Useful back to school routines to start now

cropped shot of girl preparing backpack for school

It’s easy to get off regular routines over the summer months For my family, mornings are typically less rushed but evenings jam-packed with baseball. Sleep schedules shift as do certain rules such as daily tech quotas.

While a more relaxed schedule works for us during the summer months, this flexibility can create problems come fall.

The school year often means more to fit in and within a tighter schedule. Kids also face heightened emotional and academic demands during the school months.

Getting back into regular routines takes time. With this in mind, it’s worth tuning up home life now rather than after the school year starts.

Ready for some specific tips to get back to school routines in order?

Then read on!

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Good back to school routines start with mornings

Mornings can get pretty chaotic during the school year. There’s a lot to get done in what seems like a painfully short period of time.

So mornings are a great starting place when tuning up back to school routines.

Below, we’ll look at three helpful strategies to guide this process.

Keep flow in one direction

A streamlined morning routine, with clear expectations around tasks, helps the day start smoothly.

Ideally, this process includes keeping the flow of morning activities in a single direction.

For example, if bedrooms are upstairs and the main living area downstairs, get the upper level tasks—such as dressing and teeth brushing—done first. Then have your child move on to main floor activities—such as eating breakfast and ensuring school stuff is ready by the door.

If your kids are like mine, they’re prone to getting off track by frequent trips up and down the stairs.

But what if you or your child prefer to delay dressing and/or teeth brushing until after breakfast?

In this case, consider having your child bring her day clothes downstairs. She can change after she eats, assuming there’s a private location to do so. And stock a main floor sink area with toothbrushes and toothpaste.

Limit distractions

Also, consider morning problem areas. For example, does your child end up sidetracked by highly engaging toys or electronics?

If you have younger kids, tuck distracting items out of reach. For older kids, make distracting activities contingent on getting through the morning routine.

Ultimately, you know your household best. And finding a workable system often takes experimentation (and a lot of patience).

Two young African girls play with notebook computer among toys, doll and book in front of glass window.
Photo by nrradmin

Set up complementary evening routines

Having good systems in place at night makes mornings easier.

This includes packing lunches and having backpacks ready (e.g., with completed homework, signed papers, etc. inside) the night before.

Also consider having your kids preselect their clothes in the evening. Doing so will mean one fewer task come morning time.

Two of my kids, ages 6 and 10 years old, prefer to change into their school clothes the night before. As a result, they wake-up already dressed for the day. And, as an added bonus, it saves me buying them PJs.

Not every system will work for every family or at least, not indefinitely. For example, I don’t expect my kids will be sleeping in their daytime clothes come adolescence!

Like other aspects of parenting, careful consideration and tweaking is required.

Come up with an after-school plan

There’s no perfect formula for after-school routines. What helps one household run smoothly will differ from another. But having some kind of system in place—however that may look—helps.

What does my family’s after-school routine look like?

At the end of the school day, I expect my kids to unload any extra papers, dirty clothing items, and lunch items from their backpacks. Extra papers go into a designated area within our family command centre, dirty clothes are placed near the staircase (to be later carried up the laundry area), and lunch bags go onto the kitchen counter.

After this step, my kids do best with some time to relax. A snack is offered if they’re home 2 to 3 hours before supper. I’ll either chat with them as I sort through lunch bags or we’ll sit together at the kitchen table together.

After unpacking bags and having a snack, my children have some downtime. The oldest often has daily homework that he typically starts before supper. The younger two have daily reading, which we do as part of their bedtime routine.

You’ll, of course, need to figure out what works best for your household. For example, some kids (and parents) prefer to get schoolwork immediately out of the way.

And there are also other considerations such as extracurricular activities that affect the flow of afternoon and evening routines.

Hence, some degree of flexibility—and troubleshooting—is often required.

Mother making school lunches at home while her two children sit across her at the kitchen isoland
Photo by monkeybusiness

Get kids back on school-friendly sleep schedules

Sleep commonly gets off-kilter over the summer months. This includes laxer bedtime routines as well as later bedtimes and wake-ups.

While it’s possible to adjust bedtime routines and sleep times after the school year starts, this can make for a rocky return to classes.

Kids do best when given time to adjust to new expectations and habits. And starting a new school year off tired doesn’t set our kids up to do their best cognitively, behaviourally, or emotionally

So, rather than the cold turkey approach, consider gradually adjusting your child’s sleep before the new school year starts.

