The back to school sales started in July, but for most of the United States, students are heading back to their classroom within the next few weeks. Transitioning from the loose routines of summer to the structure of the school year can be tricky for families. Often, that transition is harried and rushed as we try to gather all of the school supplies together and adjust to the new schedule. Our hope is that our kids, being the resilient children that they are, will quickly acclimate and soon the routines of the new school year will seem natural.
Yet, beginnings are incredibly important as they often set the tone for the rest of the year. A strong start to the school year takes advantage of the primacy effect in psychology. This is a theory that items at a beginning of a list are more likely to be recalled than those in the middle. In other words, a strong start to the school year has a greater likelihood of helping a child see the entire year as successful.
So how can we ease the transition and prime our kids to have a great school year
1. Take care of physical and mental health
Starting the school year off strongly is easier when you aren’t worried about your child’s physical or mental health. Schedule any doctor or dental check-ups before school starts. Review any concerns that you have about physical or social-emotional development. Your physician can help identify which concerns are age appropriate and which might require intervention.
Bonus tip: Bring any medical forms for school or after-school activities to get filled out. Make sure to make copies of the forms (or scan them into your computer) before you send them to school. Often, you can reuse a physical form or immunizations for different activities that your kids are in.
2. Review back to school information
Every new school year comes with multiple mailings and e-mails from your child’s school. Don’t shunt them aside to look at after the school year starts. Make sure that you review them as they will have important information about your child’s teachers, school supply lists, after school activities, and much more.
3. Sync your calendars
A new school year means a new school calendar with days off and special events. Make sure to mark all of these on your calendar in advance, so that you can arrange for vacation or childcare on days when school is out. Look for evening events that may require a babysitter like “Back to School Night” and important events for your child’s grade or class that you want to attend.
Many school calendars are on the school’s website and offer a calendar feed that you can sync with your digital calendar. Ask for instructions on how to access it.
Bonus tip: Clear your schedule for the first week of school. Push off any meetings or business trips that would pull you away from home. You want to be available to talk to your kids about school and troubleshoot any problems.
4. Start school-year bedtime and mealtime routines before school starts
Probably the biggest challenge in helping children adjust to school is the change in routine. If you can, start adjusting bedtimes and mealtimes to the school year schedule before school starts at least a week before school starts. This reduces some of the pressure on your children during that first week of school when so much else is already in flux. Make sure to talk about the importance of sleep and healthy eating as you make the change. If any chores or pre-bedtime reading were paused during the summer, start them up again.
Bonus tip: Add some pre-bedtime mindfulness to help your child deal with the approaching anxiety of a new school year. [insert links to mindfulness posts.
5. Get organized for homework
Most kids will come home with some kind of homework within the first few days of school. Make sure that you have a designated place for homework that is quiet. Older kids may be able to work in their rooms, but younger ones should be somewhere where homework can be facilitated, monitored, and encouraged.
Bonus tip: Check out these helpful hints on dealing with homework.
6. Connect with your child’s teacher
Your child’s teacher is your partner in educating your child and helping her grow. Don’t wait for your first contact to be at “Back to School Night.” Send them a quick note at the beginning of the school year (or even a few days before) introducing yourself and your child. Share a few things about your child that might help facilitate a smooth transition. There is a great list of topics to share on SchoolFamily.com.
Bonus tip: Let the teacher know what the best way to contact your is and who the teacher should contact first. Often times, the school will default to contacting the mother first, but that might not work for your family.
Transitions bring with them the possibility of anxiety both for your child and for you. Start by engaging in some self-care. If you are anxious, your kids will pick up on it. Take time to breathe and make sure you that you have the mental resources to be present for your child.
Talk about the school year in positive optimistic tones with your child. Model confidence for them. For kids that are feeling anxious, send a personal note in their lunchbox during the first week of school. Let your kids know that being a little anxious is ok; they are starting something new.
Don’t linger at drop off if your child struggles to separate. Teachers are trained to help kids adjust and the business of school will soon help most kids set aside any anxiety. Let your child know that you will be there at pick-up and that his teacher will take care of him.
Starting a new school year is an exciting opportunity to see growth and development in your children. With just a little help from us, our kids can be primed to start successfully.
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