Start the School Year Off Right

 

shutterstock_104967446It’s that time of year, when the slower pace of summer gives way to the routine of the school year. Getting back to the early wake up time and after-school shuttle schedule can be difficult no matter your child’s age. But with a little preparation, families can do some simple things to ensure their kids start the school year off right.

Establish a School Routine Early

Healthy sleep habits are critical to school-year success. Children with inadequate sleep will have a difficult time focusing, and a chronic lack of sleep may even lead to behavior and learning problems.

Research suggests that children’s developing brains require more time asleep than awake. Having a regular bedtime routine can help ensure kids get the rest they need.

Chances are the school year calls for an earlier wake up time than summer schedules. Start making that transition to the new bed time 1-2 weeks before school starts. For younger children, begin by gradually moving bedtime back in 15-minute increments until the school-night bedtime is reached. For older kids, it can be difficult to institute an early bedtime. Instead try to insist they set an alarm, and have them move the time back by ½-hour until they’re at the necessary wake up time. For parents already at the office by the time kids get up, call at the proper wake up time to help ensure kids really do get up.

Limit electronics and TV time. Rather than cut them out entirely (which may result in revolt) try setting daily limits. To help enforce the limits, consider requiring all devices to charge in a centrally located place like the kitchen or home office. And try using deadlines, such as “no television after 9pm.” It helps to find alternatives such as listening to music or reading a book just before bedtime.

And, if it’s not already part of the family routine, have a daily check-in during the evening when every family member shares about their day. This is often best done during a family dinner (which, is also important as a variety of research studies have found that the greatest predictor of school success is having a family dinner hour).

Involve Children in School Preparation

To help kids feel more engaged and ready for the school year, involve them in the early preparation. Find out the required supplies and go shopping for them together. And, be sure to include kids in the decisions, such as what lunch items or backpacks they prefer.

Talk about school policies, such as dress codes and conduct rules and look over the class schedule together. It can help everyone to know what is expected and what goes on each day.

If there’s an orientation session, attend it. Knowing where things like bathrooms are located, the cafeteria, and even classroom locations can help kids feel less nervous about the first day.

Depending on the children’s age, either have them help get everything organized the night before school starts, or have them organize everything themselves. This includes picking out their clothes, making sure book bags are packed and by the door, and make sure any necessary school forms are signed. Having everything prepared will leave everyone less frazzled in the morning as you try to get out the door on time.

Talk about Expectations and Goals

Starting a new school can be a stressful time for kids, particularly for adolescents. Now there are multiple teachers, friendships are shifting and it’s possibly even a new school entirely. Sit down and talk with your child in a supportive way. That means instead of saying, “Don’t worry, everything will be fine,” actually listen to their concerns, reassure them the feelings are normal, and help them identify ways they might manage their stress such as deep breathing exercises, or a simple phrase they can repeat quietly to themselves when they’re feeling very nervous.

Also talk through your expectations for school and guidelines and rules for homework. The more a child knows what is expected, the better they will do socially and academically.

Instill guidelines and rules for study time and homework from the beginning. Create a good study area away from distractions and remind them that study time and homework comes before sports and playtime.

Talk about school situations and how to handle them like Internet safety, bullying and teasing, peer pressure, smoking, drugs, and alcohol. It can help to role play or at least think up things kids can say when they’re feeling pressured to do something they don’t want to do. Talk through scenarios can also help kids feel empowered and better able to handle challenging situations.

Have a Positive Attitude Towards School

Have a positive attitude toward school and teachers so kids will have a positive attitude. Try not to be critical of your children’s teachers, or of the lesson plans and homework assignments in front of them. If you have concerns, you can address them directly with the teacher.

Encourage involvement with school activities and sports to meet new people. Especially if it’s a new school, activities can be a great way to meet new people.

Use this time to send the subtle message that while summer was fun, a new school year is very exciting as well. One way you can do that is by celebrating.