What does this process look like?

If you child’s sleep times aren’t significantly shifted (i.e., no more than an hour or so later than her school sleep schedule), nudge bedtimes and wake-up times 10 to 15 minutes earlier every couple of days. The goal here is to allow your child’s body to gradually adjust to the new schedule. Getting sleep back on track typically takes a week or two depending on the degree of shift

And what to do if your child’s sleep schedule is markedly off?

In this case, a similar method is often applied. However, expect this process to take longer. If you’re uncertain about how to get your child’s sleep back on track, reach out a trusted health care professional or sleep consultant.

And don’t forget to pair a new sleep schedule with a consistent and relaxing bedtime routine as well as optimized sleep environment (e.g., dark, comfortable temperature, not overly stimulating).

African American father and daughter reading book together at bedtime
Photo by LightFieldStudios

Revisit family rules and responsibilities

It’s normal for certain family rules to relax over the summer months. This includes more time on devices, especially if your kids are at home for long stretches of time.

But now’s a great time to re-establish school-time limits on electronics such as total daily tech limits and electronic-free times such as during family meals. Ultimately, the rules you set will depend on your family values and circumstances.

These rules may include limiting electronics on school mornings—to help get kids out the door with limited coaxing and fuss—as well as prior to bed—to allow for more timely tuck-ins.

Regardless of the tech rules you set, I suggest making them for the whole family. This means parents included! For example, if kids are expected to keep devices out of their bedrooms this rule should also apply to parents. By following the same guidelines, we—the parents—act as role models. Kids are more likely to comply if they see us leading by example.

Beyond tech rules, the back to school period is a great time to set expectations around family responsibilities.

This includes assigning chores such as feeding family pets, helping with meal preparation, and participating in other household tasks such as cleaning and laundry.

Provide hands-on training, as needed, and perform regular family check-ins to tweak any problem areas that arise.

Little girl helping her mom with laundry
Photo by Rawpixel

Schedule weekly reviews and family meetings

In our home, we use weekly reviews to help keep us on track.

Briefly, our weekly review system involves my sitting down with each child on Sundays to go through the past week, the week ahead, and any accumulated papers such as artwork and forms.

During the Sunday review sessions we use use a weekly paper calendar to record upcoming activities. Once completed, the calendar is posted in a high traffic area. That way, we can easily consult it throughout the week.

If you don’t have a family organization system, I strongly suggest implementing one. And if you have an approach that works well for your family but has fallen to the wayside over the summer months, now’s a great time to reactivate your system.

Family meetings are another useful tool to stay organized. These planned family gatherings have helped keep my home life coordinated and harmonious.

We use family meetings for a variety of household activities including:

  1. Parent-driven concerns (e.g., dealing with hectic mornings, difficult bedtimes)
  2. Topics of interest to kids (e.g., desire to get a new pet, allowance)
  3. Family-related issues (e.g., planning an upcoming weekend or vacation)

Regardless of whether you do weekly reviews and/or family meetings, try to schedule in regular family time.

Life can get very busy once the school year starts. So hectic, in fact, that we can end up feeling disconnected from the people who matter most.

But we can stay better connected by including family events in our back to school routines. So, before the summer ends find time to plan some regular family time into your fall scheduling.

Happy multiracial family including mother, father and two boys gathered together on couch
Photo by Ridofranz

Are you ready to tune up back to school routines?

It’s normal for family rhythms to change over the holiday months.

And while this change of pace may work for summer days, the school year often necessitates more structure.

The back to school period can get pretty busy, especially when it comes to herding kids out the door and into bed on tighter deadlines.

And the school year often means heightened emotional and cognitive demands.

So, set your family up for success by creating solid back to school routines.

What area of your home life is most in need of a fall tune-up?

Let me know in the comments below!

Mother helping daughter for school by placing lunch box into child's backpack
Photo by LightFieldStudios

Want more helpful back to school tips?

Back to school routines help get your children school-ready. But also check out these other helpful ideas to ease kids through the summer-to-fall transition:

Intentional parenting: start the new school year off with purpose – a guide to infusing some intentionality into the summer-to-fall transition

8 helpful back to school preparation tips – get your kids emotionally and academically ready for the new school year!

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