Books to Get Little Ones Ready for School
First day jitters? Here are some great books to tackle all the different feelings that come with starting school.
A child’s first day of school is full of emotions for everyone involved. Some kids are excited, while others are terrified—this goes for the parents too, let’s be honest.
A new beginning is always a little scary, but there is plenty of time to help get your little one ready to take that next step. Part of this process is reading (and re-reading) a book that can help verbalize a child’s anxieties, provide a character surrogate the child can relate to, and give a child confidence to overcome those jitters.
We’ve selected books that focus on separation anxiety, books that help familiarize your kid with the school setting, and books with beloved familiar characters that can bring some comfort—and even excitement—as your family prepares for the big day.
by Audrey Penn
Chester Raccoon is scared to start school, but his mother shows him that her love is always there by kissing his hand and pressing it to his cheek. This sweet book is a classic, and great for any situation involving separation anxiety.
Follow-up: Make like Mrs. Raccoon, and do the same “kissing hand” routine from the book! If you want to get crafty, you can even trace your hands on paper, decorate with hearts, and exchange them.
by Lauren Child
Part of the Charlie and Lola series, this witty book follows the argument between Lola starting school and her big brother Charlie. Lola has a million outlandish reasons why she doesn’t need to go to school (our favorite is that she doesn’t need to learn to count past 10 because she can’t eat more than 10 cookies!), but she has a change of heart when Charlie tells her that her imaginary friend will need a buddy.
Follow-up: Some kids are more comfortable talking about unpleasant feelings if they’re talking about someone else feeling them. Being a “helper” is sometimes easier than being “brave.” So if your kid has an imaginary friend like Lola, or maybe even a lovey stowing away in their backpack, talk about how they will help their “friend” feel better about starting school, and they may just feel better about it too!
by Adam Rex
In a clever role reversal, the new school is the one experiencing first day jitters. Will the kids be nice? Will they like their new school? The janitor plays the parent role—first it’s just the two of them, then the janitor is explaining to the school how life will change, but that he’ll still be there at the end of the day. When the kids do come for their first day of school, one is scared and crying, which makes the school feel afraid too. Then the school gets to know the new kids, and both the school and the kids get more comfortable and happy.
Follow-up: The school’s feelings very much mirror a child’s feelings when starting school. But, much like the previous book about Lola’s imaginary friend, transferring those feelings to another character sometimes makes them easier to deal with. So, talk about how your child’s new school is nervous, too and take a tour together to get your kid (I mean the school, of course) more comfortable with their new surroundings.
by Deborah Diesen
The glum-turned-happy character from the popular series remembers starting school a long time ago, and feeling overwhelmed and discouraged by all the things bigger fish could do that he couldn’t. Then his “kinderguppy” teacher finds him and gives him this piece of wisdom: “You don’t have to know things you haven’t learned yet.” With confidence, he begins school.
Follow-up: Some kids are afraid of starting school because they view it as just a series of things they “can’t” do. Talk about something your child has learned how to do (even something simple like zipping his coat or saying her ABCs), and how at one point they couldn’t do that either. Maybe they remember what it was like to learn it, and feeling proud when they finally could. Ask what they are excited to learn at school. Also, check out this YouTube video where the book is set to music. It’s pretty catchy!
by Becky Friedman
As with all childhood struggles, Daniel Tiger comes through with a life lesson and accompanying song. Daniel and his friends miss their parents at school, but find ways to remember that they will see them at the end of the day. For Miss Elaina, it is her locket with a picture of her family. For Daniel, it’s drawing a picture of himself with his dad. And for everyone, of course, it’s singing “Grownups Come Back” over and over again. If you’re familiar with the show, you can probably sing right along.
Follow-up: This book is a straight adaptation of the Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood episode of same name, so go ahead and watch that on a loop, and while you’re at it, add in the episode where Daniel tours his new classroom (“Daniel Visits School”). For our little tiger, this book (and song) was probably the most helpful of them all for starting preschool. We even made her a little photo keychain to keep on her backpack with a family picture, mimicking Miss Elaina’s jewelry from the book.
by Jane Yolen and Mark Teague
This is a great book for teaching how to behave at school. The rhyming book asks readers whether a dinosaur would do things like disrupt class or treat classmates badly with funny drawings of all these scenarios. Inevitably, little kids will start yelling “no!” to each question, and the book eventually reaches this conclusion as well, showing all the good ways that a dinosaur would act in school. It’s a little silly, but the humor certainly helps take the pressure off, especially for dinosaur-obsessed kids.
Follow-up: Help get your kid ready for school by explaining how to behave in a classroom, and how it’s different from how we act at home. Why would it be hard to learn if kids acted like the dinosaur at the beginning of the book?
by James Dean and Eric Litwin
Pete is one cool cat—nothing ever bothers this guy! You may remember him from laughing off other misadventures— like losing the buttons off his coat or getting mud all over his new white shoes—with a catchy, repetitive, earworm of a song. This book is no different. We follow him to his new school, seeing places like the classroom, library, and lunchroom. With every new experience, “Does Pete worry? Goodness, no!” Instead he keeps rocking and singing his song!
Follow-up: First off, if your kid can’t get enough of Pete’s catchy song (notice how I said “your kid,” because you will absolutely have had enough of the song by the end of this book), you can download an mp3 of it from the Pete the Cat website! Sing the song on the way to school! No school shoes yet? Make a special trip to the shoe store (your kid needs new shoes for the school year anyway) to buy some special “school shoes” to give your kid confidence!
Finally, you can meet Pete the Cat at a special storytime featuring this very book at Please Touch Museum’s Kindergarten Mixer on August 1!
“The Night Before” books
by Natasha Wing
Natasha Wing has written a series of books in the style of “The Night Before Christmas” poem, but changing the words to describe the actions and feelings of The Night Before Preschool, The Night Before Kindergarten, and so on. These are nice little books to talk about all the different feelings that come with starting school. Some kids can’t sleep because they’re nervous, others can’t sleep because they’re excited!
Follow-up: Despite the title, don’t wait until the night before school to read this one, because you want to have plenty of time to talk about and work through the feelings discussed in the book. Talk about how the different kids get ready for school, and how sometimes people feel different feelings about the same thing, but that there is no “wrong” way to feel about starting school. The book talks about getting ready, and what to expect at school, which can help relieve some of the “night before” fear that can happen.
Photograph by Laura Swartz.