6 Tips for a Smooth Transition Back to School

By: Laura Van Zandt, OTR/L

School is right around the corner if it isn’t already here for many of you. With school starting again, gone are the lazy days of summer and once again the hustle and bustle of getting you kids out the door and getting them to do their homework is resuming. Whether your child is just starting school or is nearing the end of his/her K-12 educational career, here are some tips to help ease the transition back to school. You won’t be able to avoid the business at the beginning of your day, but you can try to ease the morning stress to make the day go smoother.

1. Decide when you have to get up. It will be much easier to decide what time your child needs to go to bed if you know what time they have to get up in the morning. Most experts agree children need between 9 and 10 hours of sleep each night to be at their best. If you know your child must be up at 6 a.m. in order to be ready for school by 7:30 a.m., you would want your child to begin getting ready for bed around 7:30 p.m.

You may want to explain to your child the importance of a good night’s sleep. Getting enough sleep is important for the body to heal itself and allow ourselves to have enough energy to stay awake during the day. It also helps us focus and be less cranky when we have to do tasks we are not particularly interested.

2. Call a family meeting and decide who will be responsible for which tasks each morning. For example, dad will make sure the kids are dressed and their teeth are brushed while mom will take care of breakfast and lunches. Don’t forget to assign these tasks or similar tasks to your children too! This will not only help ease the stress of the morning but it will also help develop their executive function skills which will help serve your child well throughout all grade levels in school. For developmentally appropriate ideas for your children click here.

3. Draw up a schedule or start a family calendar. Designate a spot if possible within your home that is consistent for the family calendar. The family spot can also be used to help make returning back from school easier. If you have young children include photos or illustrations representing the task they need to do. Clipboards are an excellent resource for individual family members to have to list his/her own chores.

Family calendars help to keep things organized
Family calendars help to keep things organized.

4. Do what you can the night before. The more you do before you go to bed, the less frantic you are likely to feel in the morning cramming in as much as possible.

  • Run the dishes overnight (bonuses this sometimes can save money!) or run the dryer to have clean clothes. Lay out tomorrow’s clothing.
  • Maintain a steady supply of quick breakfast foods for this days when it just happens and you are running late. Kid’s growing bodies and developing brains need regular refueling. When kids skip breakfast, they don’t get what they need to perform their best.
  • Hang complete outfits together in your closet or put outfits in bins to quickly grab. Keep your children’s matching shirts and pants in the same drawer or on the same hanger so they can find them easily without help.
  • Gather everything that you will take with you the next day and assemble them in one place near the door your exit from in the morning.
  • Teach your children to get everything ready for the next day before they got to bed. Make lunches, distribute lunch money, and pack backpacks. Take a picture of a completed backpack and attach to a luggage tag so all your child has to do is “match the picture” to make sure everything is included.
  • “Match the Picture” is a concept taught by Sarah Ward where the adult can take a picture of the desired end product and assists the child in breaking down the steps to create both a written and visual to match when completing a goal. This concept can be very helpful in eliminating the need to “nag” your child though every step as well as support independence.

5. Ease the transition back from a full day of school to home by allowing your children a break to move and be active. Go for quality, not quantity with after school programs. Your child will benefit most from one or two activities that are fun, reinforce social development, and teach new skills. Remember children need movement. After sitting for an extended period of time during a school day, giving your kids an opportunity to need can be extremely beneficial.

Regular movement has been shown to increase focus in children of all ages. Movement also helps all children regulate (i.e. adjust their energy) and lower rates of behavioral problems. Research shows that physical exercise influences the central dopaminergic, noradrenergic, and serotonergic systems. Together those systems help manage our mood, appetite, sleep, learning, as well as alertness, focus, and motivation.

Ideas for active play might include tossing a ball/back and forth with a peer, playing tag outside, going for a bike ride on the sidewalk, exploring how your body moves by climbing/cartwheeling/summersaulting/etc., or just taking a short walk. Other active play ideas include exploring different textures or drawing with sidewalk chalk. Here is a link to some fantastic indoor play ideas.

6. Set up a time and place for homework. Having a set place to study and complete homework helps send the signal to your children that learning is important. As much as possible, try to make yourself available during homework time….even if that means you still might be cooking dinner or doing the laundry.

One example of a homework station.
One example of a homework station.

Wherever your homework station is in your house and whatever your homework station looks like in your house, make sure you have all the essentials readily available. This will help avoid time robbers (e.g. getting up to find stuff) and help eliminate any headaches over missing supplies. Pinterest has many great ideas for creating a homework station. Right now the bargain bin section in Target also has great supplies for organization. Purchasing a tri-fold poster at Staples is another fantastic idea to eliminate visual clutter and help your child focus.

For more information about Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley please visit EasterSealsDFVR.org.

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