Books to help your child navigate the first days of school
Do you have a little one starting school in 2023?
The beginning of the 2023 school year is just three weeks away and for some children this will be their first year of primary school.
Starting school for the first time is a huge step in a child’s life and one which will inevitably bring worries and stress with it.
As a primary school teacher and as a mum of three, I’m familiar with both sides of the starting-school experience and know how hard those first days and weeks can be, for parents as well as for their children. (That’s my daughter in the photo on her first day at school.)
There are a few things you can do to help your child feel a bit more comfortable about starting school but my absolute favourite way to help prepare little ones is to share picture books about starting school with them. I have a collection of books I like to use with Kindy classes in the first days of Term 1 and have read and reviewed many others over the years. New books are released all the time and, as always, some of these books are better than others.
So on this page I share my list of my 10 favourite books about starting school.
These books cover a range of different school experiences and concerns about starting school and, since I live and teach in Australia, most of the books are Australian. This is because I wanted to feature the experiences that reflect Australian children’s experiences of school. School uniforms, bringing your own lunch to school and starting school are all shown in these books so you can talk about them with your child.
Sharing picture books about starting school with your child
Ideally, it’s helpful to collect a few different books about starting school well before the big day. Libraries have a lot of these books or you may like to buy a couple, especially if you have younger children. Read the books aloud with your child and listen to any comments or questions she may have.
The idea of reading picture books about starting school is to demystify the whole experience. Sharing the books will also help prepare children for some of the expectations they’ll encounter and give them a chance to voice their worries and concerns.
It’s a good idea to try to be conscious of not making any assumptions about what your child knows or doesn’t know about starting school. Children glean information about school from many sources and build pictures in their heads about what it will be like long before they reach school age. If they have older siblings, what they understand about school will inevitably be influenced by what their siblings say – both good and bad – about school.
We often think we know what our children believe or think about things but, as every parent knows, we can be wrong. Reading and snuggling together creates a safe environment where your child will often feel able to tell you what he’s thinking and what he might be worried about.
And remember: all children will have worries and concerns around starting school. This is normal. It’s a new experience and they’re entering a new and very busy environment. Tummy aches, difficulty around bedtime and sleeping and even behavioural changes can all be a sign that your child is worried about starting school.
Read the books together and make sure you leave them in a place in your living area where they’re visible and easy for your child to access. When children are worried about something, they’ll often gravitate towards resources that they instinctively know will help them to process their worries. Your little one may go back a few times to a book you’ve read together if the story touched on something that’s been bothering him and you may find him looking quietly through the book on his own at odd moments during the day.
My final tip is to keep these books around for the whole of Term 1. The worries and the process of adjusting to school continue well beyond the first few weeks and your child will benefit from being able to go back to these books about starting school again and again as the term unfolds.
10 Great books about starting school
1. Ready for School
Ready for School is a New Zealand book first published in 2019 so it’s quite current. Unfortunately it can be a bit hard to come by in Australia at the moment but your local library may have a copy and there are a couple of read-aloud versions on YouTube. I’m including it here because it really is a good book.
The story follows Perry and Frankie, friends who have been at preschool together and are getting ready to start school. Perry, in particular, is a bit uncertain about going to school but his Dad takes them both to see the school and explore the playground and the children start to feel a bit excited about their new adventure. The story shows the two friends shopping for school uniforms and lunchboxes, being brave when Mum and Dad leave on their first day at school and figuring out how to make friends on the playground.
This is a really reassuring story, with Perry voicing many of the doubts children have about starting school and his mum talking through them with him. At the back of the book there’s a useful section for parents with tips about how to support their children in the first days and weeks of school.
2. Starting School
I’ve been a fan of the work of Anna Walker and of Jane Godwin for some years now and this lovely book is one I’ve used in Kindy classrooms many times over the years. It’s a beautiful book which explores the experiences and feelings of five very different children as they begin at school for the first time, including two children from diverse backgrounds.
