Every summer has a rhythm to it.
In June, the whole family is excited! Your kids are “free at last,” and you’ve finally earned yourself a well-deserved break from the before and after school routine.
Then July rolls around. Prime vacation time. It’s the middle of summer and everyone is ready to get away…. away from town and, in many cases, away from academics.
Then there’s August, the “wind-down” month. Maybe you’re getting in some last-minute fun in the sun, but everyone has the first day of school on their minds. Before you know it, August is gone, and the first day of school hits the whole family like a ton of bricks.
Your kids are:
✓ Trying to scramble last minute to get their summer reading and assignment done so they’re not left behind in class.
✓ Now having to sacrifice most of their previously free time (and screen time) to do homework and study – something they haven’t done in months.
✓ Waking up WAY earlier.
And you’re having to manage them through that whole process, not to mention adjusting your schedule to pack lunches, get them to school and after-school activities on time, and make sure they’re actually getting their homework done.
But, there is a better way.
In this blog, we’ll cover seven things we recommend you start now, so your family can slowly ease back into the swing of a school routine. This will help set the stage for a more successful school year and leave the whole family better prepared in the process.
1. Start the sleep schedule and screen time shift
If you’re looking for a recipe for disaster, spend ten weeks getting your kids used to staying up late, binging on Netflix and Minecraft marathons, and then abruptly force them out of bed at 6 AM to head off to learn for seven hours straight. Without realizing it, this is exactly what happens to many families in the lead-up to the start of school. Whoops!
Now of course we’d never intentionally send our kids off to school in a zombie-like sleep-deprived state, but it is important to keep in mind that study after study shows that loss of sleep for kids can negatively impact not only their performance in school but also their physical and mental health.
So that being said, it’s a good idea to address the summer vs. school year sleep schedule and screen time parameters at least one week before school starts to get your kids (and you) adjusted before the first day.
First, schedule a family meeting to sit down and establish what your schedule is going to look like. What time are you going to wake up on weekdays? What time does bedtime need to be in order to ensure enough sleep each night?
Then, each day leading up to school, set the alarm clock a little bit earlier so that by the final day of that week, your kids will be getting up at almost the same time they need to get up in order to be ready for school. So if that’s 6 AM, the schedule might look like this:
Day 1 – 9:00 AM wake-up
Day 2 – 8:30 AM wake-up
Day 3 – 8:00 AM wake-up
Day 4 – 7:30 AM wake-up
Day 5 – 7:00 AM wake-up
Day 6 – 6:30 AM wake-up
Day 7 – 6:00 AM wake-up
But waking up is actually only half of the equation. If your child is still staying up late and spending a lot of extra time on their devices, it’s going to be hard for them to stick to the schedule and they may start losing sleep before school even starts.
So the second part of this trick is also to set a bedtime alarm that follows a similar adjustment schedule. There may be some moaning and groaning, but if you make sure to explain and set the expectations upfront, it will help your son or daughter understand why they’re doing it. Plus they’ll (hopefully) be tired enough by waking up earlier that this isn’t too much of a “task.”
Execute this plan, and you can help smooth out one of the biggest “shocks to the system” when starting school again.
2. Start the morning routine
Now the “waking up” piece of the puzzle is taken care of, what will your family do after that?
That might seem like a silly question, but having a morning routine established will help ensure your son or daughter is off to school in the morning with everything they need each day. This will help reduce stress and disorganization during the school week for the whole family.
There generally isn’t a structured routine in the morning during the summer. All too often, even if everyone is up on time, mornings during the first week of school turn into a mad dash of collecting backpacks and school supplies, packing lunches, and cooking breakfast before ushering everyone out the door.
So it’s important to take some time to discuss what needs to happen each morning. Talk it through so that the expectations are clear, and include some “night-before” preparation as well to make mornings easier.
Then, to take it a step further, actually, turn it into a fun visual checklist for them to follow that you can post on the fridge or front door.
