Back-to-school survival guide

Getting back into the swing of school + tips for the transition years

- 10 Tips for Transitioning Your Kids from Summer Freedom to School Schedules

- The Transition Years

Getting Back into the Swing of Things:

10 Tips for Transitioning Your Kids from Summer Freedom to School Schedules

By Meagan Ruffing

Many families choose to swap out their school routines for a more laissez-faire type of living during the summer. Kids sleep in (you hope), running around is not part of your vocabulary and outdoor play with friends takes up most of the day when school’s out. Everyone knows summer is great but getting back into a routine can be tricky. Setting the alarm clock can sometimes be harder for the parents than the kids but a fail-proof plan can get the whole family on board.

Try these tips to get your schedule in place:

1. A week or so before school actually begins, put the kids to sleep a half hour earlier than you usually would during the summer. This tiny change in their sleep schedule can make all the difference come the first day of school. An earlier bedtime will also help with less defiance from the child when the night before school comes.

2. Transitioning from freedom to schedule can be really hard for kids. Get them excited about going back to school by taking them school shopping at the end of July or early August. Most school supply lists can be found on the school’s website, the school’s Facebook page or in your local paper. Print these out, plan a day to go shopping and let your kids pick out things from the list that will get them ready to learn.

3. Eating dinner together might seem like a thing of the past but it really does wonders for your child’s self-esteem. A well-balanced meal every night around the dinner table where you can talk, ask questions and prepare your children for the changes in their routines will help everybody know what’s coming up and feel like they are safe, loved and taken care of before their big day begins.

4. Try to keep your schedule clear the first week of school. If your child goes back to school on a Wednesday, make sure you keep things simple that Monday and Tuesday. When children feel more relaxed than they will act more relaxed. A lighter load prior to their first back-to-school day will give them the energy they need to succeed.

5. A bedtime routine is often suggested for newborns and infants but it can also be just as important for school-aged children. Start a nighttime ritual of dinner, bath, pajamas, book and sleep. Make getting ready for bedtime a relaxing thing for your child.

6. Keep extracurricular activities to one or two per child. So many parents want to get their kids involved in after-school sports, clubs and so on, and that’s okay but keep it to a minimum. They’re still just children and they’re still learning their limits. Try signing up for one activity per semester or season and let them flourish with room and time to spare.

7. Conduct a “mock” school day. This could be fun (and interesting) for everyone. Pretend school starts tomorrow and go through the morning’s events just as you would if it were really the big day. See where things went wrong (and good) and figure out a game plan for the actual day. For example, if your child was supposed to get up at 6am for school but their alarm never went off, check to see if it needs new batteries or if it was set up properly. Something as simple and easy as this one situation can set your child up for success or failure on their first day.

8. Three meals a day with snacks in between help children sustain their energy and focus. Get in the habit of knowing what you’re going to make at the beginning of the week with a family menu. Get your children involved in the process and let them pick out a meal or two; this will get them on board with helping out around mealtime and they will know what to expect come dinnertime.

9. Reward charts are a fun and easy way to help your children get in the mood for school. Every time they put away their clean clothes, pick up after themselves, or do what they’re told, give them a sticker to put on their reward chart. Once they’ve earned enough stickers to redeem a reward, take them to the dollar store and let them pick out an inexpensive toy. This will help with their willingness to obey, as well as their ability to understand cause and effect.

10. Talk time in the car is something I do with my kids. Whether we’re heading to the grocery store or just walking to the mailbox, I always try to take the opportunity to ask them about their day. Sometimes a simple, “How are you today?” can get your kid in the right mindset to start a conversation with you. Simple talks like this can be really helpful when starting school again. Kids will inevitably be cranky and tired from being at school all day and like mine, they may not feel like talking; that’s okay. A simple, “I love you,” or “I missed you today,” can mean a lot to them and get them ready for the next day.

There are plenty of ways to set your child up for success before school even begins. Make things easier for yourself and your children by thinking ahead.

Ready, set, learn!

The Transition Years

By Melody Ann Wallace

It seems like only yesterday we held them for the first time, and then, before we know it, we’re buying lunchboxes, backpacks and prom attire.

This seems to be the year of multiple transitions. You have one child excitedly preparing for kindergarten, while one bravely transitions to middle school. There is one moving up to high school, while one goes off to college. Although these times of transition may be bittersweet, they are priceless memories that are meant to be savored and treasured for years to come.

Kindergarten  |  Middle School  |  High School  |  College


What Parents Fear Most and What Teachers and Experts Suggest

What if they are afraid to leave my side?

In most cases, it is not the child who carries the anxiety about separating, it is more often the parent. When parents are anxious and worried, that fear transfers to the child. Children tend to take on the actions and attitudes of their parents. If you demonstrate an excited and positive attitude toward kindergarten, your child will emulate it.

What if they are not ready academically?

