Where do the summers go?
We’re already well through August. Where I live, this means kids will be returning to school in a matter of weeks and back to school preparation is in full swing.
For me, these life shifts are a natural opportunity to reconsider my family’s priorities and infuse some intentionality into the steps that lie ahead.
When it comes to a new school year, these steps include physical preparation. There’s a long list of items to gather together such as school supplies, clothes, and footwear. And let’s not forget tweaks to home organization systems and family routines that’ll make for a smoother summer-to-fall transition.
But just as importantly, I want to prepare my kids emotionally and academically for the school year ahead.
In this post, we’ll explore how you, too, can set your kids up for emotional and academic success. We’ll cover eight useful strategies to reduce stress and help kids feel empowered during the summer-to-fall transition.
Ready to help ease your kids into a new school year?
Chat with your kids
New school years can be both exciting and stressful—and this mixed bag of emotions can leave kids feeling pretty overwhelmed.
Sharing thoughts and emotions can help. But our kids may not open up spontaneously. So, rather than wait for your child to take the lead, engage your child in conversations about the summer-to-fall transition.
What’s the best way to start these chats?
Try asking your child open-ended questions such as, “You’ll be starting school in a couple of weeks. How are you feeling about this?”
Start with validation
If your child expresses worries, try not to respond in problem-solving mode. We hate seeing our kids struggle. We’re also natural “fixers”—especially when it comes to other people’s struggles. But launching into problem-solving mode can make things worse rather than better.
To stay out of fixing more, try repeating back what your child has said. For example, you could say something like: “If I’ve heard you correctly, you’re worried you won’t have anyone to talk to on the first day of school.”
Our first goal is to ensure our kids feel heard and understood.
Then move on to problem-solving
Once you and your child are on the same page, ask her whether she’d like to work through the worrisome situation together.
If your child agrees, start by exploring her own resourcefulness before stepping in with adult-based solutions.
For example, ask your child what she can do if the fear-provoking situation comes to pass. If your child is uncertain, offer examples of similar past situations she has navigated successfully.
And do let your child know that you, and other supportive adults, will always be there to offer help as needed.
We want our kids to develop a sense of self-efficacy—that they’re able to solve their own problems. But we also never want them to feel alone when it comes to tackling challenges.
Emphasize the positive
We don’t want to sugarcoat situations and provide false assurances. However, steering conversations towards the positive can help set our kids up for success. This is especially true given our natural human tendency to focus more on the negative than the positive.
What we—and the people around us—pay attention to grows.
So, how can we keep things realistically positive? It can be as simple as offering encouraging words about your child’s upcoming school year.
For example, you can say something like, “Ms. Smith will be lucky to have such a great helper in her class.” Or, “You’re going to learn so many interesting new things this year.”
You can also point out other back to school perks such as your child seeing friends, playing on the playground, reading new books, and engaging in other activities he enjoys.
Talking positively about the new school year will help your child feel more optimistic and confident about the months ahead.
If you have any reservations, such as your child’s classroom placement, try to keep these worries to yourself. Some matters are best addressed directly with your child’s teacher or other school staff.
Kids will naturally express concerns about a new school year. Transitions can be hard for all of us. And while these doubts may sometimes seem small in the bigger scheme of things, it’s important to let our kids know that their worries are normal and expected.
So, treat doubts with validation while keeping conversations hopeful. The point here is to maintain a balanced perspective—which often requires we give purposeful attention to the positive.
Have kids make a DIY report card
Traditional report cards offer specific measures of a child’s success. But what if your child struggles to meet these objectives?
Even kids who excel academically may find themselves highly focused on external benchmarks. Meeting outside expectations is part of life. But research suggests that internal motivation—learning to work towards personally meaningful goals—is a stronger indicator of success and happiness. Kids who are internally driven are also more likely to develop a lifelong love for learning.
So, how can we foster our child’s internal motivation?
One strategy is to have kids design a do-it-yourself (DIY) report card. As part of back to school preparation efforts, have your child write down what they most want to accomplish during the upcoming school year. This can include academic objectives but also, ideally, other goals.
For example, perhaps your child really wants to ride his bike to school, make a new friend, or join a school club. These are all great details to include on the DIY report card.
Come traditional assessment time, have your child review his DIY report card. This is a wonderful opportunity for kids to celebrate successes, even the small ones, and modify outstanding goals, as needed.
In addition to fostering internal motivation, DIY report cards help children practice goal setting. It takes practice to set realistic meaningful goals and see these objectives through. So, why not help your child start building this valuable skill, now, while simultaneously nurturing his internal drive?
Take away unknowns
Life will always bring uncertainty. However, we can limit unknowns—at least to some extent—by gathering and sharing information with our kids.
For example, can your child visit her school prior to the first day of classes? This is a particularly helpful back to school preparation approach for new students and anxious children. Many schools, in fact, offer orientation events that help familiarize children with common school areas and school staff. So, reach out to your school to see if this is an option.
If within school visits are not possible, look into alternative ways to acquaint your child with her school. For example, visit school grounds and share any pertinent information you know. Can you point out where your child will enter and leave the school? Or where she will catch the bus or be picked up by a caregiver? If you have direct access to school grounds, let your child explore the play area.
If direct access to your child’s school site is limited, can you share photos or videos of the school building and school staff?
