After a long and lovely summer holiday children and parents often struggle to get back into the daily demands of term time and a new routine.
For children who are just starting school it can also be a huge culture shock adjusting to a whole new environment and schedule, often with longer days to manage as well.
Here are some thoughts and ideas to help ease your child into a new school routine and support your child to get the most out of the academic year ahead.
It is important to have a rest and enjoy the summer holidays but we can help our children continue to learn with fun activities and help get them ready for going back to or starting school. Remember it is easier to learn when you are having fun!
Things to master before going to school:
There will be lots of new expectations for your child to master: hold a pencil, use scissors and be able to cut, jump/hop & skip, recognise own name, partly write own name, get dressed by themselves, put their own shoes on, recognise a certain amount of numbers, sit still for a minimum of 15 minutes.
So why not be one step ahead and help them develop these skills before school start so they are not taken by surprise but also will boost their confidence for the rest of the year:
• The Name Game: have fun and write 20 names on cards, one with your child’s name on. Make them find their own name card and try to read the other names out. Support your child with writing their own name. This is something they will be expected to participate in on the first day of school start.
• Concentration: for many children this can be a huge task. So practise with your child and take some time doing crafts, playing a board game, listen to a story, for a minimum of 15 minutes every day, encouraging them to sit still.
• Take turn: the teacher will have many children to look after and waiting and taking turn will be expected. If you have other children at home you can easily practise this. Otherwise, practise this on the playground, at friends house etc.
• Reading with young children: choose a book with pictures and ask your child to ‘tell you a story about the pictures’. Or find a book with not too much writing and you can read it together. Make sure you read for your child every day. When you are out walking encourage your child to notice signs and read them out loud or ask what they think the sign means and then you can read it out, a great way to learn new words such as street, road, avenue etc. They will quickly recognise the words – and they LOVE to be able to ‘read’ it out loud even though they merely ‘recognise’ it. Sticker books are another great way to introduce books in a fun way. For older kids: allow them to choose some summer reading, magazines (my kids loved the Lego magazine) or newspapers etc., this is a great way to explore new topics.
• Numbers: familiarise your child with numbers by spotting numbers everywhere and saying them out loud on houses, speed limit signs etc. Support your child in writing out the number of their own and sibling’s ages.
• Fine motor skills: do a little bit of craft every day where you support your child to use their fine motor skills. Help them to cut, draw small objects, do dot to dot drawings, glue small objects and make beads. Cutting fruit and vegetables is also a great way to develop their fine motor skills!
• Get dressed: try to encourage your child to get dressed by themselves over the summer. Have fun timing how long it takes to get into PJs, put on their shoes, jacket, even their PE kits.
• Routine: a week before school starts begin a bed time routine i.e.: bath time, getting into PJs, bedtime story and sleep. But also, start having a morning routine where you get up at the same time, get dressed and have breakfast. Why not have fun running a ‘practise’ morning where you pretend that you are getting ready to go to school and follow the agreed morning routine.
1. Preparation is key
If your child is new to school it is really important that the child feels prepared for what they will experience. The idea of starting school can be daunting and there will be many uncertainties, thoughts and feelings to process. So, help them with their questions and let them know that it will be OK, and that they are safe.
● Go and see the school a few times: it is a great idea to visit the school, even if it is closed. Look in through the gate, point out what you see etc. Talk about how they will walk in through the gate in the morning and so on. This way, when they arrive, the scene will be familiar.
● Transport: how will they get to school? Bus, car, walk etc. If you are walking, do the walk a few times to familiarise your child with the route. You can also drive it and talk about the journey, what you see on the way, see how the traffic is etc.
● Lunch: are they taking a packed lunch or will they have school meals, or a mix of the two? I was working with a dad who was worried about his son starting school. The boy was a fussy eater and wanted to bring a packed lunch. We agreed that they would create a ‘lunch planner’ over the summer and try them all out. Monday, was a ham and cucumber wrap. Tuesday was a chicken baguette. Wednesday a plain cheese sandwich etc. They agreed on what snacks he liked and experimented with some new fruits and vegetables over the summer. This way when school started they didn’t have a battle with this, it was already planned out and written down for everyone.
● Equipment: what do they need for school? Don’t leave it till the last minute to get their school bag, pencil case, pencils, colouring pens, water bottle, uniform etc. My kids loved getting ready for the new school year and seeing what new things they needed. And you will most likely need to label their school uniform and PE kit etc. so do it early on, together.
