A Parent's Checklist for Entering First Grade

I don’t remember the first day of first grade but I have a list of fragmented memories of being a first grader. It was 1960 and my teacher was Mrs. Jax. I sat in the second row behind Evelyn Gregor and in front of Jimmy Hunker. We read from a Dick and Jane primer. Morning recess was at 10:15 am. Tuesdays meant I could eat my favorite hot lunch of Spaghetti and meatballs. Following afternoon recess at 2:20 pm. we had current events and the weekly reader. Mrs. Jax was always standing at the classroom door as we filed out of the classroom at 3:25 pm… Entering the first grade is a major developmental shift for parents and children alike. Essentially, it represents the beginning of a child’s academic career and the parent’s role as teacher becomes secondary to the institution of education. Formal education is of prime importance and the first grade experience lays the foundation for our children’s attitudes and expectations about being a student.

As children we learn some of our most phenomenal and incredible accomplishments without the help of any external motivation. We learn to walk, talk, and initiate with others because we are human. The human condition is such that we want to be social and interact in the world. We possess an intrinsic need to learn how to be connected to the external world. As we develop, we eventually become conditioned to react to others’ directions. Then, our interactions and choices become dependent on another person’s approval. As we become school age, the school environment becomes the external motivator that the young person attempts to please. Our early learning process becomes dependent on the match between ” the child and the school.” Therefore, it becomes critical that parents understand the learning style of their children and become active players in the formal education of their children.

We, as a society, essentially provide children one education from ages 5 through 18. During that time span, many challenging developmental tasks affect a child’s ability to learn. Our role as parents must turn to one of advocates for our children in their learning process. Clearly, the role of advocating evolves as the child ages. Regardless of the form our advocacy takes, our job is to help create a positive path of learning for our children that reflect our children’s individualized learning style. This is a tall order for parents!

Many children adapt well to the school environment and succeed in meeting the academic demands. In fact, the role of the parent steadily decreases with time and the child continues to thrive. Unfortunately, and in too many cases, the school institutions do not match the child’s human intrinsic need to learn. Therefore, because of the mismatch, and despite the good intentions of many excellent teachers, parents need to approach their child’s entrance into first grade with an eager willingness to positively challenge the system.

Below is a parent checklist for helping your child enter the first grade. The checklist includes practical “nitty-gritty” tips, suggestions that support the emotional well being of your child, and ideas and/or questions that will challenge you and the school.


  • Make sure your child is registered. If your child is attending the same school as the previous year, this may not be necessary. Are all health forms completed? Does the school have a list of emergency numbers? Does your child have specific medical needs and is the school properly informed? Is there a school nurse? If necessary, who will dispense medications?
  • Be clear about the date of the first day of school, starting time and length of the school day. Get information about the daily schedule.
  • Learn your child’s teacher’s name. Teach it your child with the correct pronunciation and how the teacher wants to be addressed. Where in the school is the teacher’s classroom?
  • Get information regarding food and drinks, snacks, etc. What does the school provide and what do you need to pack for your child? When is lunch? Can it be purchased and how much? Is the school aware of your child’s dietary needs?
  • Find out how the transportation to and from school works. Do students walk to school? Are you driving and dropping off? Is bussing involved? Is biking possible? There are safety precautions your child must become aware of and understand.
  • Does the school allow children inside the school prior to the first bell? If not, where does your child wait? Are there guidelines for after school pick-up?
  • What clothes will your child need to wear and do specific classes, like gym and art, have special requests?
  • Obtain a list of school materials that need to be purchased prior to the beginning of school? What specific materials does your child need for the first day of school?
  • Make certain your child has your telephone number and a small amount of change in his or her backpack!


  • Be positive about the beginning of school. Share fun, personal stories. Be optimistic.
  • Acknowledge the range of positive and negative feelings associated with beginning first grade. Do not set up unrealistic expectations.
  • Prior to the start of school, review with your child his or her strengths and accomplishments from the previous school year. Highlight the positive factors as a springboard to begin the new year.
  • Encourage your child to be open to new friends and try new activities.
  • If your child is new to the school, attempt to find another child in the neighborhood who will be in your child’s class. Try to arrange a play date prior to the beginning of school.
  • If possible, visit the school prior to the first day of school. Meet the teacher and let your child ask any questions he or she may have. Tour the school and introduce yourself and your child to other school personnel.
  • Get in the pattern of talking about school and listening to your child’s successes and failures.
  • Remind your child whom he or she can go to if problems arise.
  • Some children benefit from having a “transitional object” that he or she can take to school as a reminder of home. Place a friendly note in your child’s backpack.


  • What kind of learner is your child? How does your child learn best and in what kind of circumstances does he or she shine? Is your child a group learner or solitary learner? Is your child a constant questioner, requires hands-on materials, prefers repetition. Create a thumbnail sketch that describes your child’s approach to learning tasks.
  • Become a student of the school’s academic curriculum and general approach to teaching. What are the reading and math programs? Why does your school system favor any particular trend in teaching? Then, determine, for example, if the school reading program is a good match for your child’s style of learning?
  • Ask questions of the school principal to determine a proper classroom fit. What is the teacher’s style? What are the group dynamics of the classroom students? How do these qualities mesh with your child’s personality?
  • Are computers integrated into your child’s learning experience, and if so, how? What other technological advancements is your school engaged in?
  • What are the extra-curricular strengths of the school and how do they match your child’s interests?
  • What support services are provided at the school? How are they obtained?
  • If your child faces specific learning difficulties, how will the school assess the problems and provide support?
  • Remember, advocacy for your child’s education must be proactive and not only result from negative situations that occur.

When your child enters the first grade, the child’s world becomes larger. The world of learning becomes serious business. The anticipation of entering first grade is marked with great excitement and healthy worry. As parents, we do what is necessary to prepare our children for this major transition in life. Nurturing the child’s mind is a human priority!