Ah, the dog days of summer – a time for parents to take a break from school lunches, homework, carpools, sports and a million other things associated with the school year. The kids get a break too, and they’ve hopefully enjoyed some fun, later nights and a break from the rigors of structured learning.
Reality, alas, is fast approaching as we head into summer’s home stretch. In just a few short weeks, the lazy days of summer will turn into the packed schedules and hectic pace of school days. The transition can be rough for all involved, but it doesn’t have to be horrible.
Here’s some expert advice to help lessen back-to-school pain and ease the summer-to-school transition.
Routines Are Key
Start planning now and you can prevent some serious grief later. Waiting until the week or even night before to get your kids into school mode just won’t work. Enjoying the last weeks of summer is important, but so is maintaining some semblance of consistency as the countdown to school starts. Mindy Skura, a school adjustment counselor at the Fowler School in Maynard, sees a lot of struggles with kids who haven’t been given enough time to transition into a school schedule.
Some of these struggles include the normal regression of academic and social skills over the summer, but some involve exhausted kids not used to getting up early and following the routine of a school day. These kids have a tendency to forget classroom expectations and are often caught having sidebar conversations with classmates they haven’t seen since June. Skura has observed that kids who weren’t given proper transition time encountered difficulties with focus and attending to tasks.
“While it is important to allow ‘kids to be kids’ and incorporate fun into summer vacation, one needs to remember that kids thrive on structure, even in the summer,” Skura shares. “Parents should continue to enforce bedtimes, with perhaps a little leeway, and not allow their children to sleep for half the day. A schedule is helpful so that kids know what to expect.”
Laurel Kayne, communications director of the Waldorf School of Lexington in Lexington, echoes Skura’s experience. The main challenge they see at school is getting kids back into a routine. “A couple of weeks before school begins, it helps to set a regular bedtime. Get kids involved in yard work or other household chores to reintroduce them to the idea of best effort and responsibility,” she says.
Skura also suggests a balance of fun with some work to mimic a school routine. Allow some screen and general down time along with fresh air and exercise, a healthy diet, some alone time and some time with friends. “Those who stray too far from this in the summer months face the biggest challenges when the school year starts,” she explains.
Activities to Ease the Transition
In addition to tweaking bedtimes and getting kids back to a standard routine, there are activities parents can implement at home to help make this transition easier on everyone.
Most elementary and middle school kids have summer reading or even math work to complete. Early August is the perfect time to check in with your kids to see if those projects are on track. Take a trip to the library to make sure they have the books they need. Kayne suggests parents encourage progress, but avoid micromanaging.
“Summer learning should be easygoing and fun. Writing letters to a grandparent or far-away friend is a great way for older students to keep writing skills fresh without it feeling like school work,” Kayne recommends. She says that writing by hand has been shown to activate neural networks, so skip the keyboard and pick up a pen. “Don’t worry about spelling or grammar, but do encourage vivid descriptions and stories. Younger students can draw a picture.”
Skura recommends playdates with school peers. “This can ease the social awkwardness when classmates see one another again after a two-month stretch. Conversely, this can reduce the excess chatter with peers in the classroom as they won’t have as much to catch up on,” she advises. For incoming kindergarteners, playdates are often arranged through the school ahead of time and can be enormously helpful for kids just starting out, so check your school’s website for information on upcoming events. These also help parents connect and swap stories of what is or isn’t working for them as they lead up to the big first day.
Parents can take everyday opportunities to creatively get their kids’ minds working. If you go out to eat, have the kids guess how much the restaurant bill will be and older kids can help figure out the tip. Cook or bake together and have them measure the ingredients.
“There are unique opportunities for learning in the summer and engaging children in a continued love of learning and quest for new knowledge serves them well, both for getting back into school mode and overall,” Skura says. Playing games like Mancala, Monopoly, Connect Four and others all have some aspect of counting, math and learning which helps keep kids’ minds sharp while having fun.
As a parent and educator, Cara Chase sees both sides of the back-to-school coin. She has three children ranging in age from 4 to 9 and is the director of a preschool in Framingham. Her husband and parents are all teachers so the beginning of school has always been a fun and exciting time. She and her husband try to generate the same excitement with their kids come August.