Basically, familiarise them with as much as possible so they feel they are ready and when the time comes it is not totally new to them, they will know what to expect.
2. Set up a morning routine and practise it
Over the summer you might have had lots of relaxed, lazy mornings but once the school begins they need to be organised, out the door and at school on time. The early mornings can be really hard after summer so make sure that you start this at least a week before school begins again so your child can get used to it. As with the bedtime routine:
● Agree the tasks, the order and their timings. Less is more here – try not to have too many tasks in the morning. Do whatever can be done the night before such as laying out their clothes, preparing their packed lunch etc.
● Write or draw up what you have to do so you all know the drill.
● Practise it a week before school starts so you are ready and able to stick to it once the term begins.
3. The importance of sleep
If your child goes to school well rested, they are more likely to cope with the challenges of the day as they come up, be able to socialise well, and be ready for learning and new information. At least a week before school starts get your child into a good bedtime rhythm for term time:
● Sit together and agree the new bedtime routine; it is so important that your child is part of this plan so they feel it is theirs and that they have some level of control.
● Talk about what tasks they need to do as part of their routine: go upstairs, have a bath, put on their PJs, brush their teeth, bedtime story etc.
● Then agree on the order and timing of each of these tasks.
● You can create a chart or poster with images – CLICK here to sign up to receive free routine images.
● Then implement it, at least a week in advance, so your child is used to it by the time school starts.
4. Make sure they go to school happy, relaxed and confident
Remember that a good morning starts the night before:
● Help your child get organised in advance: this will make the morning less chaotic, avoiding nagging, tears and guilt! Get their uniform ready, homework in their book bags, PE kit packed, water bottle filled and snacks in the fridge.
● Try not to be a DO-er for your child. I know it is always much easier and quicker to do it yourself but support them to become independent by ‘allowing’ them to do it, with your support. Going to school prepared and organised will help them to fully focus on the day ahead.
● Bedtime routine – kids need sleep: have a bedtime routine that makes it very clear when it is time for them to go to bed.
● Stick to your morning routine, as agreed: don’t let yourself or them get distracted.
● Make time for a healthy breakfast: eating a good breakfast together is a great way to start the day and provides energy to get through the morning. Try to avoid lots of sugar at breakfast. Agree what’s for breakfast the day before so it’s not a big panic in the morning. We used to say Friday was for pancakes for instance, and whatever we were having we always planned our breakfast and set out what we could the night before.
And remember: mornings are ONLY for getting up, getting ready, eating and getting out the door!
5. Homework routine:
Depending on after school activities, make a plan of when, where and how the child will do their homework. Get them involved and ask them when it suits them, where they want to do it and what works best for them.
You know your child, do they need to come home, have a rest and a snack and can they go have a bit of screen time, OR do they need to get their homework over and done first?
6. Make time to listen:
Going back to school can be hard and really tiring so we need to be there to listen, when they have something to tell us. Make sure you have at least 10 minutes of ‘Special-Time’ every day alone with your child, where you give them your full attention. This will give you a chance to learn more about your child’s school experiences, good and bad.
I know this can be hard (and you may have been at work too) when you are tired and have chores to do. But really try to be conscious of the fact that this will be time well spent. You will be able to pick up early issues that can be solved straight away. Also, it is a wonderful thing to be part of your child’ s day by listening and hearing about all the small but important things your child has experienced.
7. Make sure your child has some ‘headspace’ every day:
School life can be pretty full on, so it is important that they get some time to relax without pressure and expectations, time to just chill. Again, know your child: what helps your child to relax and recharge their batteries? Being outside relaxing with a book or running around in the garden, watching some television, time in their room alone etc.
Awareness: there are so many amazing after school activities that our child can get involved with but be wary of filling their day to the brim. A child can’t function in the long run if they are on the go all the time, they need time every day with nothing planned and nothing to do. When they have ‘nothing’ on, that is when they get creative and have time to think and recharge.
8. Don’t drill your child for answers at the end of the day:
Rather than ask ‘what did you do at school today?’ (which most likely will invite the answer ‘nothing’ or ‘can’t remember’), try this:
● Tell me two things that happened at school today
● What was the best part of your day today? This also helps them to focus on what went well and not merely the ‘bad’ parts of school!
This can be a great bedtime activity or in the car on the way home. Maybe you can start telling them about your day and they will join in and tell you about their day.
It is important to encourage your child to feel excited about school, so start to talk positively about the experience and slowly get your child ready.