Start early on the sleep schedule. A successful first day of school begins with a good night’s sleep, but how soon should we rewind the clock? Amy McCready, founder of Positive Parenting Solutions, recommends starting to get them back on an earlier bedtime schedule two weeks out, so your kids have enough time to adjust. You don’t have to do it all at once, though. Pushing back the bedtime by fifteen minute increments will ease your kids into the new routine.
Getting enough sleep isn’t just about going to bed earlier. In order to be ready for the morning wakeup call, your kids should start waking up sooner, too. Just like bedtime, McCready says stop hitting snooze around two weeks before school begins. Remind your little ones: having a good sleep schedule is the most important first step to starting the school year off strong. (And if all else fails – tell them that getting up earlier means a having a longer play day!)
Do a dry run of the first day. Just as kids have a dress rehearsal before their dance recital, they also should have a run-through before their first day of school. But what does this actually look like? Start by finding a day your family can go over the morning routine. Jennifer Miller, author of Confident Parents, Confident Kids says you can keep it simple, but also make it fun by turning the overview into a game. “Visual reminders work well at this age, so have your child draw each step, starting with waking up.” Then, hang up their new work of art in a central location, so you can get to practicing!
The key to a solid routine isn’t just mapping out the steps – but also figuring out what order they should go in. McCready recommends establishing a “When-Then” routine. “Structure your morning so the ‘yucky’ stuff – like brushing teeth or getting dressed – comes before the fun.” For example, tell your kids, “When you’re dressed, your hair is combed, the bed is made, and your backpack and lunch box are by the door, then breakfast will be served.” Do your kids have a tendency to dawdle? Give them a time limit. “Let them know the kitchen closes at a specific time,” McCready recommends.
Once your child understands the flow of the morning, get them familiarized with their new surroundings. Many schools open during the final weeks of summer to allow teachers to prepare for the new school year ahead. During this time, try to find an opportunity with your child to walk around the building, peek inside the classroom and introduce yourself to the teacher. “Small steps will make significant difference in your child’s transition,” Miller says.
Anticipate the biggest issue. Starting school can be scary for some students, but you can help ease your little one’s worries before they arise. Michele Borba, author of UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World recommends anticipating the biggest issue of the school year, and planning ahead for how you’ll tackle it. Does your child have a hard time saying goodbye? Find a spot to say your farewells ahead of time. (Hint: Come up with your own secret handshake to do each morning as a special tradition!) Are they worried about getting to and from class? Help them map out the hallways, specially marking specific locations, such as the bathrooms, the cafeteria, or the nurse’s office. Starting at a new school? Find them a back-to-school buddy so they have one familiar face on their first day. Are they forgetful? Establish a space for them to put their belongings and show –don’t tell—them how to utilize it. (Grab the sticky note reminders for extra backup!)
Lay the foundation for independence.. Jumping back into the school year can be hectic, but resist the temptation of doing everything yourself, and instead focus on giving your kids the tools to be self-sufficient. “Think about how your kids could function on their own if there were no adults in the house,” McCready says. Whether it’s pouring their own cereal, making their own bed or yes – choosing their own clothes – empowering your kids to be independent will lay the foundation for the year ahead. (Think about it this way – the more they can do on their own, the less you’ll have to nag!)