Back-to-School: Tips for Parents
Summer break is winding down, and back-to-school is fast approaching. Transitioning from summer to the start of the school year can be tricky for everyone. Read on for a few tips and ideas to help make that back-to-school adjustment easier for the whole family!
Get back on a school year schedule
Ideally, we can maintain a flexible schedule during the summer months. Naturally, though, things will have gotten a bit laxer or, in some cases, totally out of whack! Instead of waiting until school starts to get back on a consistent schedule, it’s best to ease in over the days to weeks before. If the kids have gotten used to staying up, you may have better success gradually moving up bedtimes by half an hour a day over a few days rather than shifting back all at once. And if sleeping late has become the norm, gradually moving up wake-up times simultaneously can help facilitate those earlier bedtimes. Dust off those bedtime routines and morning routines. Aim to give the kids a few days of being close to a school schedule before the first day!
Talk about feelings and what to expect
Back-to-school season can bring up many feelings, including worry, apprehension, and excitement about the new year.
- Normalize feelings: Check-in with the kids about how they’re feeling. Reflect and share how you felt in the past when you had first days! Normalizing feeling nervous can help kids feel less alone.
- Talk about what will happen: With younger kids, it can be helpful to talk through what will happen on the first day of school as a sort of mental dress rehearsal. With all the changes surrounding COVID 19 precautions it is also helpful if you’re up to speed on the current protocols so you can go over them with your child.
- New year, new start! If the previous school year had some tricky social or academic challenges, take the opportunity to discuss and address associated worries or questions. Then, make a plan together to help avoid the same struggles. Emphasize that a new year is a fresh start and set a positive tone!
No matter what, make sure kids know it is normal to feel lots of different things and ok to be nervous! Remind them that new things are always a little scary, but things will become familiar and more comfortable in no time!
Review school year routines, safety and rules
Day to day routines and rules will likely change when school starts.
- Review school day ground rules: Some family rules may apply specifically to the school year, like screen time limits, when friends can come over, designated homework time, bedtimes, etc. Routines around bedtime and mornings getting out of the house will likely change when school starts too. Be sure to review expectations and set clear boundaries ahead of time, so everyone is on the same page! Some families find it helpful to write down core household rules and routines as a reminder and put them somewhere everyone can see.
- Go over logistics and safety around how kiddos are getting to and from school. Whether they will be taking the school bus, joining a car pool or walking to school, it is important to talk about the plan so kids know what to do and how to stay safe. It is a good time to review general safety topics as well. Make sure kids know the designated people that may pick them up from school or from the bus stop and emphasize not talking to or going with strangers. One idea is to have a special safety code word that the kids know not to share and only designated grownups that are allowed to pick them up will use.
Start fresh and do a clean-out before back-to-school shopping
A lot of emphasis gets put on back-to-school shopping every year, but it is just as important to take that time to clean out unneeded items and start fresh!
- Out with the old! Get kids involved with pulling out clothes that don’t fit or don’t wear for the donation pile. It’s a good time to do a toy clean out too. Kids’ interests change quickly, so try to periodically go through toys and donate what they don’t use. This can help keep toy storage more manageable and help facilitate valuable lessons in gratitude and giving.
- Don’t feel pressured to buy too much! If you need to hear this, you do not have to buy the kids a new wardrobe at the start of every school year! Buying a ton of clothes, they may grow out of before they can wear them feels wasteful. Plus, many of their summer clothes may transition well to fall with layers. That said, growth spurts happen, and some kids are harder on clothes, so you may need to replace more of their wardrobe after all. Try to focus on the specific things they need, a few versatile pieces and layers they can wear in different weather, and maybe something just for fun in the mix. Secondhand is an excellent option for kids’ clothes if you want to limit spending or use a more eco-minded approach. Since kids often do outgrow things before wearing them, many secondhand items can be as good as new!
In addition to getting rid of old or unused items, help your child start the year off right by helping them organize their spaces.
- Have kids help set up their work space and organize supplies: It helps bring a sense of control and calm when a space is free from clutter, and things are easy to find. For example, help set up an inviting school work area, get the kids involved in the process, and get their input on how they want it to look and where things should go. Also, help to organize their backpacks and school supplies.
- Get yourself and the family organized too! If you’re given a school year calendar, add important dates to your personal or family calendar right away. A family calendar placed somewhere visible with necessary logistics like who is doing school pick-up, extracurriculars, and important events can help keep everyone on the same page. Don’t forget about any paperwork due at the start of school. If kids are due for annual health check-ups, dental visits, or need vaccines, get those scheduled asap.
Reach out to teachers
- Establish a collaborative relationship with teachers: When fall rolls around, it’s nice to finally put a face to the names who will spend so much time teaching and guiding your children during the year. So often, due to frustrations that arise when raising small humans, parents and teachers find themselves pitted against each other when they actually share the same goals. Teachers work incredibly hard under less than ideal conditions to help educate our children, and we owe them respect and kindness! If you get the chance, try to introduce yourself and your child ahead of time. This helps set a collaborative tone and may ease some nerves for your kiddo.
- Discuss concerns or unique needs your child has ahead of time: It is especially important to communicate early and often if your child has behavioral challenges, unique traits, or special learning needs you feel teachers should know. Being upfront about your concerns or potential challenges helps set expectations. It also may provide an opportunity to troubleshoot and collaborate before challenging situations arise. If you think your child may need special accommodations it is best to start discussions early so there is plenty of time to organize any supports or resources that are needed.
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Catch up on rest and family time
Summer break can be a mix of long stretches of downtime and jam-packed activities. Consider not scheduling much the week before going back to school so kids can relax, catch up on rest and get organized for the year. Instead, take the opportunity to set aside some extra family time together before school starts, and everyone gets busy.
Start a back-to-school tradition
- Start an annual end of summer ritual! Kids thrive with routines and traditions, and who doesn’t love an excuse for a sweet little celebration? We love the idea of a back-to-school ritual that helps mark the transition in kids’ minds and is something to look forward to. This practice doesn’t have to be anything elaborate! It can be as simple as a special dinner the night before school starts or having one last outing as a family to a favorite summer spot. It’s also a great time to discuss the upcoming school year and set goals or hopes for the year. As part of the tradition, you can even have them write the goals down so they can look back and see whether they made progress in achieving them. These hopes don’t have to be strictly academic aspirations. Goals can be about new skills or social development, like making one new friend, learning to tie shoes, etc.
Transitions and first days will always come with challenges. Still, with a little help, your child can start school knowing all of their feelings are valid and give them the confidence that they have all the tools they need to have a great school year!
Here are some more helpful resources for back-to-school tips to get you and your kiddos off to a great start!
American Academy of Pediatrics – Back to School Tips