Dear Judy,

I'm a little lost as to what to pack for the first day of kindergarten (and subsequent ones). It's a half-day so I presume snack but not lunch and do they need pencils and supplies or are they provided?

First time kindergarten parent

Dear Parent:

There is no standard answer to your question. Each school has a different take on the first day. One principal told us that at his school, kindergartners can stay for lunch, either to eat the school fare or a bag lunch, but parents should let the teacher know who will stay and who will be picked up before lunch. Snacks are usually organized by the class mother, who isn’t yet selected, so if your child needs food mid-morning, mention it to the teacher and give her the cheese sticks or goldfish to dispense. (Take a look at Jane Brody's column in today's Science Times for safe snack and lunch suggestions.)

As a rule, principal will send a letter or email to parents with details on school routines and what to send. You should get one this week. In the upper grades, it might be the teacher whose letter welcomes the kids and includes a list of supplies. Unless specifically asked to, you don't have to send a pencil or anything else. However, a pencil case is a traditional rite of passage so if your child has not had one yet, it makes a good first day present. If you don’t hear from the school soon, be proactive and call in. Principals are in the building ready to answer your questions.

Whatever the official requirements, remember that this is a big day for 5 year-olds, even those who are veterans of pre-kindergarten. When you know that you are going to meet new teacher, a whole new group of kids and often a new school building, it can be daunting. And these days everyone is stressing the serious business of mastering skills rather than the fun parts of kindergarten, so parents may be somewhat stressed when they accompany their kids to school.

You can diffuse anxieties by starting an off-to-school routine this week, before school starts. It’s a good idea to go back to an early-to-bed early to rise schedule if you and the kids have lapsed, over the summer and practice laying out clothes for school and eating a good breakfast. It can be fun to take practice trips to school, whether you walk or travel there by bus or subway.

A yellow school bus in the works? Definitely practice getting to the pick-up spot and point out landmarks to make it familiar. In any case, its fun to time the trips and also make games of counting how many red lights, dogs, drugstores you see along the way. When you get to the school building, there is a chance you will be let in for a quick look around. If not, at least you can see the playground and explore the neighborhood. By the time first day comes, you and your child will be old hands at getting there.

Good luck for a great school year.