18 Aug Navigating the First Weeks Back to School: A Guide for Parents
For parents and children, the first few weeks back at school are critical. It is a time of parents trying to set up routines amid chaos, and for kids to learn the physical and emotional layout of their new classroom. It can also be a time when children can learn new skills like building a growth mindset, and well as new math and reading skills. Parents can work to help returning students through this transition period by keeping open channels of communication and involving kids in decisions.
Setting Up New Routines Amongst the Chaos
Parents and children know the struggle it can be to build routines that include adequate sleep, mealtimes, study periods, and playtime. Here are some tips:
Evenings: Shifting back to earlier bedtimes and wake times is a key step to a smoother back-to-school rhythm. Whether your children are already back at school, or not quite yet, one way to make early bedtimes easier is to involve your kids in creating an evening routine. Pick a time in the evening, and maybe a transition activity like watching a show together, everyone together putting things in the living room away, a family game night like Uno or cards, or reading a story together. Have that activity be the hook to begin to wind down towards bedtime. Habit stacking, adding a new habit to an existing part of a routine, can be a powerful tool.
Mornings: Believe it or not, the key to getting out of the house in the morning likely starts the night before. Think through and identify the items and activities that hold up everyone getting out of the house on time and see what can be started or done the evening before.
For the Kids:
Backpack: When do kids put their homework & books in their bag (right after it’s completed, early evening, or as 1st step of bedtime routine before brushing teeth)? Help your children create this habit so finding homework doesn’t hold you up the next day.
Clothes: Choose clothes the night before. Kids can pick them out, and mom or dad can then help refine their choices. Be sure to remember shoes and socks (those items seem to get lost, and make us late, at my house).
Clothing: Kids aren’t the only ones that can benefit from picking out clothes (and shoes) the night before; it can help parents in the morning too. Once you have your clothes picked out, you can show kids that you do this too, then you can help your kids refine their choices.
Afterschool Activities: Parents may need to plot out which days a child needs a gym uniform, or gym clothes. Also when they need specific gear for an afterschool program whether sports, arts, or education-related.* One parent I know has a removable hook on the back of her child’s door that holds a bag with the afterschool gear, and another uses a similar hook to hang the next day’s clothes.
Lunches: If your children pack their lunch, decide the evening before and check that you have the ingredients for tomorrow’s lunches (or if you buy in bulk, you can involve kids in meal prep on the weekends). Some parts of lunches can be made ahead, like cut up veggies or bagging crackers or snacks. If your kids are older, involve them in making their own lunches, or have them assist you. It can help them learn independence and take some ownership.
If your children buy lunch, be sure you know how your school lunch program works, especially if children are starting elementary, middle, or high school. Many schools have a system where parents load money into an account and kids just need to know their student number.
The Aphorism “There’s No Such Thing as a Free Lunch,” is Now True at Many Schools
According to a study 64% of children buy school lunches, and this past spring the federally funded universal free school lunch program ended. Some states moved to fund it statewide. Lower-income families may need to check and see if there are programs they need to apply/re-apply for.
Transitioning Back to the Classroom and Creating Open Channels of Communication
Remember that your children are adjusting to more than just a new routine once they get to school. They are navigating the physical layout of their new classroom (and school if they just hit certain grades), and their new classroom, and even bus schedule. They are also learning the dynamics of their new teacher and classmates.
This is an important time for maintaining open communication channels between parents and children, and maybe even connecting with teachers. Parents can provide support and guidance. You know your child – do they take on too much? Or do they hesitate with new things, but once they start then they’re ok? Help kids remember tools that worked last year or brainstorm new ideas. Sometimes during your evening routine, when selecting tomorrow’s clothes or folding laundry together, you can ask if there was anything that felt hard to figure out that day at school? In other families a set weekly family meeting time allows kids to feel safe talking about issues they need help handling.
Addressing Academic Readjustment
Children sometimes face academic challenges when returning to school, such as adapting to new teachers, subjects, and expectations. For kids of all ages, discussing how having a growth mindset can help students reframe issues they are struggling with. A growth mindset encourages understanding that although a person struggles with certain subjects or skills, that their current ability level is not permanent. Although a child may feel stuck, cultivating a growth mindset helps kids understand that they can learn and grow. Parents can:
- Remind kids of past challenges that they handled, even though they struggled at first.
- Language to help kids reframe can include shifting from “I can’t do this” to “I can’t do this yet,” can be a big help.
- Also showing your kids that you think, and talk, this way about your own abilities and skills can go a long way to helping kids let go of the judgement and shame around not keeping up.
*Afterschool Programs like those ALOHA Runs can also Help Kids Struggling with Fundamentals Like Math, Reading, or Writing
A new school year and learning new subjects can be intimidating for many kids. An afterschool program like ALOHA’s Core Math class can help your child build confidence with a school-based curriculum. It is taught in a small-group, teacher-led format. ALOHA also has afterschool classes in reading, writing, and math geared to meet your child’s needs from ages 3 to 12. Our teachers adapt not only to the student who is struggling, but to the high achiever as well. Click here to find an ALOHA Center near you.
Back-to-School, the First Weeks Wrap Up:
Parents have a crucial role in helping children transition smoothly back to school. We hope that some of our tips will prove helpful in handling the changes from summertime to school time. When parents involve kids in new routines, have a growth mindset, and choose to be patient and adaptable amid the chaos of the new school year, their children have a great chance of starting off the fall strong.
Written by Cathy Larkin, a freelance writer and social media coordinator, who has been a part of the ALOHA Mind Math team for several years.