By: Jen Fertenbaugh
Backpacks. Bedtime. Homework. No Need for Stress: We’ve Got You Covered.
Although many families may not be quite ready to say goodbye to their flip-flops and swimming pools, like it or not, the dog days of summer are coming to an end. And in a few short weeks, Pennsylvania’s children will be heading back to the classroom.
The weeks leading up to the start of the new school year can bring about feelings of anticipation and anxiety – for both children and their parents. But with a little bit of planning, families can be ready for the transition, and children can make a relatively smooth entrance back to the classroom.
Apply some of this advice to help your entire family have a successful start to the new school year:
1. Reset the Bedtime Before the First Day
Longer days, family vacations, and lack of morning commitments often result in a much more lax approach to bedtime during the summer months. In fact, a child’s bedtime could be moved back by as much as two hours or more, making the thought of early morning battles during the first few weeks of school a painful scenario to conceive.
According to childhood sleep expert, Kim West’s blog “8 Tips for Back to School Transition,” parents can implement a gradual approach to moving up bedtime in order to provide the least amount of disruption during the first few days of school. Rather than trying to force a nervous and excited third grader to go to bed 2 hours earlier than normal, move up his or her bedtime approximately 15 to 20 minutes each night. The gradual readjustment to the earlier bedtime will decrease tears and most likely result in much less sleep deprivation in the final days leading up to the start of school. West explains that, as a result, a child feels more rested on the first day of school. And most parents know that a rested child can more easily manage the uncertainty, newness, and information that the first day of school can bring.
2. Talk Out the Back-to-School Jitters
Many children experience a fair amount of nervousness in the weeks leading up to school, and when these feelings lead to avoidance behaviors, anxiousness, and tears, parents can often be at a loss for what to do. To minimize anxiety, the Johns Hopkins Children Psychology experts suggest that parents can begin by validating their child’s feelings. Remind them that they’re not alone. Many children feel the exact same way, and a little case of the butterflies on the first day of school is a completely normal feeling. Also, parents can make efforts to engage in frequent discussions with their children about the upcoming school year, focusing on the positive and exciting opportunities that lie ahead. Remind children of what they loved about school in previous years, and try to generate the excitement of anticipating that they will again get to experience things they enjoy once the new school year begins.
3. Get Organized
In addition to managing children’s anxiety, parents can reduce their own back-to-school stress by developing a simple plan of attack to manage mountain of correspondence they are bound to receive. It is important to come up with a plan is doable and that works for the family. Consider how to manage the various types of paperwork—correspondence from the school, graded work and progress reports. An easy way to manage it all is to develop a simple system. Parents can purchase an inexpensive stand-alone file, and organize by child, month or category, depending on the number of children and their ages.
4. Schedule Doctor Visits Before School Begins
If possible, it is best for parents to update any medical information, visit the pediatrician, and secure any medical notes for the school in August. If a child needs to be given medication during the school day or if he or she requires special accommodations because of an allergy, it is much easier—and provides a great peace of mind—to have everything submitted before the first day. If parents have questions or want to verify all forms are submitted correctly and expectations are clear, they can contact the school nurse directly.
5. Plan for the Entire Year
It seems like a lot of work, but parents can also reduce the potential for future stress by planning out their schedules and updating their calendars for the entire school year. Review the bus schedules and plan the routines around what time children need to be at the bus stop or dropped off at school. Be sure caregivers are clear on the bus schedule as well. And although many children will bring home a district calendar the first few days of school, almost all district calendars will be posted online before the first day. If possible, take the time to record any early dismissals, late starts, or holidays into the family calendar as soon as possible to avoid surprises that can result in childcare headaches that can cause stress later in the year.
6. Establish the Homework Routine
While paperwork and daily schedules will help tremendously, one of the most important routines that can be established is how and when children will complete their homework. Be sure to set firm, yet reasonable expectations, deciding where and when children will complete their assignments. Parents can avoid headaches and teach children responsibility and self-reliance by developing and sticking with homework routines. For example, have children show a parent or caregiver their homework assignment as soon as they get home from school. Decide upon a dedicated time to complete the work—keep it consistent throughout the week—and check to see the work was completed. A great way to encourage accountability in older children is to allow them to participate in the development of their own expectations. Children involved in the creation of their own homework expectations tend to take more responsibility for following them than those who had no say in how manage the task.
7. Strategize the School Supply Shopping
For many families, the trip to the store for new clothing and a backpack has become a mid-August tradition, but it doesn’t have to be expensive. Back-to-school sales are in full swing by mid-summer, so be sure to shop around for the best deals. Before heading out, get a sense of what each store offers in terms of discounts by checking their websites. Also, when possible, take advantage of online shopping from stores that offer free shipping.
In addition to back-to-school fashion and accessories, a thoughtful approach to school supply shopping can help parents spend far less. Before buying anything, take inventory of what is already in the home. Many families realize they have much of what they need left over from the year before, stuffed away in drawers and cabinets. Figure out what children need for the new school year, and create a list. Parents can keep the list handy for anytime they are out shopping. As they come across deals, the remove items off the list as they purchase them. Many schools and teachers will provide a list for parents, so be sure to check the school’s website or call the school secretary for some guidance of what to purchase before heading out to the store.
Finally, parents can avoid emptying their pockets extras such as special pens, colorful highlighters, and fancy binders by differentiating between their child’s wants and needs. Try to stick with needs and refrain from buying the wants until after school has started. Most things are discounted after school begins, so they can often be purchased for less. In addition, parents can offer these items as early rewards for positive behaviors to help children build confidence as they get their footing in their new school routines.