Preparing for back to school

Ease the transition of going back to school for young children.

Whether you think summer sped by or you can hardly wait for it to end, Labor Day is just around the corner and children will be going back to school. Going back to school after a fun filled summer can be a difficult time for young children, but there are things that parents can do to help make the transition back easier for the entire family.  Helping children to visualize time and transition to a new routine can make this period less stressful for the child as well as for parents.

Young children don’t have a good understanding of time so comments like, “two weeks,” “pretty soon,” “almost time” and “in a few days” are difficult for them to put in perspective. According to Michigan State University Extension, parents can help children get ready for school by providing more tangible ways to visualize the number of days before school starts. One way to do this might be to mark the days on a big calendar counting down the days until school begins.  Another idea would be to provide your child with paper strips and help them make a chain with the same number of links as the number of days until school starts. Another idea might be to put a number of small pebbles equal to the number of days into a jar and take one out every morning.  These are only a couple of ideas for ways you can help children make time more tangible, enabling them to visualize the concept of time. Routines can be very helpful and healthy for young children. An organized and predictable home environment including clear and realistic routines will help children feel safe and secure and can be a way of teaching younger children healthy habits such as washing their hands, brushing their teeth, exercising and relaxing. Regular daily routines have other health benefits as well.  Bedtime routines actually help our body recognize when it’s time to sleep, help us sleep better and awake ready to begin each day. Things like reading a story at bedtime can not only help support the routine but also become a valuable family time tradition.  Check your local library for some good books about going back to school such as David Goes to School by David Shannon or Amelia Bedelia’s First Day of School by Herman Parish.

For many families, summer is a time of very flexible schedules and little or changing routine.  Expecting children to suddenly shift to a new routine based around school can be stressful for parents and children.  Stress can be minimized with a gradual transition to the more formal routine. Begin the transition a couple of weeks prior to the start of school and start off with a family discussion introducing the schedule changes and the plan for preparing to go back to school.  Making the entire family aware of the end goal as well as the general plan for incorporating the changes for bedtime, story time, meal times, homework and bath time can also help make the transition easier.

Families can also prepare young children to return to school by reviewing plans for after-school care.  Take time to visit the child care provider if they are new or if children have not been going there during the summer months.  If children haven’t been interacting with some of their classmates during the summer, reconnecting with some of them by planning a play date or special activity could make going back to school easier.

Going back to school is compulsory; anxiety and family distress are optional.  Trying these techniques can make the transition easier for everyone.

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