The end of August signals the start of school and the transition to the next phase of life. The flow of summer can come to a grinding halt or steady shift as we begin to find the new rhythm of the school year. It can be stressful or challenging to all involved, especially to children if they sense that same trepidation in the adults they watch. It’s also exciting and invigorating as September means the prospect of new learning and friendships, as well as new school supplies and clothes, too! It’s time to capitalize on the life lessons of embracing change, life-long learning, and the promise of a fresh start!
As with any ups and downs in life, young children and elementary-age children benefit from the deliberate conversations adults can initiate during these stages of life. Furthermore, some careful planning (which hopefully you’ve begun) can ease that transition phase. If you’ve got a week or so before school starts, consider the following shifts, which will help establish or maintain a new routine at home:
- Shop for clothes and books now. Label supplies unless they will be community supplies. Ditto for lunch box, backpack, and uniforms. Model how to use a permanent marker and enlist the help of your child.
- Familiarize your child with school and the teacher. This might be a drive by or visit to school. A letter from or to a teacher. Checking out the website together. Getting together with new classmates. Write notes to the teacher, especially if there’s something your child likes, has a fantastic idea for, or has a twinge of worry they can express with a sketch or short note.
- Peruse cookbooks for new lunchbox options and/or dinner. Take turns marking recipes with your child and spend some time the last few days baking and freezing goodies or trying new recipes. While you’re at it, double up on some dinner you prepare this week to freeze, so you’ve got one less thing to do yourself during the busy first few weeks of school.
- Decide with any parenting partners, the parameters for the school year routine. Keep it flexible, but consider transportation, homework locations/routines, TV/screen allowance (or the absence of), household responsibilities, and schedule down time as well as activities.
- Once you decide on the above, engage in a conversation with your child to glean his/her input. Make a visible schedule together and post it where your child can see it. If your child tends to need prompt or reminders (or you feel like a nag by week 3), make short lists of the steps s/he needs to follow to independently get ready for school, unpack at the end of the day, or get ready for bed.
- Consider starting a trial run of your wake up and bedtime routines several nights before school starts. In our house, my youngest started sleeping in until 10 am in early August. That meant sliding bedtime and wake up back two full weeks before school. We’re getting there, but it’s still hard.
- Enjoy the lingering hours of day light after-school. Twilight walks or down time to chat are still possible in many parts of the country this time of year, and remind us of long summer evenings.
For teachers, I can recommend no better way to help your students ease back into their new routines than with the deliberate pace and guidelines from the Responsive Classroom’s First Six Weeks. Activities such as modeling routines and providing practice in the first few days, allows children to learn and internalize guidelines. Articulating hopes and dreams for the year helps to generate classroom rules. The gradual opening of classroom materials and engaging children to help organize parts of the room yields a sense of ownership for the place the learning which will unfold in the space they help create and maintain.
If you’re not already a follower, look for them on Facebook or their site. If you’re wondering how to maintain some of that relaxation you achieved during the summer months, look for the Well-Balanced Teacher on Facebook or check out Mike Anderson’s site. His forthcoming book, The Well-Balanced teacher will be released from ASCD in September – just in time to remind you of how productive and balanced you can be in the classroom when you’ve got a handle on the rest of your life.
Whether at home or school, children need (often crave) boundaries and guidance from caring and observant adults. Observe yourself – are you calm, anticipatory, and viewing the start of school as a new opportunity to face life’s challenges, share your own talents, and learn from others? Your child will sense that and benefit from your enthusiasm, whether you are a teacher, a parent, or lucky like me, to be both.