Not all children are able to attend preschool prior to kindergarten. However, you must remember that you are your child’s first teacher. Besides reviewing basic concepts such as colors, numbers, and letters, the best thing that you can do for your child is to read to them every day. Jayne Issacs, who is in her thirty-fifth year of teaching kindergarten, recently told Scholastic that, “Children’s literature is a rich resource for expanding language (and) we expect parents to be reading to kids every day…Besides fostering vocabulary and comprehension, reading develops the attention skills necessary in a kindergarten classroom.”

What if they have trouble making friends?

Social skills such as sharing and playing well with others are skills that can be fostered at home as well. Take every opportunity, whether with children or adults, to remind your child to ask for things before taking and to demonstrate what it looks like to share and take turns. If your child is apprehensive about making new friends, practice phrases such as, “Can I play with you?” or “I like Iron Man, too.”

What if they don’t like the teacher?

Take the opportunity to meet the teacher before school starts and discover what the expectations are. Make sure to approach this time with a positive attitude, observing aspects of the classroom that would appeal to your child’s interests. Use this information to excite and motivate your child for the first day, marking off the days on the calendar as you count down. It is also important to remind your child that the teacher is a grown-up, just like you, that will love and care for them. Take the time to model for your child how to properly show respect to and answer grown-ups.

Take a deep breath, give them a hug and a kiss, and let the teacher take over. Your child is ready for “big school.”

Middle School

What Worries Parents and What Teachers Want You to Know

My child is so disorganized.

According to education expert Ann Dolin, M.Ed., “Kids that are disorganized are impacted academically.” The best thing that you can do as a parent is to be proactive. Set your child up with a binder or accordion file system, whichever works best for their learning style. Make sure that they have an area to maintain pencils and necessary supplies. Teach them how to properly use their agenda book or planner to list and mark off assignments as they are completed. Make an effort to set aside about an hour of time each week to clean out your child’s backpack and folders, and to focus on organization.

I’m afraid they’ll have trouble making friends.

Your child is old enough now to discern what type of people they want to spend time with. Have open and honest discussions about what qualities they would want in a friend and which ones would deter them. Make sure to also discuss acceptance and getting to know someone before they pass judgment or make assumptions. A study conducted by Michigan State University found that, “Students who take the same set of courses tend to get to know each other very well and focus less on social status, such as how ‘cool’ someone is. They’re also less likely to judge classmates on visible characteristics like race and gender.”

I’m afraid they’ll get lost or be late to class.

Middle school is a time for change and a new found sense of independence. The reality is that your child may get lost, might have difficulty opening their locker, and may very well wind up late to class. There are teachers in place to help ease these transitions and to guide them in the right direction.

I’m afraid the work will be harder than what they were used to.

Today Show writer Lisa Flam asked some of America’s top educators what they wish parents knew before the school year started. When it came to middle school, teachers believed overwhelmingly that this is the time that students should be allowed to fail and to make their own mistakes, because they were there to support them. Middle school is also a time where students begin to truly develop their identity and a sense of responsibility. When it comes to homework and other tasks, teachers want to remind parents that it is the child’s responsibility, not theirs. Teachers urge parents not to make excuses for why their child didn’t get their homework done, but rather teach and model the skills of time management and effective planning.

High School

What Concerns Parents and What They Should Know

What if they choose the wrong friends?

“While your goal as a parent is to keep your child protected and safe, your child’s goal is to be with people who like him,” asserts James Lehman, MSW, of Empowering Parents. We often want to choose our child’s friends, but they ultimately do the choosing. If your child is spending time with a friend that you don’t approve of, be cautious not to criticize the person themselves. Instead voice your dislike for the friend’s behavior. The best thing that you can do is to stay involved, be aware, and be clear and consistent when setting limits and expectations. By keeping the lines of communication open and being an objective listener, your child will be more likely to be open to any advice that you have to offer.

What if they struggle in classes that matter for their future?

Students often have a time where they “hit a slump” or show a lack of effort in one or more of their classes. Make sure that you and your child are checking grades regularly and communicating with the teacher if necessary. Lehman also reminds us that, “As a parent, you really need to have a good understanding of what your child is capable of doing. Remember, we want to challenge our kids, but we don’t want them to simply learn how to give up.” You need to determine if the work truly is too hard or if something else is occurring that is causing this change. If your child’s grades change drastically and they show signs of changes in mood and attitude, then there could be a stronger underlying cause.

What if they don’t need me anymore?

According to high school teacher Michael Woods, “High schoolers may tell their parents that they don’t need them, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Everything in high school is credit-driven, test driven…It’s a lot of pressure, and they need a team – the parents and teachers.” Even though your child is older and more independent now, that does not mean that you should not continue to be an advocate for them. Make sure that you continue to stay up to date with their classes and teachers and that you are aware of and support any extra-curricular activities. Regardless of how old they are, you are your child’s biggest fan, and they still want to see you on the sidelines and in the stands.


Everything that you have done for your child thus far, academically, socially and emotionally, has been to prepare them for this moment. You have to trust that you have taught them enough, assured them enough, and loved them enough. It is time to let them go off and explore the world for themselves. They know that you will be there if they need a shoulder or a safe place to land.