Helping kids get back to school
Northwest summers, always anticipated and enjoyed, slide into autumn more quickly than anyone would like. The long days shorten, cloudy days stack up, and it gets cooler at night. Don’t be discouraged—We’ll still have some warm, lovely September days.
Now, the new school year is knocking at our door.
When I was a kid, I anticipated school with pleasure. I liked school—it’s predictability and structure. I looked forward to seeing school friends that I didn't see during the summer. I didn't care too much for school shopping—with two older brothers I could count on lots of hand-me-downs. I liked when my dad would take me shopping. He let me choose what I wanted. My mom was a different story—she picked out my clothes, focusing on cost and value.
I liked to get school supplies, sharpening pencils until they had a fine point. I was both excited and nervous about going into a new grade. Fortunately, I had two older brothers so I knew what to expect. Following my older brother was always a challenge. He was a superstar student—acing every test and winning every academic award. He was a hard act to follow.
So how can parents help children make the transition from summer vacation to a new school year?
Consider—what were last year’s challenges? What were last year’s wins? History has a way of repeating itself, despite our best intentions. Children are the ultimate optimists, convinced that everything will be different “this year.” If Joey had trouble sitting down and doing his homework before “relaxing” with a video game, what about a set time for homework every day? Many kids do better with a little more structure. Was reading a problem? What about a set time for reading several times a week? Children will resist these innovations with their hopeful attitude. But we know better. Stand your ground.
Think about the pace of their day—and yours. Sports, clubs, and other activities are great. But think about practice schedules, games, and how it will all fit together. It’s important for children to have some down time too. And don't forget to think about yourself. Can you handle all of the comings and goings in your busy day? It has to work for everyone.
Have a family meeting. Get everyone together after dinner to talk about the new school year. Let kids share their worries, their hopes, and their goals. Discuss mutual expectations. Set bedtimes, curfew, chores, and screen limits. Make regular family meals a priority.
Be specific. Don’t say— “I want you to help with the dishes” and expect that will translate into action. Better to say— “It’s your job to clear the dinner table on Mondays and Wednesday’s”. Make sure to be specific about what that means.
Be visual. Write everything down on a big piece of paper and make sure everyone can see it. Use pictures with words. Make it look attractive.
Better to have fewer expectations that you enforce than many expectations that you let slide. Revisit these expectations a few weeks into the school year. Do some need modification? Do some need more enforcement? Were they realistic?
Trust, but verify. Did Billy really do his homework? Some kids need more spot checks than others. When it comes to screen time limits be like Attila the Hun. Kids will nickel and dime you into bankruptcy. Before you know it, 30 minutes will turn into an hour.
The new school year will require more effort. Every year, the bar inches up. In 3rd grade, 7th grade, 9th grade, and 11th grade the bar goes up a foot. Kids want to apply “last years” effort to the new year—be prepared. They will have to work harder to get the same output.
Don’t overly focus on grades. This is a tough one, because we over rely on grades to tell us how our kids are doing. Focus on what they are learning, how they are approaching their work, and their natural curiosity. In the long run, this may be a better predictor of success in adult life.