It’s that time of year again…when all the stores change out lawn equipment and pool toys for notebooks and pens, when all the bathing suits (happily for me) disappear and khakis take their place, and the smell of fall is in the air. OK – well, that last part isn’t actually true, at least in my corner of Texas, but the first part is and for me it’s an exciting time. I am an office supplies junkie (Sharpies! Note pads! Folders! Organization! Brilliance! Fulfillment!), so I have traditionally looked forward to this season.
But now I’m a Mom. Between the wallet crunch, pre-schooler anxiety, and not-too-distant memories of crazy mornings trying to get us out the door on time, the thought of going back to school is not all pleasant.
So while both I and my pre-schooler are craving a more structured routine, I am also a bit anxious about the coming few weeks. He is changing schools, so while we’ve already gone over the hump of daily separation, we’ll be facing a new school, new teacher, new kids, new parents, and new expectations. For me, worrying manifests itself in research, and now I’m going to share with you everything I learned when searching for the best way to prepare Jack (and the rest of our family) for school to start.
Here are Eight Steps to a Smooth Back-to-School Transition:
#1: Introduce the Concept
This section is for younger children who are entering school for the first time. Moms, there is a reason there is such a wide selection of “going to school” books out there on the market. Simply, it helps young children know what to expect, and knowing what to expect makes them more confident and prepared. My personal favorites are: The Berenstain Bears Go to School, Froggy Goes to School, and Barney & Baby Bop Go to School. (Doubt you need all three, but I never say no to hand-me-down books!)
#2: Introduce the Environment
This is where first-borns are really at a disadvantage to their younger siblings, who often get the chance to “tag along” to events, meetings, and functions at schools well in advance of their own enrollment. For kids who are just starting school, or (like mine or new middle school students) are changing schools, this is a critical element not to miss. Most schools have a registration day and/or an open house day where kids can come to walk the hallways, see their classroom, and even possibly meet their teacher. Definitely take advantage of these opportunities.
But don’t stop there: check with your school administrator to see if you might do a few visits over the course of the couple of weeks before school starts. With Jack, we take a route to drive right by his new school every morning, and I have been purposefully pointing out all the positives about the building/playground/outside and talking positively about his new school. And the school very graciously offered to allow us to come in a few times before the official Open House to quietly explore the library, the music room, and the playground. Because they only have a few students there during the summer, they’ve even allowed us into the actual classroom he’ll be in, so he’s been able to see where all the different items are kept, where the bathroom is, where the sink is, etc. I know this has made Jack feel a lot more comfortable with the change.
#3: Get Your Head in the Game
Of course, all the experts say that throughout the summer, you should be having your kids keep their mental skills sharp by having them engage in a wide variety of mind-stretching activities. This could be a consistent schedule of reading, mathematically-based games like Suduko or numbers mazes, or choosing a subject they’re interested in and spending the summer learning about it. I have a good friend who even hired a tutor for her daughter who struggles in math to introduce her to the next grade’s math curriculum to give her a headstart (and more confidence). But what if you haven’t had your child in chess-camp for the summer? Here are some ideas you can try in the next couple of weeks:
- School-related crafts: Cook Children’s says that “crafts help children’s attention spans and their capacity to follow steps and instructions, which will have a positive effect on their academic learning.” Pairing the activity of crafts with the subject matter of back-to-school reinforces the positive association with school. There are some great ideas for back-to-school crafts at Family Fun and Kaboose, including these adorable backpack buddies.
- Word and Math-Related games:www.FunBrain.com, www.CoolMath4Kids.com, and the PBS Kids Zoom website. Spend some time with your kids over the next two weeks playing some word and math games. This could be as simple as word scrambles, seeing who can find the most words within a word, or playing checkers or Battleship. Some great sites to check out for kid games are:
#4: Make a List
This is on
e of the most expensive times of the year for families as they fork over registration fees, stock up on school supplies, and outfit their kids with back-to-school clothes. One of the best ways to keep control of your spending is to make a list before you shop and stick to it.
- School Supplies – Most schools will provide a school supplies list by grade so you know what they will need to bring to class. Get it. This will take the guess-game out of at least one part of your shopping needs. Janet, mom to 21 year old triplets, suggests always carrying the supply list with you. You never know where you’ll find one of the items on sale. Also, try finding these at dollar stores versus grocery stores or mass merchants to really stretch your money. And one other word of advice: don’t buy more than what’s needed. This can be really hard for some of us (remember, I’m a school supply junkie), but save your money – something WILL come up later, but there’s no way to anticipate what it will be now.
- School Clothes – Go through last season’s clothes and decide what’s usable and what’s not (either outgrown or out-used). If you’re lucky, maybe your kids will even try them on for you so you can really assess needs. Then, take a look at your hand-me-downs or other sources of clothes to see what you can supply without shopping at all. After these two steps are complete, create your list of clothing needs.
