The start of the school year is a balancing act. For some families, the kids might be grudgingly smiling in those first day photos, after all, summer was great and now it’s over. While summer was also amazing for parents, you may find yourself holding back that “happy dance” in front of your kids. My youngest started Kindergarten this year and I felt a great sense of freedom when I walked out of her school on the first day. I knew she was just going to rock it, and I had no qualms (don’t ask me about dropping off my older daughter on her first day of Kindergarten. I was a mess!). It’s not all butterflies and rainbows though, and adjusting to new classrooms, teachers, and routines can be tough on the whole family.
 

So how can we have a smooth back-to-school transition?  Here are four simple tips to help:

 

1) Speak when spoken to.

 

This first point is all about that time of reconnection that occurs with your child after school. I tried countless times to drag information out of my oldest girl: who she ate lunch with, what she learned, what surprised her, etc. It was a mini-van inquisition. It didn’t work. A more seasoned parent suggested that I approach my daughter (and the other carpool kids) with a warm welcome. Let them know you’re glad they’re done for the day and back with you, and then keep your mouth closed unless someone asks you a question or gives you an excited version of, “You’ll NEVER GUESS what happened today!”

 

I use this tactic for about 20 minutes after school each day. Why? Imagine you’ve been with your boss all day long. From the moment your morning meeting began you had to ask permission to use the bathroom, s/he told you when you could take your break, and observed you eating lunch. To top it off, you had to be ready to perform or give a short soliloquy on new information you just learned, without much warning. Would you appreciate it if your cab/bus/uber driver, neighbour, or family member suddenly peppered you with questions at the day’s end? Doubtful. If you spend your day in a very controlled environment, you might want to decompress for a few minutes. Many kids need this too. School is hard after all! Give them the space to breathe and then move to tip number two below.

 

2) Design transitions that feel like freedom. 

 

After school ends, make time for snacks and independent play. This is different than a sports, dance, or chess team practice, which are also a “controlled” environment. I’m talking about time where your child can reconnect with whatever feels like freedom to them that day.  For one of my kids, it’s the trampoline. Not only does it give her some great movement and fresh air, but it’s a place where she can shake off all the stuff that she’s been holding together all day. Keeping it “together” at school is a lot of work and home is her safe space where she can let loose. For my other daughter, it’s creative free play. She really wants to hide away with her toys and re-enter her own imaginary world when the day is done. So when yours come home, be ready for hungry bodies and let them get back into the family groove on their own pace and in their own way. If you have some time limitations, make those clear up front and ask if setting a timer (or a favourite song) to alert them five minutes before the free time ends will be helpful.

 

3) Wear your hard hat for daily reading or other assignments. 

 

Should you literally wear a hard hat to avoid the fury of a child who has to do any form of homework? Not quite. In teaching, we often refer to “scaffolding” activities with kids. This originates from the scaffolding used in construction zones. Thanks to Wikipedia, I can tell you that scaffolding is “…A temporary structure used to support a work crew and materials to aid in the construction, maintenance and repair of buildings, bridges and all other man made structures.” When it comes to your child, this might mean you approach reading as, “I’ll read a page, then you read a page” for their nightly reading assignment. For other work, consider sitting side-by-side and having your child explain what they think they’re supposed to do on the problem or task at hand. Perhaps they can teach you what they’re doing. This way you’re present for questions and they can feel like an expert if they need that confidence boost. Plus, you might learn something new and if you do, tell them about it!  

 

It’s up to you how “temporary” you make the scaffolding. Follow your gut. If they’re discouraged and need the moral support, give them what feels right. If they’ve clearly “got it” but just like having you around, maybe just being present is enough. If it appear as if they’re giving you the “Heisman” posture, then just check in when they’re done and ask how it went.

 

And when it comes to reading, you’ve always got Hoot! We love reading with your kids and sometimes it’s easier for them to work using support from someone other than their parents. Case in point: my youngest recently said, “I can’t believe I’m stuck with ‘boring ol’ Mama.” And yes, she said it to my face. I tried very hard not to burst out laughing! Time to call in an outsider.

 

4) Pushing the reset button. 

 

There are times when kids (and parents) need the proverbial reset button. In our family, this often means that we had something planned and it’s not going well, for any of us. Perhaps there is after school chess club, then we head to the library for books, and before I can even tell the kids that they’re having their least favourite meal for dinner, they start mentioning how dull their lives are and hinting that as parents, we are the obvious cause. I start asking myself how I can hit the reset button. It usually comes in the form of something that’s unexpected or surprising. Rarely is it an inconvenience to me (that would be silly!). Sometimes it’s a special treat, but more often it’s an easy way for me to throw a wrench into whatever discontent is brewing.

 

Perhaps, when we get home I mention that dinner is almost ready (they groan) and I casually mention that we will be eating picnic style and then riding bikes/scooters until bedtime. Or if it’s winter, we will have “dark dinner” and the house will be lit only by candles, followed by playing with flashlights outdoors in the snow. Maybe I mention that we are playing board games in pjs, or they’re taking their bath with glow sticks in the water. Anything that can easily and quickly alter the thundering mood that is building. This is not to suggest that we cater to every whim or emotion of our kids. However, when there is a lot of transition (such as starting school) it’s helpful to have options in your tool kit to ease the tension.

 

I hope this back to school season is smooth for you and I’d love to hear any tips or tricks you’ve tried that add to the list! Let us know in the comments below!

 
 
 

About Elizabeth Hawkins Lincoln

Elizabeth is a former elementary school teacher who loves to make learning and fun collide. She earned her Bachelor of Education from the University of Montana (Go Griz!) and her Master of Education from Harvard Graduate School of Education. She taught Gr. 3 and 5, and when she left the classroom, she worked in educational software and online teacher professional development. Elizabeth spends her free time exploring art museums, riding bikes with her family, camping, writing stories, and traveling to new places.

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