Starting a new school year is a transitional time for the whole family. It can be exciting and joyful for some, but it can also trigger feelings of nervousness and apprehension (for both kids and parents).
As a kindergarten teacher and mother of four school-aged children, I understand the range of mixed emotions that can flurry this time of year. I’ve also learned the value of taking intentional steps to get kids off to a great start.
Whether you have a child entering school outside of your home for the first time, entering a new grade level, or transferring to a new school, taking a proactive approach to your child’s transition back to school can help alleviate stress. It’ll also help your child and family ease into the routines of a new year.
Here’s how you can help your child make a positive transition to school this year:
1. Gradually Shift Activities, Schedules and Routines
Soon enough, my children will need to be ready to catch their bus to school by 7:12 a.m. and will be expected to be ready to learn in their classrooms by 8:05. This is going to be a major shift from our laid-back summer mornings in which they might not have eaten their breakfasts by 9 o’clock.
It can be extremely helpful to adjust your family’s routine a couple weeks prior to the school year, working to become in sync with upcoming wake-up times, lunch times and even snack times for your children.
For example, the simple act of feeding your child lunch at home at the time your child will be eating lunch at school may reduce hunger cravings that could be distracting for your child’s learning and school engagement during the first weeks of school.
If you are homeschooling, similar advice applies. You may not have to get your children out the door at an early hour, but working with intention to gradually shift activities, schedules and routines can alleviate stress in both children and adults.
2. Focus on Sleep
Sleep is SO crucial to school success. From the perspective of a classroom teacher, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of sending to your child to school well rested.
This is one of the most important things you can do as a parent to help your child thrive in school. And yes, I understand that it’s not always easy. Shifting your child’s sleep schedule is hard, especially making the shift while still on summer break, but it can make a big difference.
Even if your child’s been getting up earlier to go to child care or summer events, when your child enters school, he or she will be expected to self-regulate at a different intensity for the length of a full school day, and this can be exhausting.
Individual sleep needs vary, but according to the National Heart, Blood and Lung Institute, school-age children need about 10 hours of sleep a day.
Calculate when your child needs to go to bed to get enough sleep:
3. Help Settle Worries
If you (or your child) are anxious or nervous about the transition to school, make a point to help alleviate these worries by visiting your child’s school and meeting with your child’s teacher well before school starts.
Ask your child’s teacher or principal questions and talk with your child about his or her excitement and acknowledge any worries. Your principal, teacher and school support staff want to help you and your child make as smooth a transition as possible.
You may want to read picture books to younger children with back-to-school themes. There are many beautifully told stories geared toward children that navigate common worries, such as separation anxiety, meeting new teachers and making new friends.
4. Make it Fun!
This year we’re going to continue our tradition of school-supply shopping with some friends. I’m not a big shopper, so this is as much of an incentive for me as the kids! Everyone gets to pick out folders, pencil boxes, glue sticks and Kleenex boxes. Then we go out to lunch. It’s amazing how excitement and anticipation for school can build with a cart-full of new school supplies!
You may want to mark the end of summer with a special family activity, such as a labor day cook-out or a special family outing.
Here are some other resources to help facilitate a smooth transition back to school: