The school holidays is coming to an end and it's time to start preparing your kid for a more scholarly mindset. Here are a few tips to get them out of lazy mode and ease the transition for both of you.
It's much less stressful to get back into school mode if we do it gradually, instead of suddenly realising "oh hell, school is tomorrow, the lunch bag is nowhere to be found, and your kid did zero of the holiday reports due on the first day". Even if you're itching to finally get the kids out of the house and onto that school bus, a little preparation a week or two before school starts will start your family off on the right foot.
Start Adjusting the Sleep Schedule
Sleep is my biggest concern about this change. With a mostly open schedule during the holidays, both my daughter and myself have been waking up alarm-free. If we kept this up until the first day of school, my self-proclaimed night owl daughter would either get to school five hours late (no alarm) or have five hours of sleep deprivation (dragged out of bed and carried to school).
The most basic thing is to have your kids — and yourself, if necessary — go to sleep and get up a little earlier every day. WebMD advises inching back bedtime and wake times in half-hour increments:
So, at least a week before school holidays end, start setting the alarm clocks.
Begin with a wake up time that is about an hour earlier than usual. For example, if your 6-year-old goes to bed at 9 p.m. during the holidays and needs to get back to an 8 p.m. bedtime for school, begin by waking her up at 7 a.m. instead of letting her sleep until 8. Then try inching her bedtime back the next night to 8:30 p.m. On day two, wake her up at 6:30 a.m. and aim for an 8 p.m. bedtime.
I'm using a short vacation before school to help with this. Waking up earlier is easier when there's something fun to look forward to or get to (Wizarding World of Harry Potter, here we come!), but you could use fun activities at the end of term break in the same way. Plus, hopefully the activities will wear them out so they naturally fall asleep earlier.
Know how many hours of sleep your kid should get and try to nix any sleep issues now to make the new school year start as smoothly as possible.
There are other ways to get into the routine of getting ready for school, such as using checklists, apps to organise your family's schedules, or following the school routine strictly before school starts. But at the end of school holidays, I prefer a gentle easing into the new routine, and think that if you start with sleep, you'll already be ahead of the game.
Get the School Supplies and Study Area in Order
Despite having spent about $US60 in school supplies last year (not including clothing or other accessories like that), somehow we don't have a single pencil in the house. My kid's going to have to use broken crayons to do her schoolwork unless we start shopping. One good thing about shopping for school supplies, though, is you can bring your kids with you (or have them shop online with you) and use it as a reminder that school is approaching — and maybe even get them excited about it. Who doesn't like bouquets of sharpened pencils? Even picking out a new backpack (if one is needed) can be exciting.
If you don't have a homework area set up yet, or if it's been overtaken with toys, now's a good time to organise and personalise that area with your child. Hang a bulletin board up with the school calendar and room for other reminders, desk trays or folders for storing project work, and, of course, pencils and other writing tools.
Organising expert Elizabeth Mayhew offers a few tips on Today.com for encouraging your kid to get organised:
First, establish your child's organizational style. Like adults, most people fall into two categories: pilers (people who like to stack things) or filers (people who like to keep things out of sight). Allow your child to make some decisions about how he or she wants to organise their things and be sure to realise that your child might be wired differently from you; what works for him or her might not work for you. Also, don't be too rigid. You might find that once they start school, they need to change their systems. The goal is to empower them so they will be more likely to keep things in order.
Pilers might prefer document boxes or trays while kid-friendly file folders should appeal to filers. Mayhew also recommends helping your child come up with a list of the things they need to bring to school each day of the week (e.g., books or soccer equipment) to check off as they pack their backpacks in the morning. Keep these running lists in a prominent place in their work area.
Finally, let's talk clothing. The average spending on clothes and shoes as part of the back-to-school budget is over $350. August is a great time for buying kids' clothing, thanks to the sales, but besides picking out the first week's outfits and making sure shoes fit, I prefer to spread out clothing buying throughout the year. If you and your kids enjoy clothing shopping, though, new school-appropriate clothes can also help set the tone. Whether you decide to shop for new school clothes or not, this is as good a time as any to clean out the closet.
Get Ready for Lunch Packing Again
One of the nicest things about open schedules during the school holiday period: not having to pack lunch bags. Oh well, back to creating snack packs, loading up on juice boxes, and the rest of the lunch bag grind.
During the break, I've been trying to get my daughter to make her own meals more or at least help out with them. For a long time, I've also wanted her to help us meal plan. Since the start of schools seems like a fresh start, this might be the best time to begin: a) having your kid make lunch the day before (with or without you) and b) also help plan the week's menu. Even the youngest kids can help out with packing a healthy lunchbox. You don't have to stick with just PB&J, either.
For all of the above, older kids should have more autonomy and responsibility. Give them an allowance for the back-to-school supplies and clothing so they can budget themselves, have them think about extra-curricular activities they're going to join, and talk with them about what they're looking forward to about the new school year and what their specific goals for it are.
The most important thing is to have kids — and yourself — thinking about and looking forward to the new routine and school year, rather than our natural tendency: living in denial school holidays are ending and it's time to get back to schoolwork.
Illustration by Jim Cooke.