6 Ways to Help Your Child Transition Back to School
We highlight 6 things that can help ease the back-to-school transition for both you and your child.
Teacher and Copywriter
Back to school can mean different things to each family. For some, it’s an exciting period of anticipation marked by outings to pick new school supplies. For others, it triggers disappointment because it means the end of the slower summer pace.
No matter your age, changes in routine are always an adjustment. You can imagine, then, why your child might be apprehensive towards meeting new classmates. Likewise, you can see how shifting from unstructured time in summer to full days of school can be a challenge.
Luckily, transitioning to the start of school doesn’t have to weigh down the end of summer break. By starting a few routines slowly and early, the whole family will feel prepared for fall. Read on for our top 6 tips that will have your family feeling energized for the start of the school year.
1. Prepare for Coming and Going
The start of school can feel disappointing for children because it brings with it too many unwelcome activities at once. School days might mean the end of a family vacation or the start of a new bedtime. On top of it, weekday routines may now include more preparation in the morning and more cleanup at the end of the day.
To avoid having chores pile onto the family in one heap before school, start incorporating them in small ways now. Ease your child into being an active part of getting ready for outings. As parents, we tend to remember what everyone will need for the day ourselves. You can start creating opportunities for your child to participate in readying themselves for a day out. Have a conversation about what it means to leave the house for the entire day. Modelling what you wonder about a day out can get them thinking and inspire them to join in. This can be as easy as asking, Is it a good idea to bring a snack if we get hungry? Or I wonder what we’d need from your bedroom now if we wanted some alone time later.
The same logic goes for routines when the family gets home. Once school starts, there will be backpacks, lunch boxes and other supplies that will need a spot to call home when children get back from school. Take a moment to find the hooks, cubbies or closets that are accessible so your child and encourage them to put their things away on their own. As they say, don’t put it down, put it away. Having a particular spot for your child’s supplies is a small and easy way to encourage them to honor their belongings, too.
2. Pay Attention to Bedtime
Parents know how important bedtime is to a growing child. A 2018 public health study from the UK showed that children with consistent bedtime routines had better working memory and attention, and were more prepared for school. Good sleep supports a happy child, too. Earlier bedtimes were found to improve emotional stability in children, making it easier to handle the ups and downs of the school day.
We want our child’s school year to start right, and we can do it by making some adjustments to their bedtime routine. If your child’s bedtime has stayed consistent throughout the year, your transition to school will be easier. For those of us who relaxed the bedtime routine, you can start making changes now. About two or three weeks before school, find the magic number for the ideal bedtime. If you have three or more weeks to spare, you can start to shift bedtime by about 15 minutes at a time every few days. If you’ve only got a week or two, you may have to speed it up by 30-minute increments.
You may also want to consider the ways your child can get to sleep a little easier every day. Try to limit screen time before bed, including TV, tablets or computer screens. Electronics emit a blue light that hampers your sleep. Researchers at Harvard Medical School found that blue light from electronics suppressed twice as much melatonin in children than adults, making it even harder to get to sleep or stay asleep. You can make the bedroom a device-free zone at nighttime and create new routines before bed. Reading stories, sharing the best parts of the day, or encouraging older children to journal before bed are great options.
3. Mimic Their Social Setting
There’s no doubt about it — summertime looks different than the rest of the year. Your child may have gone from interacting with many children to spending quality time with only a few core people. For homeschooled children, it may have been the opposite.
As your child nears the beginning of school, you can reintroduce them to the kind of social setting they’re heading towards. If your child spent most of their summer with their sibling, you could find opportunities for them to get used to a larger group setting. Many summer camps have day camp programs at the end of the summer, and local libraries have story time.
Look for activities that include a little more structure or participation to help your child get used to navigating new interactions again. Any situation that promotes communication between your child and others will help to prepare them for back to school.
4. Talk About Changes
It can be comforting to name the challenges we’re facing and talk about them. No matter your child's age, they feel the effects of the transition back to school. As parents, we can offer our children a new perspective to help them cope if they’re struggling. You may find out your child gets tired or hungry earlier or more often during this time. Opening this topic can be as simple as sharing your own experience. It might sound something like, I notice I get extra tired when things change, and I feel a little nervous.
Allowing space for your child to share how they feel is a great step, even if they’re not keen to say much at first. Acknowledging that the family is going through a change makes your child’s feelings about it okay.
5. Get (Really) Excited
If you notice your child doesn’t seem to be looking forward to any part of school, you may need to play cheerleader. It’s normal for us to hone in on the negative when we’ve found something to be nervous about. But the truth is, there’s a lot of fun to be had at school that your child can be reminded of.
If your child already has some close friends, remind them how they met and that it wouldn’t have happened without interacting with new people. Make a game of imagining adding another best friend to their circle and who it might be this year. Likewise, highlight the unique things your child can do with others that they can’t do at home or by themselves. Maybe there aren't enough people at home to play a game, or your child's school has unique materials and supplies to get excited about. Better yet, try to guess what kinds of field trips they might take this year with their class.
6. Start it Slow, Start it Early
The best gift we can give our children and ourselves as parents are making sure a transition plan is easy to incorporate. It shouldn’t be a colossal project that adds to parents’ to-do lists. Introducing habits several weeks before school will make for the easiest transition without grouchiness on anyone’s part.
Transitioning from summer to school is a process for parents, too. The tips above aren’t black-and-white, and they’re meant to be flexible. No matter which strategies you remember to incorporate, you’ll see positive results.
Transitions are a naturally challenging part of life, and compassion is key as we move through them. These moments are opportunities for parents to guide their children with understanding and help them build resilience. They’re also a chance for parents to model self-kindness. When everyone is tired, and things don’t work out as planned, remember that your child is watching how you cope, too. Give yourself and your family a little more time for tasks and plenty of rest. We hope these tips are a good starting point to making the transition to school go more smoothly.
Oliver is a classroom educator turned copywriter and content writer. With a passion for teaching and writing, she happily splits her time between the classroom and the keyboard in the spectacular Pacific Northwest in Vancouver, Canada.
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