How to Get Your Child in Back-to-School Mode

Child with backpack gripping mother's leg

The schedule-free days of kids running wild, lenient bedtimes, movie marathons, and trips to the beach are some of the best days of the year. But this much-needed break is quickly coming to an end and its time to prepare for a new rhythm—one dictated by alarm clocks, bagged lunches, homework deadlines, and heightened responsibilities. If you're wondering how to help your elementary-aged child, tween, or teen make the leap from laid back summer mode to first day superstar, check out the following tips to make the transition as painless as possible. 

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Early to Bed; Up Before the Sun

This tip might seem like a no-brainer, but many kids and parents neglect to implement a sleep schedule, and pay for it later! Kids and teens need sleep in order to learn and feel their best. In fact, school-aged children (six-13) require nine to 11 hours of sleep each night and teenagers require eight to ten hours. First thing: buy an alarm clock. It doesn't matter how old your child is, all kids benefit from being responsible for their own wake-up call. Two weeks before the first day of school, have your child go to bed and get up 15 minutes earlier than usual. She will need to set her alarm clock and physically get up and out of bed after it goes off. Each day, move the time up by 10-15-minute increments until she is at her school bedtime and wake-up time.

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Get Into a Routine

Even if your child has kept up on her reading over the summer, it’s a good idea to encourage her to pick up a pencil and do some writing or spend some time reacquainting herself with solving a few math problems. Check the school’s website for reading lists, summer homework, and math practice sites. One fun way to get kids of all ages back into writing mode is to have them do an “end of summer” bucket list. Tweens and teens can make a list of all the outings they still want to go on and friends they want to see. After visiting a fun place or hanging out with a friend, have her write a note about it in her journal and include a picture. Younger children can collect items from fun summer outings and place them in a bucket. Then have​ her write about the adventures in a journal that she can share with her teachers.

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Go Shopping

Who doesn't love buying new school clothes and supplies? Kids of all ages look forward to this coveted tradition. Shopping for supplies, clothes, and even food to pack for lunch, seems to take on an extra flair of fun for kids as they look forward to the first day. Head to the store about three to four weeks prior to the first day in order to beat the crowds. Shopping early can also help kids get into the back-to-school mindset. If you have an older child, give her an allowance and have her shop within her budget. This is a great way for her to be responsible and it also sneaks a math lesson in.

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Turn Off Technology

Or at least reduce the amount of time spent in front of screens. Have your child transition from movies, videos, and gaming to educational shows, resources, and academic apps. She can use math, language arts, and other school-related apps to wake up her brain and get a jumpstart on new facts. Teens who are planning on going to college can use this time to research schools and do some test prep for the SAT and ACT.

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Get Creative

Kids are eager to get back to school, which usually means they have a fresh outlook on the new year. If you have a middle-school or high school student, take advantage of this energy and work together to change up an existing study area or set up a new homework station. For a younger child, you can have her decorate her homework space with pictures. She can also gather the supplies (pencils, crayons, scissors, glue, etc) she's keeping at home and organize them in her special study space.

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Visit the School

If this is a new school for your child, take some time to check it out before the halls are full of other students. Walk around, look at the classrooms, and meet the staff. This is also a great time to connect with the school counselor assigned to your family. Visiting with staff about school schedules, sports, and activities before the first day helps alleviate stress and makes for a smoother start.

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Talk About It

Even though your child or teen may appear to be beyond thrilled to be heading back to school, many kids still get first-day jitters. Talk with her about what she’s excited about, concerned about, and what she hopes will be different this year. Teens, especially, benefit from conversations about goal-setting and time management before the start of the year. Go over schedules and have her make a plan for how she is going to balance school work, extracurricular activities, sports, family, and social time with friends.