As the lazy days of summer wind down, it’s time for families to gear up for a new school year. With Fresno and Central Unified Schools returning next week, and Clovis Unified the following, it feels like a good time to prepare for the transition from the freedom of vacation to the structure of school routines. Though this shift can be a challenging one, with a little preparation and positivity, it can be made a lot smoother and easier for the whole family. Here are 10 tips to help you navigate this transition with ease:
Get Back into Routine Early: Start easing your family back into a regular routine a week or at least a few days before school begins. Gradually adjust sleep schedules, mealtimes, and daily activities to align with the school day. Consistency especially helps young children adapt to new routines more smoothly.
Create a Shared Family Calendar: Organize important dates, appointments, and school activities on a calendar that’s easily viewed by all family members. For children who are too young to read, consider using stickers or magnets to help indicate the types of events that are coming up to minimize surprises and meltdowns. Review the calendar together frequently. Our family uses a dry erase calendar on the door between the kitchen and garage.
Welcome Sharing: Encourage open conversations with your children about their feelings and expectations for the upcoming school year. Address any concerns they might have and offer reassurance. Depending on your child’s concern, it may be helpful to roleplay or create a plan in case certain scenarios occur. Examples: Practice approaching other students to ask to play at recess if your child is nervous about making friends, or if your child is scared they will miss you, ask in advance if their teacher would be open to/comfortable offering a hug or a quick pep talk when they’re able, if your child gives them a pre-planned signal that they are having a hard time.
Reduce Back to School Shopping Stress: Shop for back-to-school supplies as early as you’re able to ensure the best selection and deals. If possible, use services like Target or WalMart Drive Up or Delivery to avoid crowded stores at the last minute. (It reduces stress SO much!) Keep purchases minimal until after school begins, as your child’s teachers may have specific items they request your child have (or not have!) and pre-buying the wrong things can be a costly and frustrating mistake. Keep it simple until you have all the details.
Setup a Homework Station: Dedicate a quiet and organized space in your home for studying and completing homework. A well-equipped station (think sharpened pencils, plugs for charging devices/laptops, markers, glue sticks, scratch paper, erasers, rulers, scissors, highlighters, index cards, perhaps a fidget toy, and good lighting) can boost productivity and help your children focus on their tasks. If your house gets a bit noisy, consider a white noise machine, headphones, or a Bluetooth speaker that can play instrumental music to help with concentration.
Prep for Mealtimes: Communicate with your kids on whether they’ll be getting breakfast, snacks and/or lunch at school, bringing lunches from home, or a combination of both scenarios. If your kids will be bringing lunch, hold a brainstorming session with them to create a list of snacks, lunch items, and drinks that will help fuel their bodies, can easily be packed, and that they like and choose from that list when making the overall grocery list for each week. (We kept the “kid-approved lunch food list” on our fridge for easy reference.) My son liked “snacky lunches” when he was younger and preferred a divided container with a variety of finger foods to traditional sandwiches, and this worked well for us. Try to keep an open mind on the foods your kids add to the list and steer them toward combining items from multiple food groups to form a balanced meal to help them stay nourished until it’s time to come home.
Jump Start the Brain: Engage your kids in educational activities during the days leading up to school. This could include reading, puzzles, or math games, helping them transition from vacation mode to learning mode.
Do a Dry Run (& Make It Fun!) I recently saw a video on social media in which a mom shared that her favorite back to school tradition with her kids was called “Practice Donut Day”. Before the actual first day of school, she would run her family through the whole back to school routine – picking out clothes the night before, setting up backpacks, getting to bed on time, setting alarms, getting ready in the morning and out the door on time, but instead of going to school, they’d ultimately go for donuts, then go eat them and play at a nearby park and talk about what they’re most excited about for the new school year.
Older students may not need this same practice, but for those entering a new middle school, high school, or even college a relaxed advance trip to the campus to map out the class locations, best paths of travel for passing periods, and best drop off and pick up or parking points followed by a favorite lunch out together can go a long way in helping to ease first day nerves. (My parents did this with me before my first semester of college, as we went to the same school, and it was actually a huge help – even though I didn’t want to let on that I was a bit nervous at that age!)
Encourage Independence and Self-Advocacy: Empower your children to take charge of their own school-related responsibilities, such as packing their bags, organizing their materials, and keeping a calendar of due dates. Additionally, talk about who they can ask for help at the school if they have an issue, and for young kids, roleplay how to have these conversations. (Remember: Even communication is a learned skill, and our kids may need our help learning how to speak up for their needs effectively.)
Celebrate a New Year: Embrace the back-to-school season as a time of new beginnings and fresh opportunities. Help your children see the excitement in reconnecting with friends, meeting new teachers, and embarking on a journey of growth. Encourage them not to make any prejudgments about the year, their teachers, the difficulty of their grade or classes – but to simply go into the year expecting the best and doing their best. Everyone experiences things differently, and a hard grade or tough teacher for one student might be the best and most beloved for another. Assume the best is just ahead!
Remember, the return to school after summer break is a transition for the entire family. By following these tips and maintaining a positive attitude, you can make the process smoother and more enjoyable. Be patient, flexible, and supportive as your children adjust to their new routines. With your guidance, they’ll be well-prepared to embrace the challenges and successes the new school year has in store!
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