Last week I was reminiscing with my three grown sons about how we used to do our annual back to school ritual of shopping for school supplies. I think it was more fun for me than it was for them! The stacks of binders and loose-leaf paper were piled high. Choosing the colors and themes for spiral notebooks could take half an hour. They insisted on new protractors, rulers, compasses, mini-staplers, and pencil cases, although they never used the ones from the year before. Although it was hard on the checkbook, and they initially groaned when we hit the store, the “outing” was an important ritual that signaled the end of a carefree summer. It helped them transition back to school and all that it represented; schedules, being organized, deadlines for assignments, academic focus, meeting expectations.
I realize with some wistfulness that many families no longer need to trek to the nearest Office Depot before school starts. Most school supplies have been replaced with Ipads and laptops. Most older kids will laugh when asked if they need a package of pens for the start of the semester. But kids still need ways to transition from summer back to school. So if it’s no longer happening with a shopping cart and a handwritten checklist, parents need to incorporate other rituals to help their kids, especially those who get anxious about change or new beginnings.
Keep in mind that most kids don’t read during the summer months and reading is still an integral part of classroom learning. Aside from what’s required, it’s helpful to let kids pick out a book for “pleasure reading” and to negotiate a specific time for them to turn off their electronic gadgets and get back in the habit of reading. For kids who are used to connecting with computers, downloading a book and reading it on-line or on a Kindle can work.
Bedtime and its associated rituals often go out the window during the summer months. Re-establish a specific bedtime and end-of-the-day ritual to help your child readjust to having to get up in the morning. Bedtime can be a great opportunity to process the day, focusing on what your child likes or doesn’t like about a specific teacher, something new they learned in school, or sharing a positive or upsetting interaction they had with another student. Kids also need reassurance that as the class material, teachers’ expectations, and classmates become more familiar some of the normal anxiety associated with the unknown will subside. Since sleep is so essential for growing brains, make sure that your kids have “powered down” when the lights are turned off. I even advocate that cellphones and other electronic toys are taken out of their bedrooms at night. Otherwise, kids are texting, playing video games, or surfing the Internet at 2:00am.
One of the best rituals I did with my kids as we drove to school each morning was to ask them “What’s one good thing that will happen in school today?” Even if your kids take the bus, ask them that question while you wait at the bus stop or before they bolt out the front door. It creates an optimistic mindset, prepares them for the day by focusing their attention on something positive, and gives you something to follow up on when they get home. And perhaps what’s most useful in helping kids transition back to school is the knowledge that you are involved; available to help them organize, review homework assignments, advocate if they are feeling bullied or falling behind with new material. If you can, volunteer in the classroom or be a part of the PTA. Show up for concerts, track meets, school plays. As much as your kids might balk, they want you there to witness their successes and help them when they falter.
What back-to-school rituals do you and your children have?