As the lazy, hazy days of summer melt away, family thoughts turn to the approach of the school year.
While many parents eagerly anticipate the return to the structure of the academic year, children may be experiencing a wide array of feelings from excitement to dread. How can we best prepare children to resume the rhythm of their school-year lives? It is helpful to think about readying the body and the brain.
Many children have had relaxed bed times during the summer and, in spite of the summer reading requirements, many children have had a “formal study hiatus.” The following tips can help your child to start his or her new grade level in the best way.
1. Practice good sleep hygiene about two weeks before the school year resumes. Try getting your child up a bit earlier each day until the school year awakening time is achieved. This may require having your child turn in a bit earlier each night, tired or not. And, it is useful to establish a “wind down” routine each night. This routine should incorporate activities designed to relax and should avoid activities that are over-stimulating.
Children should be discouraged from engaging in cognitively stimulating behavior, even reading, in bed. If they want to read, they should do so in a chair. Of course, all caffeine products should be avoided after noon.
2. Convey an excitement about learning. If you are bemoaning the end of summer, your children will find September to be more challenging. Consider having dinner conversations about things you are interested in learning yourself as well as about things your children will be learning. Incorporate information related to the curriculum your child will be studying. If he/she is going to studying ancient Greece, watch a TV show together about the Trojan War. If he/she will be studying birds, take a family visit to the National Park to bird watch.
3. Set your household up for success. Avoid over-booking your family for events during the month of September. Your child will be able to establish a better school-life balance if your family is not too busy in the first weeks back to routine.
Proactively set up and display a family calendar showing how you are devoting your time. Establish organizational schemes such as where the book bag will go each night (fully packed for the next day), where instruments will be stored, where gym clothes go, etc. to facilitate ease in managing materials.
4. Ritualize the rite of passage. Particularly at transition points (entering kindergarten, moving from elementary to middle school, etc.), memorialize the moment. Taking a picture by the same tree each year or putting a “wish for the year” on a piece of paper that gets stored now and revealed at year’s end can add a positive importance to the beginning of the year. Some children will be thrilled to return to friends, clubs and sports activities, but most children will have some anxiety about the unknown.
Model calm confidence in your child’s ability to adjust to the “new” and, also, that a new year is a reason to celebrate!
Katherine B. Howard, MA,NCSP, LPC, has been a school psychologist for more than 30 years in both public and private schools. She is currently in her 21st year at Old Trail School in Bath, Ohio serving as school psychologist and director of support services. She has provided training to schools across the country as well as a large number of educational associations and organizations and can be reached at email@example.com.