“I strongly believe it is the way you talk about the return to school with your children that makes all the difference,” she says. “Children look to us as their emotional compass and positivity will lead to great places!”
Chase finds it helpful to know that the beginning of the school year is typically a review time for most kids and teachers. She says that, especially for younger children, new material is not typically introduced until October or sometimes even November. “Teachers are transitioning back to school as well and need to get comfortable with the group before launching into curriculum,” she explains. “I find this helpful because I know that as my children transition to new schedules, peer relationships, classroom rules and expectations, the academic piece will be a bit lighter making the overall experience less overwhelming.”
Despite this, Chase realizes that transitions can be difficult for kids. For her two older children, the social aspect is where the challenge lies. Her kids have more questions and concerns about who will be in their class, will their friends still like them and what will their new teacher be like. As a way to ease some of these transitional concerns, Chase makes it a point to read the classroom welcome letters from teachers. “Most schools also have websites that include teacher pages,” she continues. “Looking at your child’s new teacher’s site might give them a glimpse into what is to come and relieve any concerns.”
Another way to instill some back-to-school enthusiasm is to make the experience of shopping for school supplies fun. Make a list but give the kids a chance to choose their favorite colors and styles for folders, binders and other supplies. “Don’t try to jam these activities into the week before school, do a little at a time throughout the month of August,” Chase recommends. “This will lower stress levels, especially if you can’t find exactly what you need on the first try, and turn these tasks into something fun and exciting!”
Also, look into different school groups of interest (band, student council, gardening club, sports teams); this will help build excitement to start the year.
A Teacher’s Input
Parents and kids struggle with the transition to school, but what about teachers? They are adjusting, too, and have some valuable input on what makes it easier.
Kim Connolly, a second-grade teacher at Wheelock Elementary School in Medfield, suggests having kids write their new teacher a letter or postcard to get them engaged and thinking of what’s ahead. She also suggests keeping all new clothes for school aside only to be worn when the year starts, building some excitement and motivation.
To help establish a back-to-school mind-set, Connolly suggests getting children an analog watch so they can be in charge of the time for their extracurricular fun. Teaching kids to manage their money is another great learning exercise. Purchase a wallet or piggy bank so they can keep track of any money they might earn; then they can practice spending their cash at a store. In addition, you can find fun activities on the internet to develop research and reading skills, have your kids write in a journal or make a scrapbook of all their summer adventures.
Connolly realizes that many kids love their technology so she advises using your child’s student ID or passwords for website access paid for by the school, like Raz Kids for instance, as you prep for the start of classes. This allows kids their tech or computer time but with an educational spin. Other great apps that Connolly recommends include Book Creator (where kids create books or comics using their own pictures, videos, drawings, text and audio), Foos (which provides practice for coding and engineering) and the National Geographic Kids app and website.
Starting the year with a positive attitude and a little planning will get you far in helping to build your children’s confidence and ease their transition from summer to school.
7 Reading Tips for August
• Brainstorm wacky places to read with your kids and try to complete as many as you can. Read in a treehouse, on a swing, on the porch, in bed, in a tent, at the beach or car, for example.
• Have read-a-louds at home and have your children help pick the book. The more siblings or family members that can pile on a bed or couch together the better.
• Take turns reading different pages of a book in a funny voice or act it out. Creativity can turn a dreaded task into a delightful activity.
• Have a reading party. Invite family and friends to your deck, pool, park or beach and bring a book. Set a timer, read, do something else, then return to reading.
• If your kids are resistant, think outside the box. Go to a museum and read some interesting facts or read a brochure, newspaper or magazine together. Introduce your littles to graphic novels or nonfiction books about a subject they enjoy.
• Books on tape are great resources and can get kids excited as long as they follow along with the actual book in hand.
• Math and science can be covered by reading. Get a “how-to” book out of the library and make a craft, cake or circuit board. Carefully read the instructions. One dad tried this with his kids, visiting their local hardware store, getting all needed supplies and setting up their own circuit, motor and lightbulb station. All had a blast while reading and learning together.
Laura Richards is a writer and mom of four boys from Framingham.