As a former school principal and district superintendent, I’ve witnessed firsthand how some students struggle to settle into routines when a new school year begins.
Some students would show up late, if they came at all. Some told their parents they were sick and wanted to stay home.
A lot of this was due to the anxiety over going to a new school or having to adapt to new friends, new teachers and a new schedule. But sometimes it was the simple result of kids having gotten used to staying up late and sleeping in over the summer. The sudden change of having to wake up early to go to school can make kids very cranky.
Even though it can be challenging for some kids to start a new school year, there are a few simple steps that parents can take to make the process easier and less stressful. Here are four of my top recommendations:
1. Reestablish a bedtime
Don’t wait until the night before the first day of school to bring back bedtime. Do it a week or two before school starts. Then, stick to the schedule throughout the school year.
Proper amounts of sleep range from nine to 12 hours for elementary and middle schoolers and from eight to 10 hours for high schoolers.
And, to ensure your child’s sleep is uninterrupted, keep technological devices out of the bedroom.
2. Practice the morning routine
A week before school begins, start practicing the morning routine. Are clothes and shoes chosen and ready to go? Are lunches and snacks packed? Are backpacks packed and easy to find?
Part of healthy child development is giving children a sense of control. To further this goal, let children pick out and lay out their clothes for the next day. Provide some basic guidance on what’s appropriate to wear to school. Allow children to pack the lunch or snack, again providing guidelines of what’s appropriate and what’s not.
3. Visit the school ahead of time
If possible, especially for children going to a new school, visit the school and practice walking to their classrooms.
Many schools offer orientations for students and their caretakers.
If there is no orientation, call the school and ask when it might be possible to come to walk around with your children to help familiarize them with their new classrooms. This will provide a level of comfort to your child on the first day of school.
4. Sign up for after-school activities
Encourage your child to participate in one or two after-school activities, whether school- or community-based. If the after-school activities are off-site from the school, ask school employees or after-school program providers about transportation.
Participation in extracurricular activities that interest your child can increase their motivation and ability to pay attention, both in the activity as well as school in general. However, be careful not to overschedule your child. The benefits of extracurricular activities – which include a stronger sense of belonging to the school community, higher grades and improved academic engagement – are maximized when after-school activities are limited to two.
Following these tips will hopefully help families make sure the school year gets off to a good start.