It is difficult for most adults as well as children to transition going back to school after having an entire summer off. Whether you traveled or stayed home, your schedule was most likely a little different than it will be during the school year. Do you remember when your child was a toddler and you tried to make simple transitions from play time to nap time? It wasn’t so easy, right? Children like to be prepared and know ahead of time what to expect. It helps them organize information in their brain. I often suggest to parents to start their children on a routine as early as infancy. Babies and toddlers need to be in a good routine, too – especially if they have older siblings in school. The whole family system changes during the different seasons of the year and when older children go back to school, their younger siblings also are forced into a different routine. Starting your littles with a sold schedule will also help them transition better – and be good preparation for them as they grow and get ready for school when it’s their turn! As children grow older and have more cognitive abilities, I suggest implementing even more structure to their daily routines. As children get older they get more and more set in their ways and prefer familiarity over change. So being prepared and planning ahead will save you and your children unneeded distress as you transition back to a school routine.
I am a pretty structured person and like to have order to the things I do. I am not good at being spontaneous or winging it most of the time. I like routine. And most children do, too. In fact, the majority of children thrive on structure, routines, and schedules. When children are prepared and know what to expect ahead of time, their behavior is often more positive. Transitions are easier and power struggles are minimized. This is especially true for toddlers, children on the autism spectrum, and children diagnosed with an attention deficit disorder. When you are at home all day, it is easy to just let the day go by and not get much done when there is no plan. On the other hand, I try to leave room for some flexibility since some days we are hit with unexpected changes beyond our control like illness, holidays, spring break, vacations, etc. Everyday isn’t the same and some days we steer off course. I have noticed if we don’t have a plan, we often get pretty stir crazy and are more tired and frustrated as the day goes on. Can you relate?
Two weeks before heading back to school, or starting school for the first time, make a plan. Share that plan with your child and even invite them to help make a schedule with you. Start practicing going to bed early and getting up early in the morning. But make sure to go slow and take small steps toward your goal. In other words, make gradual progress to your ultimate destination. Start by going to bed 10 minutes earlier each night until you are going to bed when you would like to be when you are in school. Maybe you don’t have many nights to plan this too far in advance, but you get the idea. Do the same thing in the morning. Try to walk up 10 minutes earlier each morning until you are waking up at your desired time.
One day before school starts, do a trial run. Go to bed early the night before and wake up early as if you were going to school. Even if you planning on staying home all day, practice getting dressed, packing a lunch, grabbing the backpack, and even taking some photos before getting in the car. Drive to school. Notice the traffic patterns and other nuances that may come up along the way that you hadn’t accounted for in your head. Maybe you have to plan an alternate route just in case? Time how long the process actually takes you and evaluate if you need more time the following day when it will actually count! Plan for the unexpected like traffic delays, road construction, running into an eager neighbor wanting to wish you well, etc. When you are done with your practice, you can head to the park and have a picnic with the lunch you packed and enjoy your last day of summer before heading home!
The first day of school is always a little different and chaotic, so stay calm. Arrive early and make sure you know the drop off and pick up procedures and don’t be shy to ask questions. If your child is older, make sure they know where their classroom is and who their teacher is before heading home. Also make sure they know exactly what time and where you will be picking them up after school. And if your child takes the bus or goes to school alone by foot or bike, then make sure they are set up for success for getting up and out the door with plenty of time to navigate the system by themselves. And if you have to, set more than one alarm and put one of them across the room so you actually have to get out of bed to turn it off!