Depending on your child, you’re either hearing moans and groans or cheers of excitement around this time of year. With summer break quickly coming to an end, it’s almost time for students to head back to school.
Not to fear though, Johns Hopkins All Children’s experts weigh in on the top ways to prepare families for back-to-school–starting with a little prep and practice:
Prepare a Routine
–Parents know how hard it is to get out the door on time during the school year, but preparing ahead of time can save a few minutes during the morning hustle. Think about what your family can do on the weekend or at least the night before to save time, such as prepping healthy meals, setting out clothes for the week or organizing their school supplies and backpack. Parents can also help color code folders ahead of time (i.e. red folder is paperwork to bring home, blue folder is for homework, etc.) and notebooks to help their students take good notes while at school that are easy to sift through later.
Also, consider working with your child to create a morning routine. For example set timelines to wake up, brush teeth, get dressed, brush hair, eat breakfast and leave the house.
Make a list
–Part of preparing a routine can also include making a daily or weekly list of “to-do’s.” To make it fun for your child, use a dry erase board or dry erase markers on their mirror to write out a check they can mark off that includes reminders like doing homework, chores or simple tasks as remembering to make the bed each morning.
“Writing out tasks provides a visual reminder of everything that has to be done,” says Jennifer Katzenstein, Ph.D.
, clinical director of pediatric psychology
at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital. “This provides a reference for a child to go back to, to know what the next step is, and once a task is complete, having the satisfaction of checking it off the list.”
Get back into the school week schedule
–Gone are the summer days of staying up late. Before school starts, do a couple dry-runs of getting your child to bed earlier and waking up earlier to ensure they’re ready for the first day back to school. Be sure the bedtime routine includes some quiet winding down with a book or simply turning off electronics before bedtime.
“It’s important when practicing your school week routine to not leave out any parts or details, and also make sure to practice the routine more than once,” says Jen Arnold, M.D.
, medical director of the simulation program
at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital. “By following every detail of your morning or bedtime routine and repeating it, the more it becomes part of your muscle memory and helps everyone in the family, especially your child, feel empowered and ready for the first day of school.”
Schedule a school tour
–For kindergartners or children who may be a bit anxious on the first day, setting up a school tour can be beneficial. Walking the halls and seeing where the classroom, bathroom or nurse's office is can make a child feel more comfortable in a new place. Also, consider doing a walk-through to see how long it takes them to get to certain areas so they have a better idea of timing.
Have a return to home routine
–Prepping for the day can be just as important as winding down from the day for families. Kids may be excited to arrive home and turn on the TV or play with toys but try to take a moment of silence for a minute, meditate or even use a calming jar to help wind down and refocus. Then keep on schedule by helping with homework or involving your child in preparing a healthy meal. Katzenstein also recommends having family dinner together each night.
“Family dinner allows you to have that special time with your child to talk about the day and bring up any questions or issues they may be dealing with like bullying,” Katzenstein says. Also, consider avoiding questions like, “How was your day?” where you might not get a lot of information. Instead, ask open-ended questions like, “What was the best part of your day and why?” or “What did you and your friends talk about at school today?”
Develop a time for open communication
–While talking with your child on a daily basis about school life is important, it’s also key to practice gathering feedback from your child’s teacher. From day one, introduce yourself to teachers and aides at school and set up regular meetings to discuss your child’s progress. To get the parent-teacher relationship off to the right start, you might even consider a small gift or treat to break the ice by showing appreciation and helping to open the lines of communication.
Remember these tips to get a head start for the first day back, and with a little prep and practice your family will make it through the school year.