The summer vacation is almost over and the new school year is just around the corner! Back to school is always a big transition for children – whether they are moving school or simply adjusting to the return to routinized days and mental focus. Here are some top tips for making this changeover easier:
1) Rekindle friendships
Arrange play dates with children in your child’s class or year group so that they can reconnect. This goes a long way to ease their worries and solidify friendships before school begins.
2) Wake up your child’s brain
Research shows that most children forget a great deal over the summer. This is not to say that you should have force-fed them maths problems and set science projects – children need to rest! However, regular reading is important, so if this has been left for a while, aim to start reading to your child at a set time every day during the last two weeks of the vacation. Encourage older children to pick up a book at agreed times also. Visit the bookstore to pick books together that they will enjoy. If your child had school assignments over the summer, ensure that these are completed at least a week ahead of the end of the vacation – don’t wait to discover the night before that an essay is due the first day back! Allow a relaxed run up to the new school year.
3) Gradually adjust your schedule
Say goodbye to lazy days and late nights! Start easing into the new school-year routine at least a week before school starts. Ensure your child goes to bed earlier (working by 15 minute increments makes this easier) and wakes up earlier, until they are running with the normal school timings.
Additionally, plan with your child their weekly school schedule – when and where homework will be done, what will happen on after school activity days, and where their other interests – friends and clubs, etc – will fit in.
4) Involve your child in the preparation
Make the run up to school a positive experience. Shop together for ‘back to school’ supplies, allowing your child to pick some items they like. Fill in the shopping time with a trip to the movies or a meal out. Clear and tidy your child’s room together to ensure an organised start to the new school year, especially if this is where homework will be done. If not, agree on another area of the house – which should be quiet, with a desk, chair and good lighting.
5) Discuss your child’s thoughts and feelings
Talk with your child about their expectations and emotions about the new school year. Work through any feelings of anxiety, explaining that this is perfectly normal. Encourage your child to ask questions and offer age/stage appropriate answers. Tackle specific worries and problem solve with your child to address their fears. With younger children, ‘playing school’ may help reveal what they are thinking!
Be sure to discuss the changes that the new school year will bring – different subjects, start of/increase in homework, spending break times on the main playground with the older children, joining the school bus, etc. If you are not sure, seek information from the school in advance so both you and your child are prepared.
Be positive, encouraging and enthusiastic about the new school year. Your child will pick up on this and start to feel excited as well. Let your child know that you are confident in his/her abilities, that you are only expecting them to do their best and that you will be there to support them.
6) Take advantage of any orientation opportunities
Most good schools allow students, especially younger ones, to come to school for an orientation before the term begins. If the school doesn’t run such a program, simply ask if you and your child can call by to meet the new teacher for a few minutes a day or so before school starts. Teachers are always busy preparing their rooms and materials at that time, but a caring professional will always be pleased to take a few minutes to meet a new student to help them feel comfortable. At the very least, try to gain access to the playground – or even admire the school through the fence – to afford your child some familiarity with the place.
7) Practise saying goodbye!
For many children (and parents) the single biggest challenge will be saying goodbye. With young children, take time to explain that all children go to school to learn, and parents go to work during this time. Be aware that long goodbyes do not help your child. Try developing a special ritual to support the separation – a secret handshake or a goodbye phrase (‘I Iove you, you love me, see you at 3!”).
8) The day before school starts, talk about what will happen the next day
This helps your child gain a comfortable mental movie of how things will run:
“We’ll get up early tomorrow for your first day in Miss Green’s class. We will drive there together and I will walk you into her classroom and introduce you to her. She will make sure you know all the other children – they will be your new friends. Then we will hug and say our special goodbye. You will have a fantastic time! I will be in the main playground when you come out of class at the end of the day”.
9) Ensure you go to bed early the night before school
Get up early enough to deal calmly with any last minute challenges. Be sure children – especially teenagers – lay out their clothes the night before, that lunch boxes are made, and that everyone eats a healthy, unhurried breakfast. Aim also to arrive at school early so you have plenty of time for meaningful goodbyes.
Finally, make sure you are at school a few minutes early and in the right place to pick your child up during the first week of term. It’s important your child sees you immediately and ends the day happily.
So, with a little bit of preparation you can enjoy these last weeks of summer and make those first weeks of school so much easier for your kids – and yourself!