August is here and, for many of us, that means last minute vacations, school supply shopping, and cramming in as much fun time before September as possible. And, while time spent at Target and on the beach are great ways to enjoy the end of summer, they might not be the best way to prepare for the monumental gauntlet that is about to be thrown down in most households: back to school.
If you homeschool year round, you’ve got an advantage on those of us who take lengthy summers to lounge around the pool and visit distant relatives. We’re about to be thrust into a complete schedule change and faced with many “news” — new teachers, new concepts, new schedules, new friends, a New Year! And, unless you’re one who loves change, this transition might be a struggle for you and your kids.
So, what’s the best way to prepare for school and develop a “new normal?” Because transitions are hard, and back to school means so much more than a supply list. Below are a few tips to consider and conversations to have so that you and your kids feel ready to tackle whatever comes your way.
1. Get Ready To Learn
The most important aspect of school — learning — is often what is forgotten on the back-to-school prep list. Chances are your child hasn’t had much sit still training this summer (and sitting still with a game controller in his hand doesn’t count!). So, the first place to start isn’t with new clothes and glue sticks, it’s with brushing up on what I call our “how to do school” skills.
If you’re homeschooling, this could simply be going over your curriculum plan, talking about what subjects they will be learning, and practicing your unique classroom requirements (kitchen table studying, crossing off work that’s completed, etc.). If your child is going to a traditional school, it’s key to practice classroom rules and requirements like raising your hand, how to line up, how to sit still while in a circle, making eye contact when speaking, and listening, etc. This is also the time to discuss homework, behavior, and grade expectations with older students to set the tone for what you expect from them. ‘Be prepared’ should be your back-to-school motto both with materials and expectations!
2. Get Ready To Go
I always loved playing “school” as a kid and constantly annoyed my big sister begging for her to play teacher. But, very few parents role play “school” with their kids these days. And this is something that is critical, especially for younger children. It’s proven that children learn best through play, and role playing can help them to emotionally and psychologically prepare for what they will face. From bullying to bathroom breaks, it’s important to prepare your students for what they will face on a daily basis and to give them the skills they need to feel confident in making decisions and navigating school on their own.
A great way to do this is the “What If In A Jar” game. Make a list of possible scenarios, anxieties, concerns, etc. that your child might face and place them in a jar. Everything from “What do I do if I need to use the bathroom while the teacher is talking?” to “What happens if I feel sick?” to “How can I ask mom for a break during a homeschool day?” Pull them out and role play at dinner or during down time. Not only will they know what to do, you’ll gain the confidence you need to let them go without worry, knowing they can handle the challenges they’ll face each day.
3. Get Ready To Play
Let’s face it, while academics may be the most important aspect of going to school, socializing is often the hardest piece for kids to manage. And if your child has had a summer at home, they might be unprepared or nervous to navigate social situations with those they haven’t seen in a few months. Again, role playing is a great way to prepare them for playground conversations, hallway banter, and the inevitable conflicts that they will face in the upcoming year. Talk about how to make a friend and solve problems constructively, then practice. Pretending with them will help develop communication skills they need to both make and keep friends, as well as resolve conflict.
For older students, it’s critical to go over what the definition of bullying is and how to combat it. Discuss ahead of time your rules and expectations for the year when it comes to friends and socializing, including use of their cell phones, Facebook, and even get-togethers during the school week.
4. Get the Routine Ready
Whether you make lunches on Sundays, have a family command center, or plan to homeschool in the evening, having a planned routine will make your life easier. So, get it together, and involve your children in the process. Use a family chart and write down important expectations, schedules, and events ahead of time. Decide who will make breakfasts and lunches, what time everyone will need to get up, and who will prepare the school bags or work area for the next day. And then start!
There’s nothing more toxic for learning than sleep deprivation and bad attitudes. And summer schedules are usually not conducive to early nights. Even homeschoolers need to get back into a school bedtime routine that is more appropriate for rest and readiness. Start your school time schedule as early as possible to get everyone in the right frame of mind to learn, or to make it to the bus stop on time. Begin by going to bed 20 minutes earlier for a few days then gradually walk the bedtime back over a week. Trust me your kids, their teachers, and the bus driver will thank you.
5. Get Ready For Growth
One huge mistake that parents make is to do too much for their children thus not preparing them to take on the responsibilities necessary to be successful at school and in life. This is even true of parents of little kids. One of the best ways to prepare your children for another school year is to give them responsibilities and room to grow.
How does this look for homeschooling families? Allow your child to set their own schedule or homeschool routine, to choose which subjects they will work on first, second, etc., and to choose their co-op classes, social events, or extra-curricular activities. Set expectations for daily tasks, grades, and household chores and stick to them with clear rewards and consequences. And set the bar higher and higher to encourage more progress in the coming months.
Parents with children in traditional schools should take stock of what skills and abilities their children will need at school and plan ahead to build those traits into them. Essentially, what will you not be able to do for them that you currently handle? Maybe it’s tying shoes, making lunch, managing time, or even organization. Start there and begin to work on those skills daily. Practice makes perfect, so practice these skills with your children so that they are prepared to take them on during the school year. This might require finding outside tools, so be sure to talk with your child about what they will need to take over these responsibilities and fly on their own.
Each new school year brings with it hope, expectations, and excitement. But, so often it also comes with its share of anxiety and stress too. The cure for this bitter pill is preparation. Start to prepare now and you’ll find that your transition to school goes more smoothly and has fewer growing pains for all involved.