Preparing for School, In and Out of a Pandemic

What I love best about children ages 3 to 5 is that they are most often uninhibited, happy and busy. They are known to embrace you in a spontaneous hug, or sometimes an unwelcome shove if they don’t know how to use their words yet. They are tactile, physical and emotional beings by definition at this stage of life. It will be difficult to teach them social distancing.

I know that all entities that are preparing to hold school in the fall are making every effort to think outside of the box to keep your children safe during the pandemic. I am going to offer some basic “school readiness” tips that you can work on now to help your child, and you, better navigate the school setting in general and during these challenging times. Helping to teach your child these self-help skills will not only keep them healthier, but also foster their independence so they can concentrate on acquiring new school skills.

Hand washing: I have experienced students ages 2.5 up to 5 in varying stages of knowing how to wash their hands. A lot of them will simply put their hands under the faucet waiting for me to turn the water on and wash their hands for them. I teach them. Help your child get ahead in this basic necessity by showing them how to get soap from a dispenser, rub their hands together vigorously on palms, top of hands and between fingers then turn on the water and continue washing vigorously until the soap is rinsed. The recommended minimum time for hand washing is 20 seconds or singing the ABC’s slowly also. Drying hands is part of cleaning hands so show your child how to thoroughly dry their hands with a paper towel.

Teach your child how to use the bathroom: This can be challenging at 2.5 as many children have just started potty training, but the less a teacher has to help them, the less contact they will have to have. Provide your child with clothes that are easiest for them to maneuver, especially elastic waistbands. Belts, snaps, buttons, zippers and tights are just unnecessary obstacles while they are potty training. They must wash their hands every time after using the bathroom.

Following directions: The more your child is amenable to following the directions of their teachers and getting along with peers the smoother their day will go. Teach them the manners of respect, saying please and thank you and encourage them to ask questions when they need help or do not understand something. Your child should already be learning to respect you so help them to transfer these skills to the new adults that will be supporting their development.

The new socializing: Help your child to begin (and I am sure everyone has already been working on this) to understand the six feet rule. Practice at home with each other, fostering the use of words and asking thorough questions, raising hands to get the adult’s attention. Help them to get comfortable wearing a mask – get some fun ones for them! And practice wearing them. Another tip is to teach your child to keep their hands held behind their back while wandering the classroom or outside to remind them not to touch their friends or their own faces.

Food and Sleep:  These are so important. Make sure your child has a bedtime that works for getting up in time for school. Consider if your child needs a bit of playtime at home or if they are procrastinators in getting dressed, etc. Make sure they eat a solid breakfast that includes some sort of protein. Sugary breakfasts should be saved for the weekend. If you pack a snack for your child, again, provide healthy options such as cheese, fruit, veggies or nuts and multi-grain proteins to support their flow of energy.

Morning routine: Have one. Routines at home foster the routines of school. As your child grows, they will need to have healthy patterns of routines for getting homework finished and other time management skills.  It often helps to have clothes picked out the night before.  Have your child get dressed (or help them begin learning to dress themselves) before breakfast.  It also usually helps to have snacks or lunches prepared the night before.

More on clothing: Figuring out what to wear each day presents a challenge for even the most organized. For those especially fashion-minded children, I recommend that parents keep only a few choices within reach of these children during each school week. If there are too many choices of fancy, cute clothes, getting dressed becomes more like dress-up, which is super fun, but a time-sucker when you need to get out the door.

Keep a calendar: A big paper one that the whole family can see and add to. Look at the calendar each week with your child to help them begin learning the days of the week and to be able to look forward to special events. This also keeps everyone on the same page with each other’s schedules.

The earlier you establish these routines the easier starting school will be for your child.

Jill Carstens is a proud Denver native, a passionate mom and a teacher her entire adult life! She picked North Denver as her home base in 1997, and has run Milestones Preschool here since 2011. If you have ideas for an article or further questions for Miss Jill, you can email her at


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