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Back to School: A Survival Guide for Parents

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It’s August, and two things are certain: it’s 100 degrees here in Texas (be glad if you live up north), and the new school year is upon us. One of my favorite bloggers, Jen Hatmaker, describes the feeling she gets as the activities of summer break begin to wear her down as a parent:

“The wheels have come off, dear ones. I did my part: the fun camps, the trips, the pool, the lake, the snow cones, the Good Times, and now it is all dead to me. I’ve reached the outer limits of my capabilities… we need structure back. We need routine. We need kids to go the freak to bed.”

Bedtimes, routines, and structure are all very healthy for children and their weary parents. Still, your very intelligent child will probably try to convince you that his or her video game/water park/television-watching routine should go on and on forever in endless bliss. And you alone, dear parents, are going to be the ones to break it to your offspring that school is right around the corner. I feel a deep sense of compassion for you as you search for back to school ideas to try with your eager (or not-so-eager) students.

Welcome back to school, parents. Consider this a survival guide, from a teacher who understands your child’s struggle first hand. (Teachers have to go back to school, too!)

1. Bedtime Boot Camp

I don’t know many people (kids or adults) who can go from a late to an early bedtime in a matter of days. Those first weeks of school could be brutal if your child’s sleep routine is out of whack. Decide on the ideal bedtime about a month before school and establish it gradually, until a solid routine is established. Reward those painfully early wake-up times with fun pursuits, like trips to the park, a morning swim, or making breakfast together. Take your child to work with you, or go through your closets and let kids donate their outgrown clothing to students in need. Every family is different, so you can tailor this idea to your unique needs. Just remember that consistency is key.

2. Growing Up is Good

Some kids think of a new school year as the death of all things fun and exciting. Encourage your child to dream up some new academic goals and interests he or she has never tried. (Learning to play the guitar, speaking Spanish, or becoming a lighting-fast runner, for example.) As students get older, they gain increased freedom to choose classes and extracurricular activities. Highlight the many independent decisions older students get to make, and your child is bound to feel like stepping into some “bigger kid” shoes right away. If you’re enrolled at a new school this year, think about attending an open house night to locate classrooms, learn school traditions, and meet the teachers and principals.

3. In With the New

One of the greatest things about a new school year is new school supplies! Allowing your child to choose sleek new folders, markers, and notebooks is a special event unto itself. Most schools provide a list of required teacher supplies, like facial tissues, glue, and scissors. Turn shopping into a scavenger hunt when you go to buy classroom necessities. If your children want a unique school supplies, help them turn plain notebooks or binders into works of art with the help of paint, markers, and stickers–even colorful duct tape.

4. Plan Some Rewards

Scheduling some back to school activities as rewards could provide some motivation for students. The reward doesn’t have to be costly; for instance, you could plan a family camping trip for after the first report cards are issued. If your student’s science teacher is going to study dinosaurs, go to a natural history museum together, check out books on archeology, or watch dinosaur movies together. There are so many ways to make learning a community effort between students, parents, and teachers. The main idea is just to give your child some pre-planned events to work toward. (A 2010 study by Applied Research in Quality of Life found that that just the act of planning a vacation or fun activity had a profound effect on the happiness of those making the plans.)

5. One Last Shindig

Bid a fond farewell to summer with a family night just before school starts. Make a slideshow of your photos, share your favorite memories from the summer, and enjoy summer foods and activities one last time. Next, celebrate all the good things that come with fall’s arrival: cooler weather, school sports, fine arts shows and performances–even fall foods. (Pumpkin spice cookies, anyone?) Just try not to cry when you think about of how fast your little one is growing up.

Our lives are made up of seasons. Even so, it can be hard for anyone—especially a child—to let go of the old season and embrace the new. But new can be exhilarating, and unknown is just another word for adventure. Squeeze a few more sweet memories out of this summer while it lasts. And then, let’s all go back to school with our best feet forward!

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