Heading back to school can be exciting or daunting not only for the kids returning to the classroom, but the whole family. How can you help your child ease into the transition and show up at school ready and excited to learn?
We turned to two trusted sources — Highlights and Scholastic — for tips on getting kids ready to wave summer good-bye and say hello to a new school year. Highlights has been helping spark creativity and curiosity in kids — and parents — for 75 years and is dedicated to delivering “fun with a purpose.” Scholastic, launched in 1920, is the leading provider of literacy curriculum, professional services, and classroom magazines, and a producer of educational and popular children’s media. The prepping for back-to-school ideas offered by these iconic organizations may help ease that transition from summer to school — or for going to school for the first time!
The Highlights Parents editorial staff offers these tips for helping kids manage the move back to school:
Kids need consistency and structure. It makes transitioning from one space or season to another easier. Consider by keeping a few things the same as your child transitions back to class. Many activities, like biking and swimming, are as easily accessible in fall as summer.
Establish a kid-smart schedule
Start your evening wind-down earlier each night over a two-week period and do the same for wakeups. Save morning stress by having outfits ready to choose from and by deciding on lunch the night before.
Mark time visually
Highlights suggests parents “Pick up a September-to-June calendar and invite your child to decorate it. Use it to indicate important dates—when school starts, when ballet lessons begin and any upcoming holidays. Marking time concretely can help your child understand the new back-to-school weekly schedule and anticipate the fun stuff, such as Halloween, their birthday and winter vacation.”
Invite a few of your child’s classmates, bus or carpool buddies over. Have short playdates late in the summer or early in the school year.
Allow your student to choose some of his or her own school supplies, as long as they fit school specifications. Buy, customize or recycle a backpack your child will be excited to take to class. (This is kind of the kid equivalent of parents buying workout clothes to make exercise more fun.)
Let your child choose a special, learning-related “bonus” back-to-school item. For example, an activity book or storybook, puzzle, blank book for writing or drawing.
Calm the jitters
Talk about any concerns your child might be experiencing. Here are a few related books that might help start a conversation. Plan a special celebration to mark the end of summer.
Designate a “school stuff” zone
Choose a location — a chair in your child’s room or a spot near the front door — to stash all school belongings. This makes it easy for your little learner to stay organized and for you to fight clutter.
Think of a few supportive/funny/open-ended prompts to boost your child’s chatter about their school day, but don’t force it. Young kids especially often don’t have the words to express their experience. “Be aware, too, that kids may have entirely different concerns than you imagine,” Highlights editors suggest. “They may be concentrating on fitting in with their peer group or impressing the teacher. One study found that children were most focused on understanding the do’s and don’ts of classroom rules. Encourage your child to talk about what back-to-school topics feel the most important to them.”
The editorial staff at Scholastic Parents adds these tips for the return to school:
Visit the school or classroom before school starts
If your child’s teachers do not invite families to visit ahead of time, you can still take a trip to the school to see the building and the playground.
Read books about starting school
If your child is just entering school, it may help to read stories with characters attending their first day of school. Scholastic editors say reading comforting books about the first day of school can help normalize first-day jitters give kids a boost of confidence. While reading, pause and ask your child what they’re feeling or thinking about as they hear the story of another child going to school.
Talk to your child about their feelings about school, friends, teachers, and new activities
The framework for social-emotional learning, that is the ways in which children build healthy relationships with themselves and with others, can and should begin at home and is becoming an important part of curriculum in most schools. As you talk about heading to school, ask kids what they’re looking forward to at school, what concerns they have, what most interests them. Scholastic editors point out that “Some children might have worries about being bullied, for example. Scholastic has resources for discussing bullying with your child.”
Set intentions with your child for the school year ahead
Yup, just like you do as parents. You set intentions to help your children reach their potential. Kids can do the same for the new school year. Have them choose a word to represent their intention, say friendship, perseverance, or kindness. Throughout the year, use your child’s chosen word to start conversations about classroom experiences.
Include a note with your child’s snack or lunch
Let them know you are there, even when you are not with them in school.
Encourage your child to pursue a passion project this year
Ask your kids to consider all the things they are deeply interested in and choose one topic that they’s really like to dig into throughout the school year. You may want to post the question” “What do you wonder about?” Book sets are a great way to help a child explore a passion.
More advice from an education veteran
As you look forward to the new school years, it’s important not to forget to prepare your child emotionally and physically and set a strong learning environment at home, says Yafa Crane Luria, an ADHD pioneer since 1984, 30-year veteran teacher and school counselor, Positive Discipline trainer, and the author of the Mom’s Choice Award®-Winning book “How To Train Your Parents in 6 ½ Days.” Luria suggests that parents:
Prepare kids emotionally
Talk about going back to school and having new teachers, meeting new people and seeing old friends, having homework, and anything else that might concern your child. Talk gently and listen calmly to your kid. Even if they start ranting about how awful school is, how mean the teachers are, and so on, just listen. It’s just anxiety talking. Ask if they want suggestions. If yes, offer some. If no, don’t offer any (even if you’re dying to!). You don’t need to fix anything. It’s already a huge gift when kids feel safe enough to freely express themselves.
Prepare them physically
Yes, this mean having all the pens, pencils, paper, et cetera, but it also refers to preparing your child bodily for their new schedule. School can be exhausting and can overload the nervous system. So many people! So much noise! So many rules to remember! A child who doesn’t get enough sleep loses focus, is distracted, and is cranky to boot. Here’s something practical you can do: Two weeks before school starts, help your child or teen reset their inner alarm clock by creating gradually earlier bedtimes and wake-up times. Partner with your kid to come up with a plan that will work for both of you.
Define a study or homework area for each child
Some kids study better with people around them; some do better alone. Some do better with music, some without. Some do better sitting at a desk and some sitting on a couch or bed. Some need a blank wall in front of them, some a window, and some a wall with familiar pictures. Find out what works for your children. Get their input. Don’t judge – kids are usually good at telling you what feels right and what doesn’t, and if they make a wrong choice, they can always fix it. Some kids will need a few different study areas, depending on the subject. Also, anything they need for studying should be accessible, in their backpacks or book bags, and at home. Create a calendar so that everyone has a visual of the big due dates. Be the executive assistant, as it were, not the boss: Don’t nag, don’t yell, and don’t do the work for them
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