You’ve finally gotten into the summer groove. You find the relaxed pace, the spontaneity and the lazy mornings and late nights suit your family. But soon it will be back to the grind. Alarms. Homework. Tracking lost backpacks and papers. Most kids don’t want the freedom to end (although many parents secretly rejoice).
While there is relief in the return to a normal schedule, a tangible sadness accompanies the back-to school hustle. But does the end of summer and bustle of school have to be such a killjoy? Here are several tips for making the transition back to school less brutal.
1. Adjust the schedule
About two weeks before school starts, start rolling back the schedule and approximating the bedtimes you will set when school starts. It takes time to get back on track, so gradually going to bed and waking up earlier is key. Adjusting the time 10-15 minutes each night eases the pain of going to bed “early.” The predictability of a set schedule can even be grounding for kids.
2. Make it a family affair
Get your kids involved with the return to school. Let them pick out their school supplies, buy a new first day of school outfit and choose a lunch box or water bottle. Help them get their home desks cleaned out and ready for the year ahead; declutter all the prized art creations from last year so you have a blank tabula rasa ready to be filled. The more engaged your kids are with the back-to-school activities, the more excited they will be when the day comes.
3. Get organized
A successful back-to-school transition depends on defined processes. I like to make a daily morning checklist that can be posted on the door so my kids know everything that’s expected of them before they leave the house. I’m not afraid to include the obvious, such as brush teeth and hair, because much basic hygiene tends to fall through the cracks of the morning crush. Kids can get shook up if they forget things, so having reminders in place for homework and folders and lunches can be a lifesaver when it comes to a stress-free morning routine.
4. Prep the school for any particulars
Meet the teachers and administrative staff and introduce yourself. Try to be proactive about specific problems your kids may have adjusting to the new grade and increased demands. If your child has an Individualized Education Program (IEP), make sure that it’s being implemented consistently. Find out who the social workers, school psychologist or guidance counselors are and let your child know they are available to provide extra support. Let the school and teachers know early on that you want to be an engaged, involved parent.
Troubleshoot any potential hiccups. Some kids with anxiety, for example, may feel uncomfortable using the public bathroom, and try to restrict their need to relieve themselves. A quick chat with the school nurse is often all you need to make sure your child can use a more private bathroom (often it’s the one attached to the nurse’s office). Role play with your child a situation that may occur, such as forgetting one’s locker combo or feeling left out of a group of friends.
5. Set goals
Set the stage by reviewing all the progress your child made last year, such as reading at a new level or mastering a math objective. Helping your child see the progress she made in the past will reassure her that new leaps of learning will come this year as well. Then talk to your kids about their specific goals for the year. Don’t limit the conversation to grades. Talk about potential achievements, risks they want to take, friends they might want to make, social skills they might want to refine. If your child can’t articulate a goal, make suggestions and check in with your kid about whether it feels true for her or him. Extend the talk about goals to new responsibilities they might want to take on around the house, such as packing their own lunch or helping more around the house.
6. Reassure and listen
Invite your kids to share feelings of sadness that summer's ending or feelings of anxiety about the upcoming year. Don't make the mistake of minimizing their fears. Allowing them to process their mixed emotions can be much more validating than constant cheerleading. Sit with your kids and be there for them. Give them a little more attention and snuggle time as school approaches to relieve their mounting anxiety and boost their self-esteem.
7. Create a ceremonial end of summer
The last few years several moms and I have created a makeshift end of summer ritual by gathering a group of friends and having a last hurrah the day before school starts. Swimming or water sports feels fitting if weather permits; but hikes, movies and barbecues are great options too. Have everyone talk about their summer highlights. It’s nice to have a way to ceremonially close out the summer on a high note. It’s a way of bookmarking a special time and riding a last crest of summer fun to take with them into school.