We are at the crossroads of another transition. Summer is coming to an end, and the school year will soon begin. Summer is a time when we encourage our children to take a break from their regular schedules. We allow them to indulge in the extra dessert, later bedtime, more screen time, and anything else that may make them smile and further embraces their passions and individualism. However, the month of August and September can also be tricky because although our kids may want to continue the summer flow, we have to help them transition back to school.
Routines are the key. Kids do better with structure and setting up routines welcomes this. So even if you let your children indulge during the summer and allowed for less stringent structure, here are a few routines you can begin to establish to prepare them for the school year.
- Altering bed times. During the summer, many kids are allowed to go to bed and rise later than during the school year. In September, they will lose the flexibility to sleep in and we know that sleep is essential for academic success. Changing sleep times is best done gradually. So, begin waking them up earlier in the morning and have them engage in some set activities that can’t be changed to force them out of bed. Eventually, this will help them shift to an earlier bedtime, and things will gradually cycle back with greater ease to how it was during the school year.
- Bedtime reading routine. If your kids have not been reading right before bed, begin to set this practice into place. Make bedtime reading fun. Encourage them to read anything they prefer. If they would like you to read with or to them, please do so. If this routine is in your current practice, continue it!
- Daytime reading routine. During the day, ask your children to set aside two 15-minute periods where they will engage in structured reading. Here, ask them to read for ten minutes and respond to the reading in some way. The can either talk to you about what they have read, draw a picture in response to the reading, answer a self- or adult- created question, or journal thoughts triggered by the content. These fifteen-minute reading sessions should welcome a variety of writing. It could consist of a newspaper article, a blog post, an extract from a research journal, a short story, a poem, etc. If you can engage in the activity with them, even better. Aim for two times; however, once a day is fine. If your child wants to spend more than 15 minutes on the routine, bravo! The time limit is set for 15 minutes so that older kids (upper elementary and middle school) can complete it with success. Feel free to alter the time as needed.
- Writing routine. As your children get older, writing will be the vehicle they use to show their learning and understanding. Writing is a skill that needs to be continuously fine-tuned regardless of age, experience, and expertise. Provide your kids with a fun, new journal and have them write for ten minutes. You can provide them with topics, or they can generate their own. If nothing comes to mind, it is fine to connect this with the reading routine and have them respond to the prompt. However, it is best, if they can journal about their thoughts, or even use this time to write more creatively – perhaps a poem, a story, or a song. They can continue writing the same piece from day to day, or craft something new every time. It can be private, but if they wish to share, provide them with an audience and celebrate their writing, regardless of what it is. Cherish their ideas and don’t analyze or critique their work, especially for grammar errors. Let them use this time to write for the joy of writing. The more one writes, the more they will love to do so.
- Organization routine. School success hinges on organization. As students go from elementary to middle to high school, they are expected to be more organized and utilize tools that facilitate this with greater ease. Begin to set up some of these tools even before school starts.
- Lists are key. Help become a list-centered home. Co-construct lists with your kids about the things they will need each day in school. Set up a system that identifies who will make the list, its location, how it can be altered, and when and how it will be used. Model behaviors by using the lists (read, complete, and check off when complete) for kids who need the support and continue to do it regularly. Habits take time to form.
- Calendar. Create a clear calendar of events. In August, make one for September and October and start to include extracurricular activities and any known school and personal events. Also, include necessary materials needed for the activities and events. The materials could be listed in the margins or in the calendar itself, if there is room. Place this calendar in a central location, so it is accessible to all. You may choose to have a calendar per person or one calendar that is color-coded for different people or types of events.
- “Stuff” setup. There is so much “stuff” involved with school and other extracurricular activities. Begin creating systems on where and how things will be housed. Make it a family activity and welcome your child’s voice. Make it a problem – solution activity and create solutions together. You may want to begin by deciding where backpacks and extracurricular materials (i.e. sports equipment, uniforms, dance shoes, musical instruments) will be located. Afterward, set up a homework area and make sure that it is stocked with all essential school supplies. Create labels to identify the locations and start to place materials in the correct location.
- Fun routine. You don’t have to eliminate all indulgences simply because school is starting. Set up a regular time where you and your kids can break some of the routines. Instead of deviating from some of these routines listed here, use this time to plan a weekly or monthly activity that may not be part of the regular schedule. Perhaps it is a weekday ice cream trip or an extra 10 minutes on the I-Pad. Whatever you decide, be sure to be consistent with adding fun into your schedule, and remember to take suggestions from your child.
Transitions are not always easy. Taking some time to set up some routines and encouraging that these decisions are made by the family will help to make the great leap into this school easier. Enjoy this time and the beginning of the school year with your children. It is a transition for us all.
Pooja Patel, MA