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10 Tips for a Smooth Start to the School Year
by Jessica Lahner, Ph.D.
Going from the laid-back days of summer to structured school schedules can be an abrupt transition for school-aged children. Earlier bedtimes, alarm clocks and homework can be a shock to their systems. The key to a smooth transition is planning ahead. Putting these 10 tips into play can go a long way to ensuring your kids go from vacation mode to being ready to learn without a hitch.
1. Ease into bedtime. Several days before school starts, gradually move bedtime back so the early wake time isn’t an abrupt change. Kids need 10-12 hours of sleep each night. So depending on when school starts, work your way backwards and determine a reasonable bedtime. For example, my 12-year olds wake up at 6:00AM for a 7:20AM school-start time. So they hit the sack at 7:00PM, read for 30 minutes, and turn out the lights by 7:30.
Move their summer bedtime back 15-30 minutes each night until you reach their school-year target. If they struggle to sleep at the earlier time allow them to read, but just say no to watching television just before bed. TV watching actually hinders children’s ability to fall asleep and will only exacerbate the problem.
2. Rekindle friendships. If your kids haven’t seen their school friends over the summer, schedule play dates before school starts. They’ll feel more socially reconnected during the first few days, allowing them to focus their energy on the logistics of their new year.
3. Visit the school. This strategy serves different purposes depending on your child’s age and whether or not he will be attending a new school. But regardless of your child’s specific situation, it can relieve anxiety associated with a new schedule or environment.
During your visit, your child can find his classroom, walk his schedule if switching classrooms, learn where important rooms are (e.g., bathroom, office, lunchroom), and even decorate his locker.
If your child walks or rides his bike to school, travel a new route several times before the first day. Time the journey so you know approximately how long it takes and agree on an alternate route should taking one be necessary (e.g., road construction, child feels uncomfortable).
Prepare for emergencies should they occur by designating safe houses en route. Ask friends’ whose homes are along your children’s path to school if they can stop and ask for assistance should they need it. Then make sure your children feel comfortable taking such action if the need arises.
4. Meet the teacher. This allows young children to actually picture their teacher when thinking about the upcoming year. Taking the teacher’s picture and placing it in a visible spot at home further familiarizes him with his new instructor.
5. Establish before and after-school expectations. Determine what your children’s morning and after-school routine will be.
Establish the expectation that backpacks are ready, papers are signed, and clothes are picked out the night before (if these are your family’s battles). Especially useful for younger kids and those who get sidetracked, print out a “Morning To-Do List’ to guide their before-school routine. Post it on the bathroom mirror or any place your child is sure to see it each morning.
Likewise, consider creating an “After School Schedule” that includes time for homework, chores, free time and extra-curricular activities. Having the schedule handy helps your child develop self-responsibility when it comes to completing daily and weekly activities.
6. Hold a fall family meeting. Get the family together to plan the details of the transition. Allow each family member to contribute their ideas while:
7. Record the school calendar. Enter important school dates on the family calendar at the beginning of the school year. This way that orchestra concert doesn’t sneak up on you, and you can line up childcare for all those random school vacation days.
8. Establish a transportation back-up plan. Whether your child takes the bus, carpools or walks to school, have a Plan B in case of emergency. Make sure your child knows what Plan B is, e.g., neighbor Jan will pick them up from school, and that you’ve agreed upon a means to communicate when it needs to be put into action.
9. Plan to be early the first week. Plan to wake up earlier, get out the door quicker, and arrive at school pickup before you normally would. This will allow you to work out the kinks to a new routine without adding additional worry to an already anxiety-provoking situation.
10. Treat yourself. Going back to school is hard (and exciting!) for both kids and parents. Grab a latte, meet your friends for breakfast or simply give yourself a big pat on the back for setting your kids up for success for yet another school year. You deserve it!
About the Author
Jessica Lahner, Ph.D. serves as the Child Development Expert for Fox6 News Real Milwaukee and is on the faculty of the psychology program at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI. With a doctorate in counseling psychology, she looks at parenting and play from both a child development and mental health perspective. She has published peer-reviewed articles on development in the Journal of College Student Development, Journal of Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Health, and the International Journal of Adult Development and Aging. When she’s not teaching or writing, you can find her and her husband elbow deep in finger paint or cheering on one of her four young children at the baseball or soccer fields.