#5: Let Your Kids Make Choices
All the experts agree that by letting kids choose their own supplies and clothes, they get more engaged and excited about the back-to-school process. So while the items and quantities on your list shouldn’t change, you should allow your kids to have control over exactly what is purchased in each category. Of course, this is within limits….You are the parent, after all. But if you can provide parameters (e.g., any pair of jeans under this dollar amount with no holes or rips) or narrow down to allow them a choice from a few options, it can make you both happy.
Same goes with school supplies. Where you can, personalize them – or better yet, let your children personalize them. All kids love to have things with their names on them. Or, try one of the crafts above to let your kids’ individuality shine.
#6: Reset Your Internal Clock
Possibly the hardest adjustment to back-to-school time for kids and parents is the morning wake up call. Don’t wait until the last minute to start getting back into a routine of earlier bedtime/earlier wake up than your summer has likely allowed. (In other words, if you haven’t already started setting the alarm for your kids when you’re reading this, do it NOW.)
What to do with the kids when you get them up this early? First option is to reconnect with kids your child may not have seen much of this summer but who will be back at school with him/her. Set up a playdate for around school start-time to give yourself an “appointment” you have to make. Another idea would be to have your neighbors meet at the bus-stop for a breakfast “party”…a great way for your kids to meet some of the neighborhood children who may be in the same grade or at least at the same school (if they don’t know them already) and for you to meet some of the parents.
#7: Get Organized
For those of you who are just starting the school stage of life, you are about to be bombarded with event and practice dates, volunteer requests, donation requests, birthday parties, etc. You will want to create a system to keep all of this organized with minimal clutter.
- Create an “entry area”. I am exceptionally jealous of those of you who may have the Pottery Barn Brady Entryway Suite ($1229.99 per section, 2 sections pictured). I can only dream of such refined clutter control. My version is a Target entry bench ($200), with 4 coat hooks hung on the wall just below an 8″ deep shelf that holds a couple of baskets on the top. Doesn’t look nearly this nice, but it works, and at around $300 for everything, I’m pretty happy.
- Set up a family calendar. My personal favorite is the More Time Moms Calendar Organizer, $14.99. I’ve used this for the past three years and have bought it as a gift for my sisters and a few friends. It has the biggest squares I’ve found for writing in all the details on appointments for you and your family members. It comes with a lot of pretty stickers to highlight big days (e.g., doctor’s appt, birthdays parties), but I find I don’t have room for them because I write too much in the squares. This is really essential if you have multiple caregivers in the house (e.g., you/your spouse trade drop off/pick up duty or you have a frequent babysitter/nanny). If you’re really organized, you could go one step further and color-code the ink color for each family member (I tried it but gave up because I couldn’t keep track of which ink went with each person…but I aspire to be that organized.)
- Create a family documents central. One of the best ideas I’ve heard (that I plan to implement myself but haven’t had the chance to yet) is to buy a hanging magazine folder like the one pictured here to store documents for each child. (This 3-tier version came from www.OrganizeIt-Online.com for $39.99). R
eminders, art work, permission slips, etc. can all be placed in the section pertaining to each child. That way, you won’t lose papers and you’ll be able to avoid a cluttered countertop in your kitchen.
#8: Address Your Child’s Fears
Although it is easier to ignore some of the nervousness your child may be feeling about starting or going back to school, all experts agree that that is a bad strategy. Instead, arm your child with facts to quelch possible anxieties and let them know they are not alone if they feel nervous about this transition. Some tips:
- Keep your own attitude positive. Your child will pick up on any anxiety or fear you have – even if unspoken. So, be upbeat when talking with your child about school, and focus on all of the great things that will happen in the new school year (new friends! new puzzles! new books!).
- Run through the logistics with your child. Your child may be worried about things we take for granted, like drop off/pick up, snack times, etc. Describe to your child what the day will be like (ask the teacher at open house for a typical class schedule), what kind of snacks they can have, where their personal things will be kept, who will be there to pick him/her up and when, etc. Think about all the things you would want to know if you were visiting a foreign country, and then explain it in the simplest terms – like you’re talking to an elementary schooler.
- Let your child know that nervousness is normal, and that everyone has it. Your child may be able to express their nervousness to you, but if they can’t, look for signs of it (changed mood, appetite, asking a lot of questions, etc.). Tell them a story about your own first day jitters – and, of course, how it all turned out great. Choose some books (like those above) that describe how anxious the characters are before the BIG day, and then how much fun they have once they’ve started school. Don’t dismiss the fears, just focus on the positive and how much fun it will be.
I’m hopeful that by following these steps, you and your kids (and me and my Jack) will have a great back-to-school season!