With the school year just around the corner, school social workers are offering ideas and strategies for parents that you can incorporate into their summer to get you child ready for a great school year.
School social workers are helpful allies in this process when you transition your child into school to assist in navigating the school itself, calming some of the fears and making the anxious feelings some children experience a bit smaller and more manageable.
These student support professionals are in the schools to support your child’s academic and social journey through school as well as being a helpful resource to you as parents/guardians with the myriad of life stressors that may arise.
Here are some specific strategies to assist in your child’s transition from summer back to school.
- Set a schedule that includes reading.
It's important to avoid the “summer slide” by reading regularly. Look for programs at your local library, including recommended reading lists for all levels of readers. Summer offers opportunities to hit parks with comfortable benches and shady trees. Hang a hammock in the backyard or climb up into a sturdy tree; these are all great places for reading! I recommend reading with your children; it’s fun to read along with them or to them so that you can talk about story and learn more about their interests.
- Use math in fun ways.
This can include meal planning, where kids find recipes, help create a shopping list and purchase groceries within a set budget. Then they can come home to experience “Top Chef: The Home Version."
Speaking of food, summer is a great time to investigate interesting fresh fruits and vegetables at local farmers markets. Giving kids ways to explore cooking and new foods can expand their palate and help make lunches healthier when school starts again. Teaching kids their way around the kitchen can expand their interests and also empower them to find ways to make their lunches both delicious and teach them independence.
- Give your child an analog watch.
Telling time is a skill often taken for granted, but it's needed for school and life. An analog watch can help kids become proficient in telling time, which in turn helps them learn responsibility. Even though there are plenty of digital clocks around, having mastery of telling time helps kids with time management in a way that doesn't rely on devices.
- Going on a road trip?
Have your kids get engaged in the process of travel planning. They can assist with creating a budget (see #2 above!) that includes park entrance fees, snacks and incidental purchases.
They can look at the map and find points of interest and fun places to stop along the way. Learning to read a map and understanding directions is an important skill. Once they're old enough to drive, they'll need to know how to find their way home if there's a detour or if their phone loses power. Kids can be excellent co-pilots, reading GPS devices and navigating the route home. Summer travel allows kids to explore beyond their neighborhood or community. It enables them to practice different ways of doing things and expands their vocabulary and world view.
- Take time to really talk with your kids.
While you walk the family pet, go out for ice cream or canoe around the lake, take the time to talk with your child. Learn about your kids' thoughts, concerns, and curiosities so that daily conversations with you becomes routine. Remember, your children are also curious about you, too! Taking time to enjoy conversations when your schedules are less packed can pave the way for conversations when they are back in school.
Start a daily ritual of family check-ins of “highs and lows.” Starting this ritual while your kids are in elementary school will pave the way for middle and high school. Conversations continue to be important as kids get older, but they can be challenging unless they've already established the habit of sharing their thoughts with you.
- Practice going to sleep early and waking up with an alarm.
At least two weeks before school starts again, getting everyone ready to go to sleep earlier and waking to an alarm may make the back to school transition a bit easier. Teach kids that planning an outfit that's weather- and school-appropriate is easier when done the night before.
- Get organized.
My youngest daughter would not maintain the organized drawers that I painstakingly attempted to establish. Then I asked her how she wanted them to be put organized. She declared, “That’s easy, mom. They should be put together by color, not by type.” After that, my daughter was in charge of organizing her drawers. My frustration decreased and her sense of accomplishment increased.
After that, I ask my daughter how she want to organize her school materials. Sure enough, she had a great system for that as well. It's wise to honor the systems your child sets up; you can always adjust down the road if needed. Allowing them to take initiative in these tasks teaches kids to be personally responsible for their things, which translates easily to school.
These are just a few ways to help your child make a smoother transition from summer months into the school year.
Your child’s transition back to school is always met with excitement and a bit of trepidation. Sharing with your child how you personally manage new situations and new routines in your life will help give them strategies of how they can transition into their new school, new grade, new classmates, new teacher, and new routines.
Parents and guardians are a child's most important teachers. By talking about your own successes and failures, you help your child to normalize their feelings of trepidation as they navigate the next chapter. As a parent, your gift is to “live out loud” with your child; they will learn from you.
Heather Alden, MSW, LICSW, is a school social worker for St. Paul Public Schools in Minnesota. Alden, who earned her master’s degree at the University of Houston, is the mother of two teenagers. She's always learning and trying to “live out loud” each day.