Thursday, August 11, 2016

Easing Back to School

As we move toward the middle of August, the sun sets a little earlier each night, and our thoughts begin to drift toward Back-To-School.  As an elementary school principal, this time of year brings absolute joy after a summer of working in a school absent of children and teachers.  It’s just not the same without the hustle and bustle of a school day, and I am eager to enjoy a building full of smiling faces.  As a mother, however, I know that this time of year can be difficult for families.  For our family, we are preparing to send our oldest off to college for her freshman year, marking a major change for all of us.  No matter your family's circumstances for transitioning from summer to school, there are some things you can do to make the change easier on everyone.

Start or Continue a Back-to-School Tradition
Ours started completely by accident, but has now endured for 12 years.  When my son was a year old and my daughter was going into first grade, my little guy had a terrible virus the week before school was starting, and the three of us spent most of that week on the couch watching Disney’s Brother Bear.  The following year, as school approached, we gravitated toward that movie again, and our tradition was born.  During the school year, kids thrive on predictability and routine, and while summer offers much-needed opportunity for unscheduled fun and spontaneity, easing them back into a schedule can be hard.  Starting the process with a fun family tradition can be a good first step back into school mode.  Simple, elaborate, whatever fits your family’s style, but I can say from experience, it is worthwhile for both kids and parents.

Anticipate and Plan for Nervousness
I have yet to meet a child who doesn’t have even a little worry about the start of a new school year, though some may hide it better than others.  They will have a new teacher, new classmates, and a new grade level full of expectations.  It is to be expected that they may be a little moody or sensitive, or just not themselves.  When you see signs like these, that’s a good time to ask some questions and try to get them to talk about their concerns.  For older kids, talking may be just what they need, or perhaps corresponding back and forth with you in a journal.  For younger kids, role-playing Back-to-School scenarios with stuffed animals was a favorite at my house, acting out scenes for making friends, asking the teacher questions, etc.  Within the first few days, most kids are right back into a groove, but any efforts made ahead of the first day will only support that transition.

Make the Most of the Final Summer Days
As we shift from summer to preparing for school, activities tend to revolve around trips to buy supplies, clothes, and new lunchboxes, or signing up for fall sports and after-school activities.  Make it a point to do something spontaneous and summer-like as you get these things checked off of your to-do list.  Grab an ice cream or have a picnic between trips to the store, or plan a summer evening round of mini-golf after a day of going through last year’s fall clothes.  This afternoon, my kids are going out to shop for supplies together, and this evening we will all enjoy a fire, smore’s and Kan-Jam tournament to end the day.  That kind of balance helps everyone to feel less like summer is ending, while still ensuring that steps are being taken to be ready for school.

Keep in touch

Most kids will walk through the doors feeling nervous, but will settle right into their class.  They’ll find their friends, make new ones, and get to know the space in which they’ll spend the year learning and growing.  We cannot deny, however, that some may have a harder time or take a little longer, and that’s nothing to be alarmed by.  In these cases, reach out to your child’s teachers and school administrators for support.  We expect bumps in the road and are very well prepared to support the kids and the parents.  They say it takes a village to raise a child, and from my vantage point of being an educator and parent, I can verify that ten-fold.