What You Need Before Sending Your Child to Preschool for the First Time

Illustration of school room

Verywell / Bailey Mariner

Sending your child to preschool for the first time can be exciting and overwhelming for both you and your child. Will they like their teachers? Will I pack enough changes of clothes? What do they need for nap time at school vs. what they have at home?

One way to make the transition as smooth as possible is by knowing exactly what you need before sending your child off into the world. Being prepared makes everything easier, and we’re here to help you, whether your child is 2 months or 2 years old.

One first step is to schedule a video or in-person meeting with your child’s teacher or caregiver. They can give you a rundown of the daily schedule, and what your child will need. They can also provide helpful information, like if the school is nut-free.

Here are some things you’ll need before sending your child to daycare or school for the first time.

Lunch Supplies

While some programs do offer lunch and snacks, with others, you’ll need to send food from home. If your program requires you to provide food, you’ll need the following.

A bento-style lunchbox with separate sections, a possible second lunch box for snacks, a water bottle, ice packs, and snack bags of your choice. That could be plastic bags, paper bags, reusable silicone pouches, or BPA-free plastic or stainless steel containers. Certain establishments will refrigerate lunch boxes, but few will reheat or microwave meals to minimize the risk of food being too hot.

With some programs lasting a full day, it’s helpful to have shelf-stable, room-temperature snacks in your arsenal that are both delicious and nutritious. Freeze-dried fruit, applesauce pouches, pretzels, and crackers are all options that don’t require heating or cooling. If you want to send warm food, you may also want to invest in a thermos.

Using your snack container of choice to send in crackers or snack mix that you buy in bulk will be more cost-effective than purchasing pre-portioned snack bags.

Be sure to ask if your facility provides milk or formula for younger children, or if the parents are expected to provide it.

Name Stickers or Stamps

This is one of the most important things to have on hand before starting a daycare or preschool program. Since the stickers are personalized, they can take between one and three weeks to produce and ship. You’ll need to label everything—from clothes to shoes, to water bottles to sunscreen, so stock up. Keep a few permanent markers on hand to label food pouches or other small items.

Clothes & Shoes

Most daycares or toddler programs will require you to send in two to three extra sets of clothes in case of a bathroom accident, or if the child spills something like water or paint.

Some daycares also require “indoor-only” shoes that are kept at their facility to minimize the transfer of germs from outside.

Be aware of seasonal items your child will need if they go outside, like hats and gloves in the winter.

Health & Safety

Most facilities require diapers and wipe to be provided, or you can purchase them for an extra cost. You may also need to send in diaper rash cream.

In the summer, you’ll need to provide sunscreen and possibly bug spray. Your program may require a consent form for any medication or topicals to be administered as well. Be sure to ask.

Depending on the preschool's COVID-19 policies or your family's own COVID-19 safety precautions, you may also need multiple face masks for your child.

Napping Necessities

If your child is napping while at daycare or school, you may want to look into sleeping bags or nap mats. You’ll also need an extra blanket and your child's favorite lovey. Some programs will wash these items in-house, whereas others will send them home weekly for you to clean and return the following week.

A Backpack

Finally, you’ll need a bag or backpack. Since even the best children’s backpacks are quite small, you may need a tote bag to hold the “excess,” especially if you’re sending in multiple lunch boxes, extra clothes, and napping necessities.

Packing Checklist

Before you head out the door, be sure to double-check that all necessary items are tucked in your child's bag, including:

  • Lunch box and snacks
  • Nap time essentials (blanket, lovey, etc.)
  • Extra clothes
  • Extra shoes
  • Seasonal items (such as sunscreen and a sunhat, or gloves and snow pants)
  • Diapers and wipes
  • Face masks (if necessary)
  • Name labels
  • Extra plastic or reusable bags for dirty clothes or blankets
  • Necessary medications

A Word From Verywell

Making sure your child has what they need for preschool can seem daunting, whether it's your first or fifth child. How can one small person need so many items? But once you know what they need, from a delicious lunch and snacks to lots of extra clothes (and we mean lots!), you'll be a preschool packing pro in no time.

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