Six Ways to Prepare Your Toddler for School Success

If you attended a graduation in the spring, you may have wondered how the valedictorian got to be so successful in school. Many of us casually chalk it up to good parenting. That, it turns out, is a pretty good hunch. The routines and boundaries parents establish for their children make a lasting impact on their social-emotional wellbeing and on their ability to perform well in school and in life. For hints about setting up helpful routines and boundaries, we can look to schools themselves. Schools are set up for success. They create an environment that makes it easy for kids to learn and have fun. Parents can use the conventions teachers have been using for generations to inform their parenting and increase their child’s chances of success.

A Flexible Routine

If you’ve ever visited a preschool or kindergarten class, you have witnessed a routine that sets kids up for success: come in, wash your hands, drop your belongings in your cubby, circle time... Kids feel safe when they know what to expect. They are able to cope better with unexpected challenges, which makes more room for learning and fun. When they know their role and experience success, they are more likely to take an opportunity to help out in ways that benefit the whole group. Make a routine that includes time for your child to play, explore, and make her own choices.

Meals that Matter

Meal times are one of the most important times for kids. Aim to gather the entire family for a sit down meal of whole, healthy foods several times each week. For best results, leave distractions like television, computers, and phones behind. The benefits are tremendous. Your toddler will gain improved motor skills while using a fork and spoon. Through exposure to a variety of foods, he will develop healthier habits over a lifetime. And connecting with conversation gives your child added security, improved manners and social skills, and better vocabulary. It’s not surprising then that children who eat family meals around a table perform better on standardized tests.

Mostly Screen-Free

While computers are common (and necessary) in the classrooms of higher grades, most preschools and kindergartens offer very little or no time with televisions, computers, or other devices. There are a lot of good reasons for this. Screens inhibit sleep and can cause attention problems, eye disorders, and cognitive delays. Many studies have linked screen time with obesity and poor health in children and adults. Set up several screen-free zones in your home; the kitchen, dining area, and bedrooms are good places to think about going screen-free. And consider screen-free times as well. Some families indicate no screen-time during the school week. Others find success making screens available only between the end of school and dinner time. Experiment to find what works best for your family.

The Rules are the Rules

The best classrooms feature a set of rules and consequences and a teacher who is good at following through. Following rules is a skill that takes practice. You can start at home with a simple set of three or four rules. Some examples might be: Work and play safely, listen and follow directions, and show respect for your things and the things of others. Consequences for toddlers can be as simple as removing the thing causing trouble or removing the child from the situation for a minute or two. The most important thing is follow through. For rules to be meaningful, they must be consistent. Children must be able to predict the outcome of their behavior and make a good choice for themselves.

A Good Night’s Sleep

Overtiredness is one of the leading causes of tantrums. That’s why schools for young children build in nap time. Sleep also helps children lock in the information they have learned, improves attention span, aids growth, and actually increases immunity. Offer your child the full benefit of a good night’s sleep by creating a beneficial routine. After dinner and a bit of play, you can initiate bath time, which, while still very playful, is soothing, as well. Follow it up with pajama time, teeth brushing, and a few books or songs before tucking your child in. It won’t take long for your child to anticipate, and even look forward to, drifting off.

Every Moment is a Teaching Moment

Whether you like it or not, you are teaching your child all the time. Like a good teacher, use every opportunity to set an example. Read labels with your child in the grocery store, ask questions when you don’t understand, and use “please” and “thank you.” By being a good learner and showing consideration for others, your child will likely do the same with very little prompting.

Practicing these lessons schools offer at home will help your child flow easily between the two environments. What's more, he will be more confident, secure, and successful in each place and in life.

Audra Prandini is a developmental educator for for Children’s Integrated Services, Early Intervention for Southern Vermont. CIS/Early Intervention offers a playgroup from 10:30 a.m. – noon Mondays at the Bennington Free Library. For more articles like this one, visit