During the lead-up to school, practice waking up at the set time and then slowly add in steps of the new routine – whether that’s getting dressed and brushing their teeth by 7 AM or getting their backpack ready (try keeping backpacks and everything they need for the day by the door in a Launching Pad!).
Before you know it, the first day is here and they’re off to school with everything they need.
3. Organize the homework space and gather up school supplies
Now it’s time to take stock of what needs to happen after the school day – primarily, where homework and studying get done!
Identify a few distraction-free places your child can do homework this year (the bedroom isn’t always a great idea) and give the spots you’ve selected a once-over to determine what you might need.
Then make a list and buy what you will need before the first week of school.
Now, if your son or daughter is on the younger side, many schools provide a list of materials you’ll need for the start of school (and sometimes teachers will make modifications), so it’s probably a good idea to plan your school supply and homework supply run after you’ve received your teacher’s list.
4. Discuss goals for the new school year
Helping your child think ahead and set some micro-goals could go a long way in helping them stay motivated at the start of the new school year. One way to do this is by simply starting a conversation. You can ask your child:
“What’s one thing you want to learn this school year?”
To make it more exciting, grab a pack of sticky notes and invite the whole family to participate. Ask everyone the above question and then set a timer for four minutes. Everyone should write down as many goals as they can think of. Once time is up, each person takes turns putting their sticky notes on the wall and explaining what they wrote down.
Then, narrow the field and ask each family member what the top two things are that they feel like they can accomplish during this school year. Put those sticky notes at the top. Now everyone has two goals and it’s time to plot the path by writing down the activities you will need to complete those goals.
5. Attend the open house
Most schools have an open house. Make the commitment to go, even if you’ve heard it all before. Here’s why:
When school starts up again, parents tend to be most worried about… you guessed it… academics.
- What are the requirements?
- When are the tests?
- What does my son or daughter need to know in order to perform well and learn what they need to?
Now’s the time to start engaging with the process and answering those questions for yourself so you know what the expectations are going into the new year.
For your kids though? It’s the two F’s: friends and fitting in.
This is especially true during a transition year, either to middle school or high school when they’re going to be encountering what seems like a whole new world of people, teachers, and routines.
Thankfully, the open house will help with all of these things. As parents, we can get a sense of the requirements being put on our kids, and our kids can start the process of getting comfortable in their new environment by:
- Working their locker. Have them do a trial run three times with their locker combination to make sure they’re confident they can get in and out when they need to.
- Walking the path from class to class. Again, do this with them three times during the open house so that they know where they’re going, and feel comfortable during the day.
Although simple, these small details may make a surprisingly large difference in how comfortable kids feel about starting school again. So the more you can help them build up their new routine, the smoother the first week will be.
6. Get involved from the start (and put yourself in their shoes)
And finally, if nothing else make sure you’re setting the tone for the school year right at the start by making the commitment to be involved.
Be sure to discuss not only where homework will be done but at about what time it should start. Discuss these logistics with your child and get their input. And then apply that same process to each important aspect of their school lives.
Being involved doesn’t mean micro-managing their schedule and how they accomplish their schoolwork, but it does mean having a discussion with them about it.
Perhaps most importantly, when you’re doing this, put yourself in their shoes and ask these questions on a regular basis:
- What are they thinking about?
- What things are they worried about that you might take for granted?
- And what can you do to help (in a way that gives them the autonomy they need to feel in control)?
7. Understand when they need help
It’s easy to tell that a child a struggling academically when he or she brings home poor grades, but there are a number of other less obvious signs that parents shouldn’t ignore earlier in the school year.
If your child seems disorganized, is having trouble getting started with homework assignments, and shows a general lack of interest in learning, these are all warning signs that your child may need some outside help.
So that’s it! Seven ways you can re-start the engines on the school routine now so that when that first day of school hits, the whole family will be ready for smooth sailing this year.