Celebrate

Consider having a special pre-first day or end of first day meal. Some families have a special tradition of an out of the ordinary meal, like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for dinner. Whatever the meal, the goal is to help celebrate the day, acknowledge it as important for kids and provide encouragement.

In addition to celebrating the day, remember to celebrate your children’s unique qualities and talents that they are bringing to this school year. Little notes in their lunchbox, a special message taped to the bathroom mirror in the morning are meaningful ways you can show your belief in them and gives them the best possible start this school year.

Additional Resources

Video Interview with Dr. Mirgain

General Articles

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Start the School Year Off Right
About Shilagh Mirgain, PhD
Dr. Shilagh Mirgain, PhD, is a health psychologist with UW Health
View all posts by Shilagh Mirgain, PhD

Comments

  1. Cathy says:

    We start early and establish a bedtime routine since later bedtime was the norm during the summer months. We emphasize that during the school year, school is your job/work. Goals are reviewed and we talk about what extracurricular activities can be scheduled.

  2. Ginger says:

    As the school year approaches we set a time for when you are allowed to watch tv and a bedtime that will allow them to get enough sleep and be more alert in the morning.

  3. Stephanie F. says:

    We start getting ready for the school year a few weeks out with back to school shopping. Then two weeks before the start of school, we start to put them to bed earlier by ten minutes. Then every few days, we put them to bed a few minutes earlier until they are back on their regular school bedtime.

    A week before, we start to wake up a few minutes earlier each day to used to waking up early also. The waking up isn’t as tough as getting to bed early. But both are important to get back into the swing of school scheduled and getting enough sleep.

  4. Kati says:

    We get our backpack’s ready and talk about what we look forward to in the new school year!

  5. Wendy says:

    We organize all of the school supplies to be brought to the school before school starts in September. We also start going to bed a few minutes earlier about 2 weeks out, so that it isn’t such a shock to our bodies once the school year starts. Set alarms and the next days’ clothes on the bed for the child to dress themselves in the morning. We involve our daughter, who will be going into first grade this year, in her choice of clothing, backpacks and lunch pack. Her grandparents from California help pay for it every year. She’s getting excited for a new year to start.

  6. Marni says:

    We always make a list of school supplies and have lots of fun picking out the items, as well as have a special dinner. We’ve recently also made a point of putting all of the ‘days off’ from school into our online family calendar – which makes these days less of a “gotcha” when the time comes.

  7. Michelle says:

    By participating in summer reading programs (see your local library), the school year doesn’t seem such a shocker come September.

  8. Jen says:

    We are fairly lax on routine in the summer months so we have slowly eased back into an “early to bed early to rise” mode. School regeistration is this week so we will get the lists and head off for a fun day of school supply shopping as an entire family.

  9. Lisa says:

    Buy my husband’s books for grad school! Since my son is only 9 months, my husband is the only one of us who is in school right now

  10. Jen says:

    We have begun the back to school shopping with the kids involved. We have also started making plans for after school activities. The kids attend the registration event and the meetings with the teachers. The annual back to school ice cream social for cub scouts lets the kids connect with their friends and talk about the upcoming school year.
    We are also donating time helping with a local back to school backpack drive. Sorting and packing the backpacks for other children will help them realize that school is around the corner.

  11. Lisa Sanford says:

    We get all the school supply shopping done the end of July so the kids have time to organize everything and put it in their backpacks. Two weeks before school begins we start with a better bedtime routine to prepare. We go in to school and have the kids walk their schedule so they know where their classes are and aren’t frazzled on the first days…it’s nice that they can also put everything in their locker then too!

  12. Stacie L says:

    We hit the stores for back to school supplies, new shoes etc. I also take the time to talk to the kiddos about their excitement and/fears they may have at the start of a new school year.

  13. Ann says:

    We start to get to bed earlier and keep up our reading!

  14. Erin K says:

    We are starting this week slowly moving bed time up and also waking them up instead of sleeping it. Think it is definitely key to get them back on schedule sleeping or could lead to a grumpy disaster.
    Thank you for the giveaway, there are a few school supplies we still need to get.