This is an Australian book which starts with the children getting together all the things they’ll need to take to school and moves on to show their experiences on their first day. Joe is worried about making friends, Sunita doesn’t know anyone but is confident about starting school, Hannah is excited and Tim doesn’t want his mum to leave. The children are shown meeting their teacher, getting to know one another, exploring the school grounds and facing various challenges (opening snacks, spilling a juice box). Classroom rules, packing up at the end of the day and home time are also mentioned as is after-school care on a page which has the title “New things to get used to”.
I really like the way this book is organised, as a narrative but also almost like an information text, with page headings and little bits of extra information at the bottom of some of the pages. This book accurately describes what a school day looks like for most Australian children starting Kindy so it’s a useful one to share with your child.
3. I Have to Start at School Today
This cute book is a rhyming story about a little girl who’s worried about starting school. It first came out in 2021 so is fairly new and it’s a UK publication so it includes uniforms and most of the things Australian children encounter at school. The story follows a little girl who imagines all the things that might go wrong at school, from rhinos at the gate and bears who won’t share to people who won’t play with her.
This is a very funny book and children love it! It starts:
I have to start at school today.
“You’ll have such fun!” my parents say.
I know they think I’ll be okay,
But what if things don’t go my way?
The little girl’s brother says she should be scared and her mum is reassuring but doubts still linger in the little girl’s mind. Luckily, Grandma is on hand to point out that there’s no need to be frightened as things could just as easily . . . go right!
4. Starting School
Janet and Allan Ahlberg probably need no introduction. The English couple (Janet died in 1994) wrote countless picture books together and Starting School is one of their classics. The story follows eight children as they start school and begins as the children arrive at school for their very first day. The children meet their teacher and have a look around their classroom.
This book is unique among the books on this list as it then describes the children’s second day at school and moves on to show the activities the children’s class does over a week and then over several weeks as Term 1 progresses and the children get used to being at school. This is one of the reasons I think this book is great to share with children. So much focus is put on the first day of school and the first week and I think it’s helpful for children if they have some understanding of the way a week and a term at school progresses.
Note that this book is very much about showing what happens at school. It doesn’t discuss the children’s feelings about starting school or any of the challenges they may face but it does show them all enjoying their days. Having said that, as one week turns into the next, the children are shown feeling happy, sad, grumpy, sleepy and so on and the fact that the teacher is not always cheerful is also mentioned. I’m a big fan of normalising the whole range of human emotions so I like that this is included.
This book depicts a group of English children starting school so there are a few things that don’t quite gel with the Australian experience of starting school:
- the teacher “calls the register” – we call the roll;
- the teacher “collects the dinner money” – we call our midday meal ‘lunch’ and don’t collect dinner money;
- the children don’t wear a uniform – most children in Australia do wear a uniform to school;
- the first school term ends at Christmas time – our first term ends in April;
A prayer at assembly and the school nativity play are also mentioned.
5. Starting School
This is a 2022 publication which follows a little boy called Kipper as he begins school. He’s excited and scared and wants to take his favourite teddy with him, which his mum allows. The story follows Kipper on his first day as he learns the classroom routines, reconnects with his friend Anna and meets his teacher and new classmates.
Again, this is a UK publication and some of the vocabulary and activities are slightly different to those that are typically seen in Australian schools. This is a very straightforward story which involves Kipper misplacing his teddy and looking for him at the end of the day. I really like the fact that it mentions Kipper feeling scared and excited because it normalises the fact that we humans can feel two different emotions at the same time. Other than that, there is no discussion of emotions but the book does a good job of explaining what happens during a normal school day.
6. Going to Big School
This is a 2022 Australian publication which follows two children – Jack and Ava – as they start school. It’s a straightforward story which begins by describing how the children feel about starting school (Jack feels nervous and Ava feels excited) and shows them getting ready for their first day, arriving at school and learning the routines and expectations of their classroom.
7. Let’s Get Ready for School
Let’s Get Ready for School first came out in 2021 so it’s fairly new and it’s very sweet, with charming illustrations by Carolina Rabei.
