In one week, two days, and a dozen and a half hours or so, the kids will be back in school. (But, who’s counting.) While I am clearly ready, not everyone may be. Lax summer routines, spontaneous adventures, and uninterrupted friend hang-out time certainly have their appeal. The return of a routine and responsibilities can be a stresser – for some kids.
“Every child will internalize the first day of school differently,” said Joe Rodia, Head of School at West Chester’s Chesterbrook Academy and a 20-year back-to-school veteran. His advice? “Customize the experience for your student.”
If they are excited, talk about all they are going to learn this year, the teacher they have, and the projects they will do. If they are more reluctant, “Cater more to the fun things,” he suggests. Planned field trips, seeing friends again, and after-school activities.
If they haven’t done anything all summer, this isn’t the time to focus on academic skills. “If they haven’t done anything, you can’t do much about it,” Joe said. Forcing it now will only add to the anxiety level, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make sure they are ready to learn.
“I think more important than academics is routine,” he said.
He recommends starting now by figuring out the fall morning routine. What time will you get up? What will you eat for breakfast? Will you take the bus or walk? He also suggests visiting the school. Take advantage of open school activities or, if you have younger kids, arrange for them to meet up with some friends at the playground.
He also suggests parents take to time to prepare themselves. “We talk a lot about the child piece,” he said. “We need to make sure we are ready as well because that stress will be felt by the children.”
Familiarize yourself with the school website. Figure out the plan for school lunches, learn the bus schedules, complete any paperwork, and take time to map out important dates. “As a family, we need to make sure we are organized and ready,” he said.
But no matter where they are on the excitement meter, make the return to school a celebration, Joe said. At Chesterbrook Academy, they host a “Best Day Ever” celebration on the first day of school. The mascot comes, and there are ice cream trucks and activities. “It’s fun,” he said.
You can do the same at home. Plan something for the night or weekend before as well as on the first day. “We are going to go out to dinner the night before,” Joe said of his family which is celebrating a son entering high school. “If you do just do one thing, make it a celebration,” he said.
Originally published, Aug. 18, 2023
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