20 Back To School Tips For Parents
Going ‘back to school’ is an emotive and daunting time of the year for pupils, parents and teachers.
The sense of anticipation is palpable and it’s normal for everyone to get butterflies, cold feet and feel all at sea. Change and transition can be unsettling but this is an exciting and transformational time full of promise and hope with plenty to look forward to.
Parents are role models and mentors and so can do lots to help their children and their family without piling on the pressure. The trick is to keep things low-key, grounded and plan ahead.
Children don’t want to hear about going back to school every five minutes because downtime and time out is important but parents can get organised and feel in control by considering the following suggestions. The more prepared you are, the more prepared your child will be.
The following strategies are things that could help so see what works for you:
1. Do the shopping
Some children haven’t even broken up for the summer holidays before some shops have started their ‘back to school’ displays. Annoying yes but getting what your child needs for next term early doors makes sense so make sure you get the list of school supplies, books and technology your child will need.
It might be tempting to leave shopping for a new pair of shoes and the uniform until the day before “as they are still growing” but last minute dashes to the shop could end in tears. Remember to replace old backpacks with ones that are sturdy and ergonomic and pack light.
Some teachers may have set a small amount of homework over the holiday to combat the ‘summer slide’ but most won’t have done. That doesn’t mean children have to stop reading though. Aim to read at least a couple of books before going back to school or sign-up for the Reading Agency’s Summer Reading Challenge to read six books and make reading a daily habit.
3. Be active
The summer is a time when activity levels can reduce quite drastically and children can easily slip into some bad habits so it’s important to keep them physically and mentally active so they don’t fall flat after ten minutes in their first PE lesson. They need 60 minutes of physical activity each day, including aerobic and muscle strengthening activities. Let your child choose what interests them and look at signing them up for a local recreational sports programme or active summer camp. You might want to hide the remote too!
4. Get an eye test
Good vision is essential so it’s a good idea to take your child in for an eye exam before school starts. Children should have an eye exam at least every two years if no vision correction is required. As children progress in school, they face increasing demands on their visual abilities and problems such as headaches, fatigue and other eyestrain problems can be avoided if their vision is checked regularly so use the summer to book a test.
Children will naturally start to feel nervous about going back to school so discuss what they are concerned about and focus on the positives. Don’t let back to school talk dominate as this will heighten anxiety. Discuss what your child can expect on the first few days so they feel more prepared. Teachers will have hopefully shared this information with you. Let your child know what is new and what is changing and if they are attending a new school you could organise a summer visit to get both you and your child familiar with the new environment.
Consider role-playing scenarios if your child has fears about peers, making friends and bullying. You can practise some one-liners and opening phrases for getting to know people and building relationships. You can also focus on body language and assertiveness skills for more challenging situations where they might have to deal with a disagreement or conflict as well as practising a positive mindset for managing thoughts and emotions.
7. Meet up
Families and friends are here, there and everywhere during the summer and meeting up with classmates isn’t always easy. If you can, arrange some playdates or days out with two or three of your child’s friends to re-bond and reacquaint so they can share how they feel if they want – don’t force it!
8. Set the clock
Moving from a summer to a school schedule can be stressful to everyone so minimise the stress and anxiety by getting routine-ready a few days before. You can practice your morning rituals by getting up earlier as if it were a school day so it’s not like taking a cold shower on the first day back and a shock to the system. This will get them ready for the busy days ahead, making sure that they are alert and ready to learn. Set your child’s morning ‘get-up’ back to school time a week before the first day and establish a regular morning routine. Consider setting an alarm or notification 30 minutes before bedtime. Some parents set their clocks forward 10 minutes to make it easier to be on time and set the breakfast table ready the night before.
9. Get the wardrobe ready
Encourage your child to lay out their school clothes the night before so they have everything ready. Get them in the habit of not just throwing everything on the floor at the end of the day but being tidy with their uniform and emptying their school bag so it doesn’t turn into a porta-bin. Establish rules for where they should put their lunchboxes when they come home. Make sure they pack their school bag before they go to sleep that night and there are no surprises the next morning along the lines of “Why hasn’t my PE kit been washed?”.
10. Instil organisational skills
Children who aren’t organised end up wasting precious time looking for things or doing last-minute work they forgot about and this can lead to rows and door slamming.
Learning and mastering the skills of getting organised, staying focused, and seeing work through to the end is important so help your child with time-management, creating to-do lists, making good choices and sharing good study habits. Teach them how to manage their possessions and money.
11. Organise the calendar
Jump on the school’s website and access the calendar so you know what’s happening and when. Copy the important dates to your own calendar so that are one step ahead and you aren’t caught out. Keep a regular eye on school events and add them in as things change fast. Spend time together looking at the family’s activities and commitments so everyone is in the picture.
12. Be more duck
Your sanity might be in shreds but be relaxed and composed, or at least pretend to be, as children need to see you in control. You might be paddling like hell underneath but remain calm and confident on the surface and in the nicest possible way, try not to fuss! Frazzled and anxious parents send frazzled and anxious children to school. Jitters breed jitters.
13. Set the rules
Teachers will set their rules on day one and many parents also take the new start to the academic year to reset and refresh rules about screen time for the school year as well as expectations for weekday and weekend bedtimes and school lunch choices. If you have the space, establish a specific spot as the official ‘homework area’ and cue everything up so routines can be smoothly implemented. Structure is key and it is important to get into a routine early on.
14. Think ahead
Starting a new term is tiring and so it’s a good idea to have a sensible and realistic plan of the extra-curricular activities your child will be involved in so that you don’t over-schedule and they end up doing too much. Teach older children how to plan ahead and to watch what activities are “eating” their time. Help them to manage their time and priortise and discuss an after-school schedule that allows time for relaxation and play.
15. Set some goals
Depending on the age of your child, set some realistic goals such as the number of books they will read by half-term. Select no more than three and work towards them together. These could be academic, sport, social or family goals. Plan supervised study dates when children can work on projects collaboratively too.
16. Take a ride
For some children moving from primary to secondary, this could mean catching the bus for the first time so do a dummy run and catch a bus on the route being taken so your child knows where to get off and how to cross the road safely. Walk the rest of the route home together and discuss what to do in given situations such as in an emergency. Doing a recce is a great way to feel prepared.
17. Say hello
It’s important to make contact with your child’s teacher and make them aware of any particular educational or family issues that are relevant and concern you.
Say hello by all means but avoid bombarding your child’s new teacher with 101 questions in the playground or via email. Make an appointment and let the teacher know what to expect so you can have a focussed and productive conversation.
18. Leave some notes
You can keep your child positive, focused and motivated by leaving a special note in their lunchbox or pencil case to find the next day. This is a very effective strategy especially for sensitive children who miss the safety and comfort of their home environment. Some children find taking a special object with them such as a key ring or badge helps soothe their anxiety during the day.
19. Be more Yeti
The most powerful word we can share when learning anything is ‘yet’. Children will encounter lots of things that will frustrate them on their learning journey but parents and teachers can work together by saying, “I don’t know… YET”, “I don’t understand… YET”, “I don’t get it… YET”, “I can’t do it… YET”, “I can’t work it out… YET.” Positive yeti learners know that I can’t + oo = can too and that by not giving up and taking risks they will get there.
20.Go with the flow
Every child faces challenges when going back to school but these are all manageable with support and especially when parents and teachers work together. It’s always a bit overwhelming but don’t panic as everyone is in this together and so be optimistic about the upcoming changes. Going back to school is an adjustment period for all but be prepared to be flexible too because both school and home will need to tweak here and there as the first few days and weeks unfold. Go with the flow!