It’s the middle of August, and while many parents and children are still reveling in the joys of waking without an alarm, warm, sunny days, and the awesome freedom, the impending change of season is creeping nearer.
We’ve gotten the catalogs. The commercials are screaming at us. Perhaps we’ve even received some formal letters from our children’s future teachers.
There’s no getting around it. It’s almost time to go back to school.
Some parents see this as a relief. Some look ahead with dread. Likewise some kids are apprehensive about school; some excited.
Before you fill out all of those forms (twitch) and pack those lunch boxes, there are some things you can do at home to enhance the back to school experience and make the school year ahead an excellent one.
Slow It Down
If you’ve been going at summer like gangbusters (the zoo! the park! the beach! the museum! road trip! camp 1! camp 2! camp 3!) you may want to consider penciling in some slow.
Make sure your kids (and you!) have had enough time to unwind and just be. While you may be concerned about fending off boredom, as your daughter’s favorite snow queen once advised, let it go. (If you hear a lot of “I’m bored,” let your only suggestions be very specific house chores. They’ll eventually stop.)
Amazing things can come from boredom, not the least of which are getting to know oneself better and the exploration of curiosities or creative interests. Embrace the boredom and don’t miss this unique opportunity that summer provides.
Begin to Adjust Routines and Rhythms
While a free-spirited summer involves a bedtime at any time and and eat when your hungry approach, meals and sleep do need to become more regular to coincide with the impending school year.
Take advantage of the time you have left by gradually beginning to adjust your family’s patterns. Start waking up just a little bit earlier each day.
Begin to plan meals a bit more, making them healthy and at around the same time each day if possible. This is also a good time to test out some lunch ideas with your kids. Maybe you can expand their lunchbox horizons.
With all those commercials and catalogs coming your way, the inclination to go back-to-school shopping can be strong. While you likely need to pick up a few things this time of year, it’s also a great time to cut clutter.
Author Wendell Berry once said, “Don’t own so much clutter that you will be relieved to see your house catch fire.” Indeed, family life has a way of causing clutter to pile up fast.
Clear the decks and set your family up with a clean slate while you have the time to do so.
Set Priorities Straight
Six hours a day, five days a week—your kids pick up more than the basics of reading and writing while in school. The influence of the environment upon a young mind can be significant.
As a parent, you want to make sure you are the driver of lessons that are important to you, especially regarding character development and moral teachings, rather than allowing them to simply drift along with the tide.
Whether you teach such lessons by means of spiritual practice or simply by communicating with your children about different ideas, take time out to focus on this before school begins.
What’s more, you should also have an idea of your child’s curriculum. If you find it lacking or faulty in any way, address this at home with resources for your children to explore.
Carefully Consider After-School Activities
It won’t be long before the parents in your community begin to buzz about the fall activities they are signing their kids up for. These friends are fantastic resources for new ideas. However, beware. It can be very tempting to enroll your child in that which “everybody else” seems to be getting into. Fear of missing out is real.
Consider all suggestions, but weigh them heavily against the strengths and passions of your individual children before loading your calendar. How much greater would your son’s school year be if he was allowed to indulge in his interest in art instead of that sport that he could take or leave? How much would your daughter love to give lacrosse a try rather than the dance class she was okay with but not loving last year?
Know your kids. Know what lights them up and focus on that.
Additionally, consider the investment of time. It seems so easy to add four cheerleading practices a week to your calendar. The act of actually going to those activities, and juggling them with everything else, is another thing entirely.
Make sure both you and your kids are willing to invest the time before you sign up for too much. Don’t forget to schedule down-time for your family during the school year as well.
If you asked your children what they believe you expect of them with regard to school, what do you think they’d say? Straight As? Hard work? An impressive resume to guarantee an eventual Harvard scholarship?
Kids can experience a substantial amount of anxiety because of their perception of their parents’ expectations. Make sure your children have a clear picture of your actual expectations and keep those expectations fair.
Rather than a focus on grades, how about a focus on learning? Rather than a focus on achievement, how about a focus on effort?
Perhaps the most appropriate place to put high standards on expectations is with regard to your child’s character. Let them know you expect them to be kind to their classmates, thankful for their teachers, and respectful of the environment around them (or whatever qualities you deem most important). This is a conversation that is easily forgotten, but don’t we wish everyone had it with their children before school?
Take the Pressure Off
Another source of anxiety for everyone, but especially children, can be fear of the unknown. As the school year approaches, consider contacting your child’s teacher and asking if you can stop by over the summer to say hello. Teachers usually spend a number of days setting up their classrooms and preparing their lessons in advance of the school year.
A brief hello and a peak at their future classroom can do wonders to ease anxiety and make the first day of school easier. Facilitating this introduction will also help the teacher understand your child better.
If you know your child’s future classmates, arrange a get-together. They’ll all enjoy seeing familiar faces on the first day.
Envision the Future
To further promote a great year, help your kids envision their goals for the school year. What would they love to learn about? What do they hope to experience? Encourage them to recall the most positive aspects of school. Picture it. Be intentional.
For very young kids, teaching them to look for the positive aspect in everything can be a great comfort as they begin school. There is always something positive they can find. It can be like a fun game.
Reading books together about starting school can be very helpful as well.
Celebrate Summer and Who Your Kids Truly Are
Finally, take time to give thanks for the adventures and lessons your family has experienced this summer and celebrate who you’ve all become. One of the greatest gifts a parent can give a child is to understand who they truly are and provide them with a safe environment in which they can be themselves. Ensure them they will always have that and encourage them to keep the lines of communication open the whole school year through.