Summer flew by and it’s almost time for school. Some children are excited to meet new teachers and reconnect with friends. Others don’t like the school environment and want it to be summer forever. No matter how the child feels about returning to school, you can help with the transition by doing a few simple things.
Beginning a couple of weeks before the first day of school, children should get adequate sleep, nutritious meals, and add a few academic activities. It is critical for learning that children get the recommended amount of sleep. If the child’s bedtime needs to be adjusted, begin early. Determine when the child needs to leave for school and back up to allow for dressing, brushing teeth meals, and other morning preparations. Set an alarm clock and let the child know they should get dressed and be at the breakfast table by a certain time. You may want to do this gradually if a significant change from the summer schedule is required.
Re-establishing routines isn’t just about sleep – making sure the children get accustomed to meals and snacks at certain times helps. Children like to know when they get to eat and their bodies function better on a set schedule. It is also important to add a few academic activities to the daily schedule to get reacquainted with homework. Interspersing lower energy activities such as reading, crafts, and puzzles with higher energy activities such as soccer, jump rope, and dancing helps the child can mimic the school experience.
Get the Necessary Supplies
It’s frustrating when you need something, and it isn’t available. With the mad rush for school supplies, it helps to start early. Some families make a big deal out of back to school shopping for new clothes. It can be a one on one with each child or an entire family shopping trip. Others simply buy new clothes when needed or just focus on one or two outfits to begin the school year. Either way, the first step should be to review the child’s wardrobe and determine what they already have int heir closet and drawers. Make sure to try things on – as clothes that fit at the end of the school year may no longer work. Some schools require uniforms or limit what children can wear – be sure and know the rules for your school. Don‘t just focus on outer clothes, be sure to check underwear, socks, and shoes.
Supply lists are often provided by the schools and it’s best to fill this list before the first day. Let the child accompany you and make age-appropriate choices for their supplies, lunchbox, and backpack. If the child will take their lunch – begin to discuss what they would like to have in their lunches and make sure you have the necessary containers and ice packs.
Learn the New Environment
Most schools have an orientation or other back to school activity prior to the first day of school. Meeting the teacher prior to the first day of school can alleviate a lot of the child’s anxiety, especially in younger children. The sooner the child and teacher can begin to build a relationship, the smoother the transition. If your school doesn’t provide this opportunity, be proactive. Most teachers are working a few days before school starts. Many of them will be open to a 15- or 20-minute meeting with you and your child. Of course, be mindful that there is a lot of work for teachers to prepare, so respect the time allocated – arrive on time and don’t linger.
If possible, take the child to their new classroom so they can get the ‘lay of the land’. They may not know which one their desk or seat will be, but they can see how the desks or tables and chairs are placed, where the teacher sits, where their backpack and lunchbox should go, and where books and other items are located. Also, walk the halls and point out the bathrooms, cafeteria, library or media center, and any other common spaces.
If the child will walk to school or be dropped off, take them to the doors they will use and show them how to get to their classroom. Also, let them know what to do after school – walk home or go to a designated area for pickup. If the child rides the bus, show them where the bus will drop them off in the morning, how to get to class, and where to wait for the bus at the end of the day.
Create Designated Areas
Looking for a shoe or lunchbox as you run out the door to catch a school bus is very stressful. Have a designated place in the home for everything the child needs as they walk out the door. Their backpack and shoes may be right by the door (along with their coat in colder weather). Their lunchbox may be in the refrigerator in a specific spot. Part of the child’s routine should be to gather these items in a timely manner, so they are not rushing at the last minute and begin their day by feeling behind.
Many children have homework. Families may differ on when homework should be done – some think children should play and ‘unwind’ before tackling more schoolwork while others feel the schoolwork should come before play. Working parents may not have a choice as their schedules are limited and homework time may occur right after dinner. No matter when the homework is done, there should be an area set aside for each child to complete their homework. Younger children may need adult monitoring, supervision, and encouragement so the best place may be a dining room table. Older children can typically work more independently and may have a desk in their room or in a quiet area in the house.
Be Positive and Encouraging
Children are often anxious about change. It’s okay if they are a little nervous about new experiences as this is normal. Parents and caregivers should acknowledge their feelings and model confidence and optimism.
Once a child adapts to the new routine and gets to know their teacher and new friends, the anxiousness should abate. If a child had an unfortunate experience the previous year (such as bullying or poor academic performance) and is concerned it will recur – discuss the concerns openly with the child and help them formulate ways to cope. If possible, talk to their teacher and/or other schools professional one on one and let them know of these concerns. Reassure the child that you are there to help them have a better experience.
Sometimes the first few days of school can be trying. Some children react negatively in the morning at drop off by crying or clinging to parents. Others get over-tired and over-stimulated resulting in crankiness and acting out at the end of the day. Parents and caregivers must not overreact. Always reassure the child that they are loved. If a child is clingy during drop-off, gently reassure them, give them a hug, and leave. Teachers are trained in methods to help children adjust and many children are fine the minute the parent is out of sight. Children who act out after they come home need to be reminded of the house rules and expected behaviors. Granting them a ‘pass’ because they are adjusting to school will usually result in bigger problems down the road. Let them know you care, but that there are expected behaviors.
Humans are creatures of habit and can struggle when adapting to change. While we may enjoy new experiences, we are generally anxious about routine changes. Transitioning to school is a great time to teach children discipline and coping skills as changes are inevitable. Transitioning back to school is one way to begin these lifelong lessons.
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