August 18, 2011
It happened the last week. I woke up and the sun was just “different” in the sky. I could feel a difference in the light and the coolness in the air as I went for my daily walk in the morning. The difference in light brought back memories of the transitions to fall: new school supplies, the first pair of shoes for the new school year, and the fun of seeing old friends. I loved school growing up but the transition from vacation to a structured school day can be difficult for many children and parents. Even children who are eager to return to the classroom must adjust to greater levels of structure and the demands associated with the school day. Getting a new school year off to a good start can influence a child’s attitude, confidence, and performance for the entire year, both socially and academically. With just a few adjustments you can make this transition easier. (You can remember these steps with the acronym: GO TEAM!)
- Get a Plan. Check out what you were supposed to have done over the summer and find out the logistics of going back to school. Schedule any needed check-ups or routine appointments now and try to make a schedule for the first few weeks that is predictable. Make copies of all your child’s emergency information for reference. For your children, designate and clear a place to do homework. (Older children should have the option of studying in their room or a quiet area of the house. Younger children usually need an area set aside in the family area to facilitate adult monitoring.)
- Organize. Help kids organize materials and study schedules. Fill backpacks early and check out needed supplies. Make a note of important dates, especially back-to-school nights. Visit the school if possible if you are in a new area or classroom. Select a spot to keep backpacks and lunch boxes at home. Designate a spot for your children to place their school belongings as well as a place to put important notices and information sent home for you to see.
- Transition to the New Schedule. If you have time, start sliding into an earlier bed time and a more structured schedule of activities, especially in the morning. Buy only the essential school clothes to start. Summer clothes are usually fine during the early fall, but be sure to have at least one pair of sturdy shoes. Check with your school to confirm dress code guidelines.
- Establish Good Communication with Your Teacher. Offer to help out in whatever way you can. Establish a means of communication for the year, and especially if you co-parent with a former spouse, talk about how to maintain a good sense of what is going on in the classroom. Volunteer or offer some sort of classroom supplies if you can, or explain if you can’t, but ask what other ways you can support the teacher.
- Activities after School Should be Selected Carefully. Don’t overschedule. Leave time for children to be creative and to play in an unstructured way. Make certain there is family time built into the new schedule.
- Model Empathy and Compassion. Have a discussion with your child about talking with other children who don’t seem to know anyone or aren’t wearing the latest styles. (If you are screaming at another parent in the parking lot that isn’t a good start!) Give your child a few strategies to manage a difficult situation with another child on his or her own, and encourage your child to tell you or another adult if a problem situation persists. Let your children know you care. If your child is anxious about school, send a personal note in the lunch box or book bag. Reinforce their ability to cope. Try to arrange get-togethers with some of your child’s classmates before school starts and during the first weeks of school to help your child re-establish positive social relationships with peers.
Most of all, have a sense of humor and remember that transitions to a new routine are tough on everyone—there are bound to be missteps, and how you handle those “problem moments” is important for your child to watch as a way for them to learn good coping skills. Make your schedule as easy as possible the first week so you can be there for extra support if necessary—transitions are tough on us too.
Have a great first few months and enjoy the Fall!