The back-to-school commercials are running, but it’s hot and sunny and it still feels like summer to you. And your kids really aren’t ready to go back. They’ve been footloose and fancy free for weeks now and they love it, but it’s time to start the gentle transition back to early mornings, extra-curricular activities and homework.
Setting some realistic back-to-school expectations, planning ahead and keeping it fun over the next few weeks will ease the transition into the school year for the whole family without prematurely ending summertime enjoyment. Here are some tips for doing just that.
#10 Rebuild Routines
Establish bedtime and meal routines that match the school schedule as closely as possible in the weeks before school starts. Make plans that require that you get up and running in the morning so your kids get used to the early morning crunch. It gives your whole family a chance to work out the kinks in a more relaxed “rehearsal” environment. Talk about why routines are important in helping everyone get where they need to go and do well with school work and activities. If you haven’t kept the kids on a bedtime reading routine, be sure to re-establish one.
#9 Review and File School Information
There are a lot of forms, lists, rules, letters, announcements that you’ll need to review during back-to-school, but be sure to go through it all and file them for handy reference later. Getting yourself familiarized with your child’s teacher, classroom information, supply lists, extra-curricular activities, calendars, bus schedules and rules, health and emergency forms, and volunteer opportunities will make you the expert your child needs to successfully navigate the school year. Especially copy and file health records and emergency information for quick reference.
#8 Check Up on Your Health
Schedule doctor and dental checkups now and get them out of the way. If you have any concerns about your child’s physical, emotional or psychological development, discuss them with your pediatrician. Together, you can determine if there needs to be further assessment and possibly start your child on a program to resolve issues before school starts. Your proactive approach will help you build rapport with teachers and staff at the school.
Nutrition is critical. Plan for healthy lunches and dinners ahead of time. The week before school, freeze some healthy dinners to give yourself some extra time to talk to kids and spouses about issues that come up. Think balanced and healthy when it comes to lunches.
#7 Review the School Calendar with the Kids
The school year can feel pretty long to kids, so as part of your planning for the year (noting back-to-school nights, special events and term breaks), walk through the calendar with kids. Breaking down the months ahead for the kids, especially marking days off and vacations can give them events to look forward to and make the school year feel less overwhelming.
#6 Buy School Supplies Early
Get supplies as early as possible. New stuff is one of the fun things about back-to-school and it can help build excitement. You and your child can fill backpacks a week or two out. Make sure to use supply checklists provided by the school and make suitable substitutions only when necessary. Pay special attention to items that have very detailed descriptions, there’s always a good reason why teachers give that much detail and younger kids can get very embarrassed when told they have the wrong item. Save your receipts for returns! And don’t forget to give all that new stuff a home. Designate workable “drop” areas for backpacks and lunchboxes that make it easy for kids to keep track of things and take ownership of organizing themselves (and keep them from driving you crazy with scattered school stuff).
#5 Gear up for Homework Time
Have the kids play afternoon games together, work on puzzles, review a few flash cards, color, read, or whatever sits them down in a designated homework area and gets them thinking and engaging. Get rid of distractions. Turn off the television, iPod/iPad, video games etc.
#4 Take a Tour
Tour the school with your child. Lots of schools have scheduled mixers, tours and back-to-school events for parents and kids. Attend these to help your child get familiar with a new or newly remodeled school. Meeting the teacher, locating classrooms, checking out the locker area, and taking a quick look at the lunchroom will ease your child’s transition. And this isn’t just for grade school kids. Older kids can benefit from tours as well. If you can’t make it to scheduled tours, try planning a visit on your own even if it’s just an informal walk around campus.
#3 Dress for Success
Get started with only the essentials. Check your school’s website to review dress code requirements, download them or print them out and file them with the rest of your filed school information. Sturdy comfortable shoes are essential. For most schools, summer clothes that cover your child from shoulder to knee are just fine for the warm early days of school. Avoid extremely short skirts and shorts, bare midriffs, low rise jeans, halter tops, spaghetti strap tops, exposed undergarments, clothing with potentially offensive screen prints and messages, and flip flops. If your school has uniform requirements, many national discount retailers are already stocking the most common uniform styles.
#2 Set up Communication Check Points
Communication is always harder during busy times and transitions, so plan ahead. Here are a few critical elements for back-to-school communication success:
Parents “Inbox”: Establish a location, basket, refrigerator magnet, or whatever works for you where kids can leave those notices, permission slips, notes from teachers, etc. Preferably, it’s somewhere that something sensitive can go without embarrassing your child in front of the whole family. Otherwise, when it’s most important for you get the information, you risk not getting it because your child won’t be willing to use the “usual” communication methods.
Family Calendar: Whether it’s an online calendar that you can all log in to, or a paper one posted in a common family area, it’s a good idea to keep one and review it each week. It not only helps the family keep on top of scheduled activities, it helps you pull together and support one another when activities start to overwhelm one or more of the members.
Family Meetings: Try them. They work. Have everyone talk about the best and worst part of their week. Celebrate success and talk through challenges. Make sure everyone gets a chance to talk. And be sure to prevent a feeding frenzy on any member of the family going through a rough patch. Once a week is probably enough to establish a solid routine and it’s a great time to go through the calendar.
#1 Have Fun
Transitions are stressful by nature, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun. Plan a summertime “last hurrah” party or create a back-to-school bucket list of activities to enjoy in the last few weeks before school. They’ll keep you busy, get the family up earlier and create some fun. Making this a summer tradition will get them excited about the transition period each year.