Smoothing the Transition Back to School
The end of summer vacation and the transition back to school can be stressful for children and parents alike. Schedule changes, school transport, homework monitoring, and constant extracurricular activities all pose challenges for parents in addition to their own work and household responsibilities. For many families, these stresses could be exacerbated by anxiety and uncertainty about returning to full-time in-person learning in the coming school year. But the transition back to school doesn’t have to be all-consuming! By taking a few proactive steps, you – and your children – can walk into the new school year feeling calm and confident.
Get a head start
Even though the transition from summer to back-to-school rolls around every year, it still represents a major change. And like all changes, it’s easier to handle successfully if you’ve done a little prep work!
Some school districts may still be making decisions regarding in-person vs hybrid learning for the upcoming schoolyear. Make sure you are signed up for email lists or logging into the school website regularly so you have the latest information. It will also be important to prepare for the contingency of at least some virtual learning. At home, decide on a routine spot your children will use for virtual schooldays, and begin clearing toys and other distractions out of that space if possible. At work, reach out to your supervisor or HR department regarding the potential for flex time or work-from-home days as needed.
Beat the last-minute crowds by getting your school shopping done early. Go through your own and your children’s closets to take stock of what clothes you’ll need for the year. If possible, communicate with your child’s teacher at least two weeks before the first day of school to get an up-to-date supply list. At the same time, make a list of any household items you may need for the change in seasons so you’re prepared for cooler weather. This will all help prevent last-minute dashes to the store after work.
Establish a routine
Spend some time thinking about what your family’s daily schedule will look like during the school year. What time will you, and your children, need to go to bed and wake up on weekdays? How long will it take to get everyone to school and work on time? Will you or your partner have frequent late or early work meetings? What days will sports and other extracurricular activities fall on? How much time will you have daily or weekly for cooking and meal prep?
Once you have a sense of what your weekdays will look like, begin to work some of those schedules into your family’s routine about two weeks before the first day of school. Start shifting bedtimes and wake-up calls earlier so everyone has some time to adjust. If your children will be taking the bus to school, practice walking with them to the bus stop so they know how long it takes to get there. Adjust mealtimes to approximately the times you’ll be eating during the schoolyear, and start practicing your meal prep and weekday cooking routines – preparing lunches the night before, deciding the week’s menu in advance, etc.
You can also create a family calendar – either electronically or on paper – to better juggle different schedules and events. Begin making it a habit to ensure each member of the family looks at the calendar every day and marks down when they have something important scheduled. Consult your children’s school calendar and your own work calendar to make note of parent-teacher conferences, days off, school events, important meetings, and deadlines.
This is also a good time to set expectations regarding homework, screen time, and chores.
If you have a partner who shares parenting responsibilities, be sure to include them. Make sure you both know important information, like the family schedule, the school bus route and schedule, teachers’ names, and emergency contacts. Come up with a plan for sharing responsibilities during the schoolyear. Maybe you know you will need to work late on Tuesdays, so your partner will be responsible for school pick-up and making dinner on those nights. Maybe your partner finds grocery shopping very stressful, so you agree to be responsible for that task. Communicate clearly and come up with a plan – but don’t forget to stay flexible to allow for shifting work schedules and responsibilities.
Also, don’t be afraid to hand over age-appropriate responsibilities to your children themselves. Older children can make their own lunches, pack their own backpacks, put important school events on the family calendar, and pick out their own school outfits. You can also assign your children age-appropriate chores to help out around the house – cleaning up their own spills, clearing the dishes after dinner, loading the dishwasher, feeding the dog, bringing dirty clothes to the laundry room, etc. While these tasks may not always be done perfectly, involving your children in household tasks, especially during busy times of the year, can take small things off your plate while teaching them responsibility and independence.
Which brings us to perhaps the most important tip:
Forget about perfection
Even the best laid plans sometimes go awry. There will be days when someone oversleeps, the car won’t start, your partner has to work late unexpectedly, or you forget about the school bake sale. On days like these, give yourself and your family some grace and remember that you are all doing the best you can. None of us are perfect, either as parents or as employees, but most mistakes are fixable. Take a few deep breaths, revisit your schedules and routines to see if they can be improved, and begin again tomorrow!
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