August 13, 2019
Making The Transition Back To School
The lazy hazy days of summer are suddenly coming to a close, with both students and parents beginning to contemplate a return to school. Starting a new academic year is more than fresh pencils and first day photos—it’s also an important time of building confidence and creating routines; of getting organized while capturing a few carefree moments; and of re-establishing connections while building new relationships.
Arne Duncan, former United States Secretary of Education, writes that one of the best ways to move from summer to school is to embark on a learning adventure. “Do something fun together that’s focused on learning, whether indoors or out: from a kitchen craft project or backyard science experiment, to a trip to the library or a museum,” he says. Scheduling an activity that incorporates both work and play is a great way to spend valuable time together while reactivating that school mindset. “Our minds are like muscles,” emphasizes Duncan, “help get them warmed up for academic success.”
A Back-To-School Transition Plan
While getting back into the school routine is important for all students, younger children especially benefit from a purposeful transition plan. Mounds Park Academy Lower School director Renee Wright recommends that students spend time reading and working on math facts to review and refresh skills before starting school. She also encourages parents to engage their children directly in making your home school-ready, so that students feel empowered in the process. “Build enthusiasm for school by shopping together to pick out their supplies,” she says. “Clean closets and organize spaces together, donating clothes that don’t fit or toys that are no longer age appropriate. Create a homework station with study essentials to get kids excited about school and help them be organized for homework tasks.”
As summer winds down, it’s also time to re-establish routines for younger children and re-connect them with their school community. “A few weeks before school starts, gradually move back bedtime so students can adjust to the school schedule,” says Wright, “and design a responsibility chart of things children must do before and after school each day. Also in August, set up playdates with classmates, so students can reconnect before school starts.”
For students of all ages, bring the household together in the days before school to collectively define what day-to-day life looks like during the school year. For example:
- Hold a family meeting, and discuss the change in routine that’s required once school starts. Discuss bedtime, screen time, homework, and other things that will require the student to be responsible for school-related tasks. Engage your students and get input from them on the new routine.
- Create a command center for the family calendar and a place for students to put notes or permission slips that need parent attention. This will help families meet due dates and stay current on major school milestones.
- Confirm team practices, rehearsals schedules and other after school events—including transportation plans, meeting spots, and carpool arrangements for these activities.
- Make a list with your child of appropriate school snacks that meet allergy aware protocols, and stock up so healthy food is handy.
- Agree on shared household habits, like packing backpacks the night before school to avoid the morning rush, and laying out clothes in advance for the next day.
Stress and a New School Year
While getting back to school is filled with process, tasks, and logistics, it’s also an emotional time for both students and their families. Lynn Bufka, Ph.D., advises that “while trying to manage work and the household, parents can sometimes overlook their children’s feelings of nervousness or anxiety as school begins. Working with your children to build resilience and manage their emotions can be beneficial for the psychological health of the whole family.”
In addition to building routines and adjusting sleep schedules, the American Psychological Association reminds parents to:
- Talk to your child. Asking your children about their fears or worries about going back to school will help them share their burden. Inquire as to what they liked about their previous school or grade and see how those positives can be incorporated into their new experience.
- Empathize with your children. Change can be difficult, but also exciting. Let your children know that you are aware of what they’re going through and that you will be there to help them in the process. Nerves are normal, but highlight that not everything that is different is necessarily bad. It is important to encourage your children to face their fears instead of falling in to the trap of encouraging avoidance.
With open dialogue, clear expectations, and established routines, students of all ages (and their parents!) can look forward to a new year of school that’s empowering, exciting, and celebrates your child’s educational journey.
Learn More: Getting Ready for a New School Year
Easy, Cheap Ways to Get Outside this Summer, with suggestions from Minnesota Public Radio on outdoor spaces, parks, and affordable gear rental.
Countdown to School Success, a month-by-month guide from the U.S. Department of Education with advice and resources to support students and families.
Healthy Sleep Habits for Children, guidance from the Cleveland Clinic on helping your child fall asleep, stay asleep, and establish good sleep habits.
Teenagers and Sleep, perspectives from Johns Hopkins on how your teen can get their essential nine hours of sleep a night.