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Back to School: The Great Return

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August 10, 2012

It’s getting close. Stores are beginning to herald its arrival with sale signs. The sun is starting to set earlier, and your pool passes are about to expire. Whether your family dreads or welcomes it, school is on its way, and there’s no stopping it. Here are some tips and tricks that help my family get back in the swing of things (with fewer gray hairs for me)!

Rehearse the Routine 

As far as routine goes, my husband and I don’t let the kids stay up much later in the summer than their normal school bedtime, except for special occasions. This is especially true the week before school starts. We mimic the sleep schedule exactly so everyone knows what to expect.

We also try to get the kids back in the “friends” routine. Summer friendships can operate differently than those created during the school year. Some kids have made friends at camp or while visiting grandparents for the summer, and it can be awkward being around local friends from school for the first time again. Younger kids can benefit from having a class meet-up before school starts to ease anxiety and help them realize they’ll have a lot of new—and some familiar—faces at school. An event like a potluck picnic or a play date at the school playground serves this purpose well.

We try to build enthusiasm during our “rehearsal” time in the weeks before school starts. We bring up something we know the kids are excited about. It could be going out for a new sport, an excellent teacher, or a brand-new lunch menu. And who doesn’t get excited about new school supplies? The kids feed off our enthusiasm and anticipate the new school year, rather than dread it.

The routine of the school year can be a welcome relief for kids who are going through tough changes at home, like an absent parent due to divorce, deployment, or work responsibilities. Once the first day of school is over, kids will have a fairly consistent routine where they’ll know what to expect. This is invaluable when home life has recently been shaken up.

Primed for Learning

It’s a good idea to keep kids intellectually engaged during the summer so schoolwork isn’t such a shock to their systems. I find that reading is the best way to do this for our family. I’ll admit that I’m lucky; all of my kids are reading fiends. I can’t stress enough that it’s much more important to foster a love of reading than to be strict about what they’re reading. As long as they’re reading, their little wheels will be spinning, making sure their active brains don’t rust.

When kids say they don’t like reading, their excuse is often that they find it “boring.” Letting them choose what to read eliminates the boredom that comes from prescribed reading. Utilize their interests and find a book on one of them. It doesn’t even have to be a book; comics, magazines, even guides for video games will still enhance your child’s reading skills by helping him learn how to follow instructions from written material and retain that information, both of which are essential study skills.

Reading’s not the only thing that keeps my kids’ brains active during summer. I also have them keep journals. I’ve found that journals are a fun and informal way to keep writing skills fresh, without seeming like too much work. You can have yours start a journal in anticipation of the school year; some kids find it a source of comfort throughout the school months.

Of course, summer’s a great time to be out and about. We take advantage of many of the hands-on projects that museums, zoos, monuments, aquariums, and parks have to offer. The kids often have so much fun they don’t even know they’re learning something.

For Sensitive Souls

Sometimes, even with preparation for the first day and an educational summer, kids have anxiety and need to be carefully eased back to school. Communication and information are both key when you have a worrier on your hands.

I always go to the orientation before school starts and meet each child’s teacher. If you aren’t able to do this, send the teacher an email. Ask what a typical day looks like. Some of my questions include:

  • What time is lunch?
  • What are the classroom rules?
  • Can my child have a snack?
  • Where will his desk be?
  • When are physical education, art, and music in relation to other classes?

I share the answers with my kids so they know what to expect. My children all benefit from being prepared in this way; their fear of the unknown is minimized.

If you have a particularly sensitive child, make sure to tell his teacher what triggers emotional reactions. Always get your children’s teachers involved by keeping them apprised of what’s going on at home. They can look for signs that your child is struggling emotionally, as well as modify activities in light of issues your child might be dealing with at home.

In essence, use the weeks and days leading up to school to keep your kids educationally entertained. A phased, yet gentle, reentry into the academic calendar will make life a lot easier for both of you.

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