  15. DAnielle F says:

    Going to bed earlier, getting up a little earlier, just trying to get in the routine of getting ready right away instead of lounging around.

  16. Julie says:

    We do the supply list shopping and get some new key wardrobe items together. Helps set the tone for back to school. Then we will get their homework stations organized and ready, talk about lunch options/ideas (especially for my Kindergartener), and slowly set their bedtime back and wake up earlier. Kindergarten is tough to get through in the beginning, so an early bedtime will be needed.

  17. Kathy says:

    We start going to bed earlier so we get back in a routine for school.

  18. Jennifer B says:

    It seems to help our kids to pick out their own school supplies–they like to participate and it’s kind of like a scavenger hunt. Also, we take them to Chocolate Shoppe for ice cream to cap off the summer.

  19. Heather says:

    We’ve had swim lessons early in the morning for my sons for almost the whole summer, and have been used to getting up early, but preparing for the full day of school in the morning will take a little more time, especially for my younger son entering kindergarten this year, so we will be moving bedtime up soon to prepare!

  20. connie says:

    We start by going to a bed a little earlier and rising earlier. Practice having clothes picked out the night before helps too.

  21. sarah cannon says:

    I prepare my teens for back to school by setting early curfews during the week. We also prepare for the new school year by looking for school supplies sales. By getting what they want regarding notebooks, binders and other supplies, they start the year with a positive attitude.

    This year is a little more challenging though since my oldest will be going off to college. I have done a little research to make sure that my daughter starts her dorm life with what she needs. And she has paid for what she wants.Since she is no longer a child, she istaking more financial responsibly.

  22. Kristie F says:

    We get the backpack packed and write out a morning routine checklist. We stick to a very similar schedule in the summer since the kids go to summer camp and daycare just what gets packed in the backpack changes.

  23. Shelly says:

    We talk about the upcoming school year as registration day gets closer; about the things that the kids feel excited about and the things that cause them anxiety. We also do something special to mark the transition between summer programs and the school year. Typically, I stay home from work the final week before school starts and we arrange for times to play with friends from school.

  24. Nancy says:

    The hardest thing for my kids is waking up early enough. We’ve already started waking up a bit earlier each day. And we have a special “First Day of School” breakfast for which the kids have already been asking. We love our school and are excited for it to start again!

  25. Sarah says:

    We start gradually making bedtime earlier (for about 2 weeks before school starts) and make sure we are using our normal bedtime routine that will be used during the school year. About a week before school starts we get all the supplies ready and discuss our expectations. We also start to make sure we are doing some academic stuff every day since it is rather hit and miss during the summer months. Our daughter is entering kindergarten this fall so we do basic math, phonics, etc. and just incorporate it into daily activities so she doesn’t realize it’s “schoolwork.”

  26. Amanda Hoffman says:

    we lay out clothes the night before and get on the school schedule a few weeks before

  27. Jen S says:

    We went to orientation and checked out the classroom, met the teacher. Back pack is packed with supplies and ready to go. Starting to back up bed time so the first week isn’t such of an adjustment.

  28. Lynn Barbeau says:

    I have a very disorganized child starting college this fall and I have now tried having him get more involved in the process so that he has buy into it more.

  29. Brenda H says:

    We start with an earlier bedtime a couple weeks before school starts. We also have the kids pack their own supplies into their backpacks.

  30. sally says:

    We work on the earlier bedtime and we have the kids spend time on refreshing all the things they need to know. This year we have to include their little sister having a procedure right before school starts.

  31. Angela M says:

    Definitely start with a bedtime routine and getting up early. This is the first year of school for the middle one and first year of middle school for the older one. It is definitely about routine.

  32. Penny says:

    Bedtime routine the week before school starts is a must for our home. The teenagers do not like it, but appreciate it that first week of school. We lay clothes out the night before school. Helps with the slow movement that takes place in the morning. The first day of school ends with shakes at the Cheese House and lots of conversation on what happen on day one.