bright blue, intense red, and shiny yellow, and your result is a joyously messy lesson in primary colors. The colorful monster trio keeps asking their gray friends the same question: “What new favorite color can we make for you?” Following each reply, the bigger monsters show how mixing two primary colors can result in the magic of a new color, and the gray monsters are thereby transformed. Taking a cue from the bigger beasts, the little ones splash around in the colors like kids splashing in puddles. They scribble with crayons and slop paints, and these wild bursts of color fill the book, both endorsing and giving an object lesson in coloring-outside-the-lines experimentation. The book ends in a several-page explosion of color—until a rainbow appears to set things (sort of) straight again. About as much fun as monsters, or kids, can have learning their colors. (BookList)



I Spy Shapes in Art by Lucy Micklethwait

Ages 3-5

Micklethwait's contributions to the literature of art appreciation for children are many; here she uses the "I Spy" format to encourage youngsters to seek out particular shapes in reproductions of paintings. The 19th- and 20th-century works are mostly European and American in origin. Georgia O'Keeffe, Henri Matisse, M. C. Escher, and Andy Warhol are among the artists represented. A colorful, clean design is coupled with a large font, making this a book that new readers will be able to enjoy independently. Captions with titles and artists are provided below the text. A list of locations and dates of the paintings is appended. The author's foreword suggests simple ideas for using this vibrant volume. (School Library Journal)

About Rebekah K.

An insomniac since 1979, Rebekah has filled her nights with books & history. Rebekah's earliest memories are of watching documentaries, reading books, and playing Candy Land late at night with her dad. Is it any wonder that she doesn't consider being a librarian and teacher a job? During her fifteen years, in college and K-12 libraries and 10 years in English, ESL, and History classrooms, she has spent her days talking about books and history, sometimes at the same time. Rebekah says, "I love pairing readers with books that are a perfect fit. I feel like I have won a war when a reluctant reader returns to tell me they hated reading; but, after reading a book I recommended, they stay up with a flashlight to read until the page is blurry."