Prior to starting primary, my youngest was able to watch recordings of his teacher reading children’s books alongside her pet Burmese Mountain Dog. Our son’s fears about the new school year noticeably lessened after he watched these videos.
Even kids familiar with their school may face upcoming changes in the new academic year.
If this is true for your child, chat about expected differences such as having a locker, moving from class-to-class, increased academic expectations, and new after-school arrangements.
Walk your child through their first day
Getting specific with your child’s first day of school is another great back to school preparation strategy.
Reach out to school staff to find out about the school drop-off procedure. For example, will you walk your child to her classroom or be parting at the school entrance? If you can’t walk your child in, is there a sibling, friend, or friendly school staff member who can accompany your child to her classroom?
Also inquire about the agenda for the remainder of the day.
Is there a transition activity your child will engage in upon first entering the classroom? One, that will help get her mind off back to school jitters? And what is the order of activities for the remainder of the day including classroom-based activities as well as recess and lunch?
Use this information to verbally take your child through their first day of school. You can also rehearse the morning routine including the actual goodbye. Consider coming up with simple parting phrase such as, “It’s time to go to school, mommy loves you, and I’ll look forward to seeing you at the end of the school day.” Then practice this parting phrase in the days leading up to school start.
A transition object can also help. For example, is there a small object of shared significance such as a rock you found together on a hike? Or perhaps a small piece of your clothing can serve as a comforting reminder?
Each of my children took a family photo, attached to the inner lid of their tin pencil case, on their first day of school. They helped pick the picture and tape it in place.
Being involved in little decisions, such as choosing a transitional object—alongside knowing the details of their first day—will help kids feel empowered as they head back to school.
Get back into learning routines
It’s normal for kids to forget some of what they’ve learned over the summer months.
This isn’t to get you worried or suggest that your child should be studying over the holiday break. The summer months offer other benefits for kids and families. And this is something to celebrate.
But as a new school year approaches, do include some learning activities in your family’s back to school preparation efforts. This will help ease your child’s transition into a new academic year.
For example, if your child hasn’t been reading regularly over the summer months, now is a great time to revisit this habit. Try starting with some family favourites or visit a local library for new books to read. If your child is nervous about the new school year, ask your librarian for suggestions about books that can lessen these fears.
If your child has work to complete over the summer, make sure it’s wrapped up well in advance of the first day of school. Scrambling to complete homework doesn’t make for a pleasant end to the holiday break.
The weeks prior to school start is also a great time for your child to familiarize himself with any school-related tech and online platforms. This includes ensuring old passwords still work and recording them in an easy to access home location.
And don’t forgot to discuss systems that’ll help your child stay organized and on top of his work. This includes a designated low distraction spot to do homework, equipped with needed supplies, as well as a system for keeping track of upcoming assignments such as an online or written agenda.
Strong relationships help your child get the most out of the school experience. And knowing some familiar faces on the first day of classes will help lessen back to school jitters.
Explore ways for your child to meet his teacher and other school staff prior to the first day. This could be through an in-person school orientation or by popping into the school with your child to say a quick “hello” to your child’s teacher and front desk staff.
Another option, although less personal, is to write your child’s teacher an introductory email. Ask your child if there’s anything she’d like her teacher to know about her and include this in the message.
The student-teacher bond is important. And these little steps, even prior to the school year, can help get this relationship off to a solid start.
The end of the summer is also a great opportunity to have kids meet-up with friends.
Summers can get pretty busy and playdates may have fallen off the radar. If your child has drifted from their school friend group, consider hosting some playdates late in the summer to re-establish these friendships.
Also, if your child is new to the area, reach out to school staff or school parent association. Both resources can help connect you and your child with other local families prior to the new school year. That way, your child won’t feel lost in a sea of unknown faces on her first day.
Ensure supports are in place
Open up channels of communication with your child’s teacher and school staff before the school year starts. A collaborative relationship will help your child get the most out of her school year.
This is especially true if your child has physical or mental challenges that may impact his full functioning within the school environment. For example, kids with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) benefit from additional supports.
Some schools require letters of diagnoses before putting extra supports in place. With this in mind, request a letter from your child’s doctor that includes both your child’s diagnosis and recommended supports.
If you’re not sure what extra resources may help, try consulting local support groups or online resources. For example, here in Canada we have the Centre for ADHD Awareness, Canada (CADDAC). There’s also a similar US-based organization called Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD).
Schools should also be alerted of any medical diagnoses that may require special precautions or emergency medical assistance such as allergies, diabetes, and seizure disorders. And complete any necessary school forms if your child needs to take medication at school.
Which back to school preparation tips will you use?
There’s a lot to accomplish prior to a new school year.
But with a little intention and some preplanning, your child will be in a better position for the summer-to-fall transition.
And a key back to school preparation step? Getting our kids emotionally and mentally ready for the academic year ahead.
Fortunately, there are several ways we can take to make this process easier—including the 8 back to school preparation tips provided in this post:
- Chat with your kids
- Emphasize the positive
- Have kids make a DIY report card
- Take away unknowns
- Walk your child through their first day
- Get back into learning routines
- Facilitate relationships
- Ensure supports are in place
The beginning of the school year can be pretty overwhelming.
But by going through the steps, above, you can help make this transition less stressful—and more joyful—for your child and family as a whole.
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