There are about four weeks to go before your little one heads off to school for the first time. But is he ready? Parents may feel the need to scramble at this point in the summer to get their child ready for the changes and challenges of the coming school year. If your child is going to school for the first time, what do you need to be doing between now and then to get her ready for that big day?

Kindergarten teachers everywhere agree. The number one thing you can do to get him ready for school is to read to your child each night for at least fifteen minutes. “Read to your child,” urges Sarah Powell, Project Coordinator at Peabody School of Education at Vanderbilt University. “Parents should simply read to their child and talk about the importance of doing well in school to get their child ready for kindergarten.” Following a story requires focus, imagination, and an interest to know what comes next, all essential skills for kindergarten readiness.

But what about writing practice? Letter recognition? Counting?

As much as the idea of kindergarten may cause parents to fear their child is behind, teachers overwhelmingly tell parents not to worry. Kindergarten is an exciting year, full of changes and milestones. While your child should have some knowledge of things like letter recognition and counting, teachers overwhelming urge parents to relax. If a child is getting all the other things he needs, the academic achievements will come.

So what are those other essential needs?

Sleep – Most five year-olds need 10-12 hours of sleep each night. At least one week before the start of school, start getting into a sleep routine where your child is going to bed early enough to get in his sleep before he needs to wake up to get ready for school. It's important to establish this routine early on, so that it will be familiar when the unfamiliar school year begins.

Doctor check-ups – Most school districts require a “well-child” visit and a certificate showing your child is up to date on immunizations. Some may also require hearing, vision, and dental screenings as well. Check with your school now to make sure you get the appointments taken care of before school starts, and have all the paperwork you need in order.

A good breakfast – If your child is in the habit of skipping breakfast, now is the time to change that. Research shows that a healthy breakfast has a lasting impact on a child's performance at school, and can affect anything from focus and energy to behavior. Consider energy-rich starts like peanut butter on toast or eggs and whole grain cereal, and get into a health breakfast routine before the school year begins.

Practice makes perfect – Think about situations that may come up and be difficult for your child, such as saying good-bye to Mom at drop off, raising his hand to go to the bathroom, zipping pants, and opening lunch boxes. And then practice! Have a dress rehearsal for the first day and allow your child to role play these moments and more. This will help your child be comfortable when the time comes for him to execute these skills at school.

Brooke Pate, kindergarten teacher in Franklin, Tennessee, adds the following list of things parents should do to prepare their child for kindergarten:  

  • Visit your child's school and teacher.
  • Discuss any feelings and anxiety he may have about going to school.
  • Have your child participate in picking out school supplies.
  • Write a story and draw pictures about going to school.
  • Go shopping for your child's first day of school outfit.

The consensus among teachers is that reading aloud, talking about school, and getting your child emotionally and physically ready are the big steps parents need to take before the school bell rings. So toss aside the workbooks, flash cards, and drills, and get reading with your child!