As summer break comes to what might feel like a screeching halt, students and parents alike are getting ready for the upcoming school year. The idea of returning back to school is often met with excitement, anxiety, and fear of the unknown. Getting everyone back on track and ready for a successful year is a team effort. From setting routines, to regulating screen time, to keeping students motivated, it all requires a bit of preparation. Here are some things to keep in mind as you get your family ready to head back to school.
Getting back into the swing of routines is always challenging after a long, fun summer. Whether your family went on vacation, your kids were at camp, or they spent most of their time sleeping in and relaxing, it’s an adjustment for the whole family. Special education teacher and Parent Toolkit expert Danielle Kovach recommends easing kids back into routines. As school gets closer, she encourages parents to create small routines to help them get used to a schedule. “In August, give kids a summer bedtime. The week or two before school set alarms for them,” Kovach says. Another simple routine can be to have kids pick up their clothes off of the floor before bed or in the morning. This will help them practice tidiness and organization.
Doing dry runs before school starts with your kids is another way to help them prepare for the new school year. Kovach says that showing kids where the bus stop is helps to relieve anxiety as they head back to school. Having a map of the school and going over it with them can help them feel prepared for their first day, especially when transitioning to a new school.
Check Required Forms and Documentation Ahead of Time
For parents, back to school also means back to filling out forms and important documents. Most schools require health forms, emergency contact information, and waivers for students. Kovach encourages parents to be more proactive than reactive as kids head back to school.
It is important to know what your school requires and to be aware of how the school communicates with parents ahead of time. Required documentation varies depending on the school district. Some schools only send out digital communications while others send out snail mail. If you are unsure where to look for information, you can visit your child’s school website or contact the main office.
For parents with students who are enrolled in special education programs and have Individualized Education Programs (IEP), Kovach says that it is extremely important to review their program and placement during the summer. “Go over the objectives of the year for your student and reach out to their teacher and case manager ahead of time,” Kovach says. “Also, be sure to ask questions about your student’s placement. There might be an oversight in their scheduling so double-check ahead of time.”
A great way to connect with school administrators or the parent teacher association/organization is to start online. School websites and parent groups on Facebook can help you discover resources, upcoming events, and connect with other parents. It is also a good way to stay connected with the school community throughout the year.
Participating in parent-focused groups can help you establish a voice on your student’s campus. You can do this by volunteering on a committee where you can lend your time and talents. Not to mention, it is a great way to show your kids what it looks like to serve and invest in education. Joining one of these groups can position you to advocate for the needs of students and the school at educational meetings at the local level. We know that parents have a lot to juggle, so remember not to overextend yourself. Think about if and how you’d like to participate and schedule your time accordingly. Help Your Kid
Win at Social Media This Year
There’s no way we can talk about school without talking screen time and social media. Most kids are on their phones and electronics for hours at a time throughout the day. A report conducted by Common Sense Media found that the average kid spends nearly 9 hours a day on a screen. And, for the record, parents are averaging the same amount of time. Soon enough, it’ll be time to balance screen time with homework time. As the school year gets closer, you’ll want to help your child wean off of the technology. “If kids have been on devices all summer it’s kind of addictive. Don’t make them go cold turkey — it can cause behavioral issues,” says Kovach.
Before your kids head back to school, you should have conversations about social media habits and use. Laura Tierney, founder and president of The Social Institute works with parents, students, and schools to change their perspective about social media. As a family, Tierney says that you can start by setting social media household standards. “Encourage your whole family to live by standards instead of rules,” Tierney says. “When you set standards for the family, you’re talking about what everyone should be doing instead of setting rules.”
Some of the standards could be to stay off the devices an hour before bedtime, to complete chores and homework before socializing online, and to not post embarrassing photos of friends or family members online. Parents, check yourself on this one, too. Be sure to practice the same social media standards that you’re setting for your kids.
Finally, don’t be too quick to write-off all screen time as bad. Electronic devices are everywhere and when it comes to using them, Tierney says, “Not all screen time is created equally.” It is as important for parents to check with teachers about the amount of screen time required for homework and assignments as it is about checking grades.
Set Goals and Openly Discuss Failures
Setting goals over the summer with your kids is a great way to help them prepare for the school year. Research shows that students can learn from their mistakes when they receive critical feedback. In fact, trying to avoid making mistakes may be counterproductive to learning. Kovach recommends highlighting areas where parents and kids would like to see improvement and growth. “Focus on the student’s failures. Ask your kids what they failed at because that’s a part of being able to succeed,” Kovach says. You can start this conversation and goal-setting process by asking your children what they learned from their mistakes from the previous year.
Talking to your kids about what they want to accomplish this school year can motivate them to not only meet their goals, but to think positively about the process. Setting goals before the school year begins can also help them focus on what is important to them. Inspire them by sharing your goals with them or to come up with a common goal that you can strive toward together. A common goal could be to arrive at school or work on time, to finish homework and household chores before dinner, or to be a more active listener with teachers and colleagues.
Relax and Be Positive
Once you’ve helped them set their goals, remember to keep a positive attitude about the new school year. “Understand that kids are going to be emotional, so be sympathetic and empathetic as well because we’ve all been there,” says Kovach. She encourages parents to find something to get kids excited about school. It can be affirmations or a school supply they really enjoy.
Things like back-to-school shopping and helping your kids get over their phobia of returning to school can take up a lot of your time and energy. To alleviate some of that stress, Kovach recommends that parents shop when there are sales before school starts. The last thing you want to do is be the parent with a check list of school supplies and items that your child needs when everything is out of stock.
Planning ahead of time should save you time as summer break ends. “Try to get everything done a week before school starts so that the week before school starts your family can spend stress-free time together,” says Kovach.
After spending the entire summer, or a good chunk of it, together, spending less time with one another can be tough. While emotions might be running high, remember that your kids follow your lead. If you are confident that they will be fine and do well, they will pick up on that. If you’re all over the place, there’s a strong possibility that they will be, too. Spend these last moments of summer creating new memories and get excited about starting the school year strong!