After several months of lackadaisical schedules, family vacations, and plenty of downtime, the school year tends to sneak up on us quickly. For some families, back to school is an anticipated event marking the return to a consistent schedule and routine. For others, the start of school can be a stressful time. But no matter where your family falls on the spectrum, switching from the lazy days of summer to a busy school year requires transition – and transitions can be hard.
Whether you have kids that are dreading that first early morning alarm or they can’t wait to get back into the classroom, being prepared for the changes that lie ahead is the best way to ensure a successful school year – academically, emotionally and physically. Most experts agree that easing kids into the school year schedule about two weeks in advance will help everyone in the family, especially in those first few weeks of the new school year.
With most Richmond area schools opening just after Labor Day, now is the perfect time to start planning for the coming year. We’ve put together a list of things that you can do starting today to help your whole family transition smoothly and successfully into another school year.
1. Establish appropriate bedtimes and wake up times two weeks in advance.
Getting enough sleep is essential for our health, concentration, and overall well being. This is especially true for kids who are still growing. The National Sleep Foundation recommends 9-11 hours of sleep a night for elementary-aged children and 8-10 for teenagers. Determine what time your children will need to be awake in the mornings and set a bedtime that ensures they get the sleep they need. Start with these new bedtimes and wake up times now so that you have time to establish healthy sleep habits before the start of school.
2. Create a morning routine.
Do you have a kid that struggles to get up in the morning? Another kid who is a picky eater? How about that one kid who never knows what to wear? Plan your morning routine in advance based on your kids’ needs. For your late sleepers, set an alarm (or multiple alarms) a little early to give them some extra wake up time. For picky eaters, decide on your breakfast menu the night before and have them help pack lunches. And for your fashionista, laying out clothes the night before will help with early morning indecisiveness. Whatever your family’s unique needs, having an established routine will help with morning chaos. Posting a morning routine checklist in a central space can help everyone stay on schedule. Try a free printable routine chart or make your own with your kids’ help.
3. Set school year screen time rules now.
We’d all like to think that we keep a grip on screen time rules no matter what the circumstance. But most parents will confess to being a bit laxer during the summer months. Whether it’s allowing a little more time on tablets or phones during car trips or letting kids “chill” with some extra TV time before dinner, we do what we need to do to survive those long summer days. With a couple of weeks of summer to go, it’s good to set your school year screen time expectations now so that kids aren’t caught off guard when suddenly, the rules seem to change. Remove mobile devices or screens from bedrooms to ensure proper sleep, provide a clear set of rules about what’s allowed and when, and start following the new schedule at least a week before school starts.
4. Set up a “family time” that you can keep in place throughout the school year.
If you’ve just spent a summer at home with kids – or even just survived a family vacation or two – then you might feel like you’ve had all the “family time” you can handle. But once the school year starts and after-school activities, homework, and crazy schedules kick in, it’s easy for families to feel like ships passing in the night. Plan now to set aside family time, whether it’s every day or just once a week. Your kids’ age and schedules will impact your options, so be sure to discuss it together. Maybe it’s as simple as always having breakfast or dinner together, or perhaps it’s a family game or movie night. Do whatever works for your crew, but just remember the importance of staying connected – crazy schedules and all.
5. Before going back to school shopping, take stock of what you already have.
It’s easy to just grab the school supply list and check items off one-by-one. But if you have kids who have been in school awhile, chances are you have more of a school supply stockpile than you realize. Before buying one more pair of kid-sized scissors or yet another box of colored pencils, see what you already have. You might just be surprised. The same goes for clothes. Take time to sort through what’s already there, get rid of things that are outgrown, and have a clear idea of what needs to be purchased to round out the school year wardrobe. In the end, your wallet will thank you.
6. Get ahead of the paper trail.
Any veteran parent will tell you, keeping up with school year paperwork is one of the greatest challenges of adulthood. Between school forms, permission slips, and ongoing PTA/class party/school concert flyers, it doesn’t take long for the kitchen counter to be overrun. Before the school year even starts, create an “inbox” where kids can place any important papers they bring home. As part of their after-school routine, have them check their bags for any of these important items and place them in the established place. Then, as part of your morning or nightly routine, you can quickly go through the stacks, adding important dates to calendars, signing forms, and tossing anything that you don’t need. This will also be a great place to keep school schedules, syllabusses, and other back-to-school documents.
7. Determine your child’s learning style and be prepared to discuss his or her need’s with teachers during open houses or back-to-school nights.
There are three basic learning styles: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic/tactile. And while most people rarely fit neatly into a single category, you don’t have to be a professional to determine your child’s learning style. To get a better sense of how your child learns, try an online quiz, or simply read up on the different styles and think about how your child interacts with the world around them. Armed with this knowledge ahead of time, you’ll be able to talk to teachers about specific aspects of their classroom and/or teaching style that might present advantages or challenges to your child. Likewise, if you know more about how your kid(s) learn, you’ll be more prepared to help them throughout the year.
8. Create a distraction-free homework zone.
Countless workplace studies have shown how much time we lose to distractions – even as adults. It can take as many as 25 minutes to settle back into our work after something as simple as a phone call or email break. For kids, concentration can be an even greater challenge. Setting aside a place in the home and removing distractions from the surrounding area, whether it’s a family office, the dining room table, or a desk in your child’s room, can go a long way in helping them stay on task. Especially once you’ve established their learning style (see above), you can talk to your kids about what they need to make their space an effective homework environment. Some kids need organizational tools, others do fine in a more cluttered space. But before the school year starts, work with them to create this special space and keep it as a dedicated “learning area” throughout the year.
9. Get into “learning mode” with fun, last-minute summer outings.
The beauty of learning is that it’s not confined to the classroom. Kids are sponges and can learn in nearly any environment. With just a couple of weeks of summer left, plan an outing or two to one of the many historical or educational sites here in Richmond. Try our list of Best Historical Sites for Families or try one of the many interactive learning experiences available at the Science Museum of Virginia (for older kids) or the Children’s Museum of Richmond (for younger kids). Talk about what you’ve seen and done and get everyone excited about learning before the first school bell rings.
Whether your family is approaching the start of a new school year with excitement or trepidation, there are plenty of ways you can set your kids – and yourself – up for success in the coming year. And while we strongly encourage families to get routines and schedules established early, don’t forget to soak up these last few days of summer! When the busy school year starts, you’ll be glad you did.
Do you have any good tips for getting kids ready for back to school? If so, we’d love to hear them! Drop us a line anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org.