by Dr. Minette Riordan. Written for and published in the North Texas Kids magazine’s August issue.
Yes, I know it is still early in August but it is time to start thinking about those dreaded little words: “Back to School.” My kids have had a great summer but I know that transitioning them back into the school-year routine can be a challenge for the entire family. While I am definitely ready to have them back in school and in a regular routine, I have enjoyed the lazier summer mornings without the hustle and bustle of getting them to school by 7:45 am. Maybe you are dreading shopping for new clothes and school supplies. It seems the older our children get, the longer and more expensive the list gets! I have some tips here that can help make that transition happen smoothly and stress-free, whether you have a preschooler just starting out or a middle-schooler complaining about the alarm clock.
1. Take your Child Shopping. Take advantage of tax free weekend August 22-24 and let your child pick out one new outfit for the first day of school. I don’t know about you, but I am not ready to buy a fall wardrobe yet, my kids are still wearing all of their summer clothes, but just having a new shirt or a cute pair of shoes can perk up your older kids. For your younger kids, let them pick out a backpack or new dress. Now, I don’t want you to think I am encouraging you to go spend tons of money on your kids because I am not, you can also use this as a teachable moment. Give your child a budget, whether it is $5 or $50 and help them spend it appropriately. Talk about what sales tax is and why they don’t have to pay it this weekend. Kick-start their math brains! For older kids, have them go to several stores and compare prices on some of their favorite items before they are allowed to purchase anything.
2. Refresh Math Skills. Speaking of math, this is one of the areas of learning loss that kids experience over the summer and teachers spend the first month of school re-teaching many basic skills. So for the month of August, start practicing math with your kids, just to get their brains moving again. Make a fun game out of addition and subtraction or multiplication and division. Use all that time driving to and from camp to practice. My kids love to quiz each other or me. Let the kids help with the grocery shopping budget and add up items on a calculator as you go through the store. Here are two websites that have some really fun online math games: http://www.funbrain.com/kidscenter.html and http://www.sheppardsoftware.com/math.htm.
3. Read to your kids. If you have been a little lazy this summer like we have about reading to your kids or having them read to you or on their own, it is time to get motivated. Add 10-15 minutes of reading to your child’s schedule, every day! Then on that first day of school, they won’t feel lost or behind because they can’t keep up with the teacher or their classmates. Building and practicing skills at home with your children also builds confidence and eliminates fear. Even just a refresher course in the alphabet for your first grader can boost their brain power and their self-esteem! Think about going to story time with your younger ones this month, especially if they are just starting school. Having them practice sitting still and listening to a story is great skill-building for your little ones. Check out http://www.momsoutloud.com for a great selection of story times around the metroplex! Libraries, book stores and even Pottery Barn offer a variety of times and age groups, including evening and Saturday times for working parents.
4. Play School. If you have a child at home who is nervous about going to school, or if you have daughters who love school, make the time to play school with them. Let them be the teacher, give you assignments, read to you. This type of role play can make the transition to school easier for your shy child once they know what to expect. Taking the time to sit down with your children to play creates an opportunity to just listen to them, you will likely discover way more about what they fear and what they are excited about during this type of play time than you would by just asking them questions at the dinner table. If you have several children, have the older siblings describe a typical day to the younger ones. I know my daughter was comforted just knowing her big brother was somewhere in the same building.
5. Start your regular bedtime routine early. At least two weeks before school starts, you need to start adjusting bedtime and wake-up time. One of the biggest challenges for children of all ages is getting back into the habit of waking up early. Especially if you have a night owl at home that has a hard time falling asleep, you really need to get them into bed early. This will eliminate some of the tiredness and battles of that first week of school. Our kids are going to be exhausted already just by being back in the classroom for 8 hours a day, help them out by making sure they are well-rested from day one!
6. Focus on breakfast. Make sure that your child eats a healthy breakfast every single day, children cannot think or focus when they have an empty stomach. Research shows that kids who eat a healthy breakfast perform better in school. Leave the sugary cereals and muffins at the store! A couple of websites with great ideas for quick and easy breakfast ideas are: http://kidshealth.org/kid/stay_healthy/food/breakfast.html and http://health.kaboose.com/nutrition/breakfast-is-best-4.html.
7. Meet the teacher. Most schools have a day where you can go and see your child’s classroom and meet the teacher. If you are working parent, please make time to do this with your child if at all possible. Seeing their new classroom and meeting their new teacher will do wonders for eliminating your child’s fears. Most of our children’s fears come from not knowing what to expect. As parents, we need to do everything we can to help our child understand what is going to happen in the classroom and who they will be spending their days with.
8. Countdown the days. Build excitement and enthusiasm by encouraging your child to mark the days off on a calendar or make a paper chain and allow them to tear off one loop each day until school starts. This works great with younger children!
9. Spend more time with your kids. Take advantage of the last days of freedom with your kids to talk to them, read to them, go for ice cream (or try out one of the awesome new yogurt stores that are popping up everywhere) or play board games. Create opportunities to talk to them about what changes the fall will bring along with the cooler weather. Remind them how much you love them and how proud of them you are. Don’t go overboard, just knowing that you are there and that you care about them will help alleviate some of your child’s stress. This casual conversation time is great for all ages but critical for your older childr
en. You want to do everything you can to keep those lines of communication open as they enter the challenging emotional trials of the typical tween and teen.
10. Schedule playdates. If you child has not seen any of his/her friends all summer, try to schedule a few playdates. This will help your child feel better on that first day of school, knowing that he or she still has a BFF at school. It may sound simple, but hanging out with friends is a great way to get your kids excited about going back to school. We can’t expect them to be excited about homework but it’s easy to get them excited about seeing all of their friends again.
11. Make friends of your own. New to a school or neighborhood? Reach out to your PTA or PTO president and ask for the name of a couple of families with kids the same age as yours and reach out for a playdate. We had a mom in our neighborhood do that and we were delighted to meet her and her kids. Turns out they live right around the corner and have become good friends and carpool partners. When we model making new friends for our kids, it helps teach them to reach out and meet new people, too.
12. Beat Your Own Blues. If your baby is going off to Kindergarten or Middle School or High School this year, that is a huge step and brings up our own fears, anxieties and sadness that our baby is growing up. Each of these stages is a time of transition for everyone in the family. Make sure to spend that extra time with your child but also make sure that you take care of yourself. If you are nervous and anxious, your child will be, too! You do not want to add to your little one’s fears or alienate your older child because your emotions are getting in the way. It is okay for you to grieve, to be worried or nervous about all of the changes you and your child will be experiencing. Find a friend who has already been through this experience and ask how they managed it, or find a friend with kids the same age and talk through your feelings. Whatever you do, be strong for your child and excited about the new stage they are entering. We all have to go through these rites of passage and we need to be there to support our children, boost their confidence and send them off with love. It can be very hard to do this alone, so ask for help and advice and work through your feelings so that you can support your child.
Dr. Minette Riordan is the publisher of North Texas Kids magazine and host of the North Texas Kids radio show. More importantly she is a wife and and mom of two school-aged children who is trying to get herself and her children prepared for August 24. She is also a Certified Parent Coach. If you need some advice and help working through your own fears and anxieties, or would like Minette to come and speak to your PTA or Mom’s Group, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her office at 972-516-9070.