This book is a bit different from the other books featured on this page. Instead of being a story about a specific child or group of children, it addresses the child who’s reading the book with an adult and explains to them what will happen when they start school. Each double-page spread addresses a different aspect of the starting-school experience: getting ready, the journey to school, the classroom and so on.
There is a group of children who are introduced at the beginning – Marley, Maya, Theo, Akiko, Ella and Zakir are all getting ready to start school – but the text speaks specifically to the reader which makes it very personal and really lovely. This is a great book to share with little ones who are about to start school and pairs well with any of the other books I’ve reviewed.
8. First Day
This is a very cute book which follows a mum and her daughter as they get ready for the little girl’s first day at school. In the morning, they get ready together and talk about all the things the day may hold. The little girl goes off happily to school and is reunited at the end of the day with her mum.
This is quite a short book and not a book that describes what happens at school. The little girl’s emotions around starting school are referred to but not explicitly described. Having said that, this is a lovely book to share because it shows that mums might feel sad too on their child’s first day at school. The book is Australian and shows the little girl wearing her school uniform. It provides plenty of scope for discussion and the illustrations are adorable.
9. Mae’s First Day of School
Mae’s First Day of School is a 2022 publication which shows an American child worrying about starting school (no uniforms, cookies are mentioned).
The story starts on the morning of Mae’s first day of school when her mother comes to tell her it’s time for her to get up. Mae insists she’s not going and maintains this stance as the morning progresses and she walks to school with her mum. Her mum tells her all the great things she’ll do at school but all Mae can think about is all the things that could go wrong. What if the other kids don’t like her? Or what if she’s the only one who doesn’t know how to write? Or what if she misses her mum? Then Mae meets Rosie and Ms Pearl who are also nervous about their first day of school and together they conquer their first-day fears.
This is a lovely book to share as a springboard for discussing fears and nervousness about starting school. The story ends as the three characters enter the school building so there is no discussion about what happens at school or about how the school day unfolds.
Some children will be very anxious about starting school and others will seem confident and excited. But even the children who seem confident and excited will have worries and fears so this is the perfect book to share with any child who’s starting school.
10. Maddie’s First Day
Maddie’s First Day can be a bit hard to come by in Australia at the moment which is a shame because it’s an Australian publication which only came out in 2020 and it’s a really lovely book. Fortunately there are a couple of read-aloud versions on YouTube and your local library may also have a copy, as mine does.
The story begins as Maddie wakes up on her first day of school. She’s excited to put on her uniform and to walk to school with Dad. The wobbles in her tummy only start when she gets to school and sees all the children – so many children! – in the playground.
I really like the way this story shows Maddie as excited and also nervous and scared. It also shows a realistic picture of school in that not everything goes well for Maddie on her first day. But she makes new friends and has fun too.
This book shows some of the things that happen at school but doesn’t go into a lot of detail about the routines and expectations. It’s much more about how Maddie feels and how her feelings change throughout the day. This is one. ofmy favourite books about starting school and a great springboard for converstions about how your child might be feeling as the big day approaches.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my favourite books for supporting your child as they start school. If you’re on Instagram, please do come and share your favourites and tag me @thebookbasketco so I can see!
* This blog post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I will earn a small commission (at no extra cost to you). All the books I link to are quality texts I've read and enjoyed. In most cases I also use them in the classroom.
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Over to you
Do you have a little one starting school in 2023?
Do you have a favourite book about starting school?
I’d love to hear what you think so drop me a line in the comments.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Felicity is a mum of three young adults and a primary school teacher in Sydney, Australia. Passionate about children's literacy and about the potential of books and reading for enriching young lives, she also creates and sells cute, clever book-ish gifts and gift baskets for little ones. Check out her Book Gift Baskets and Little Book Gifts.
I’m Felicity - a parent to three young humans and a primary school teacher who loves books.
I’m passionate about helping parents discover the joy of reading to their little ones and I love helping you discover quality picture books to share with the babies and small humans in your lives.