Whether your child has been to school before or not, easing back into a scheduled routine after a summer of fun can be a shocking transition. My goal is to keep mornings smooth so my children head into their day calm and ready to learn. Most children want and need routines, so I focus there.
Getting enough sleep is one of the most important elements of your child’s success in school. If he drags himself through the day, he won’t take in or process information efficiently. He just won’t learn. Not every child needs the same amount of sleep, either. Work backward from the time he needs to get up, and stick to a bedtime schedule.
Especially if bedtime is going to be significantly earlier than it has been all summer, start an earlier bedtime a week early. Both you and your children may need to reset your internal clocks.
Do as much as you can before bedtime so there is less to do in the morning.
Lay out clothes. If you have a child who likes to try on everything before making a decision, this can be a real time saver. Checking clothes the night before can also reveal flaws in the plan, like dirty jeans that really have to go into the wash now.
Check the backpack. Make sure your child has all of the books, school supplies, and personal items needed in her backpack. This might include a list of supplies from the teacher, a return permission slip, a charged phone, a power snack for mid-afternoon.
For a child going to school for the first time, you might even let a favorite doll or animal travel to school in the pack as long as the doll agrees to stay hidden during school. Just having the familiar item nearby can be comforting.
If you expect a lot of notes and papers to and from school, put a folder in your child’s backpack that will stay there. Don’t take it out. Just remove the papers and left the folder.
Tidy up. This is so important in my house. If we wake up to chaos, it’s harder for us to convince ourselves to get going in the morning. Just a few minutes of putting clothes and toys away can make a big difference to the morning routine.
Chat. Talk about any concerns your child has. Discuss the morning schedule. Tell a bedtime story. Whatever your bedtime routine, make sure that it eases your child into a good night’s sleep in preparation for the next day.
Giving a child, even a very young child, an alarm clock can help instill responsibility. It has taken a long time to work with my children. I like them to wake themselves up. They like to me to wake them with kisses and tickling, but they know they can wake up with their own alarm clocks and, occasionally, they do. With a loose homeschool, there is less urgency to waking up, but they are starting to realize that they miss a lot when they don’t get themselves up. So, initiative begins to kick in.
Plan for enough quick breakfast options that your children don’t get bored of the same old thing every day. Sometimes just putting a familiar breakfast together in a new way can make it interesting. When I introduced my kids to toad in the hole (egg cooked into the middle of a hole in toast), eggs and toast suddenly became more appealing. I always make sure there is cut fruit with breakfast just because it’s so difficult to get enough fruits and vegetables into children.
Whether you need a slow burn (protein) breakfast or a fast burn (fruit and grain) breakfast may depend on when lunch is scheduled. If you child’s school has quite an early lunch, be sure to adjust breakfast accordingly.
Schedules sometimes slip, so make sure you have a quick and nutritious option. Our back-up breakfast is cereal and fruit, though smoothies can be a quick meal as well. Alternating can help you reach nutritional balance over days even if not over one day.
Pack a Lunch
A lot of food for school lunches can be packed the night before. If you are not a morning person, this is important. For us, my daughter’s lunch bag goes into the freezer the night before, food is packed into our glass containers, and morning consists of just pulling everything out of the refrigerator and freezer and packing the lunch bag. The first week or so, everything will be new, so you may not have to try so hard to keep lunch interesting. You may want to add some fun lunch flare as you settle into your school routine.
After me nagging my children to do morning stretches and deep breathing (“Let’s wake ourselves up with more oxygen!”), I gave up. Then, they discovered on their own how much better they feel when they exercise every day. Now that they have invented exercise, they are committed to it, and they have worked together to create their own routine. For about 15 minutes, they watch videos of Shaolin monks doing Kung Fu then they go outside to practice forms and meditate. I love their routine and how energized they are when they return.
It may help a younger child to have you lead a kid-friendly morning yoga, but you may find that your child needs to come up with her own routine in order for it to really work.
The last check before we go out the door, we check that teeth and hair are brushed. A young child will probably need a reminder. I have to convince my son that brushing teeth comes after breakfast for a good reason.
Schedule & Calendar
To make your back-to-school routine work well, keep it organized.
Chore Chart. If there is a lot to do and essentials tend to be left undone, you can make a chart or a check list for your children. My children love to check off items from a list.
Schedule. It helps me to see the typical daily schedule, so I write it out. I don’t go so far as to schedule specific homeschool subjects for specific times, but I like having a good idea when the children are committed to start school. If lunch slips more than 30 minutes, they will remind me. Everyone has their own priorities on the schedule. I put this on a wipe-off calendar on the refrigerator for easy access and frequent reminder. We still leave a lot of room for improvisation during the day, but it helps when everyone shares basic expectations.
Calendar. In addition to the daily routine of a schedule, keep a calendar that the whole family can see and add to. Avoid missing important appointments, play dates with summer friends, or school nights by adding events to your calendar as they come up. Get your children involved in keeping the calendar as well. I find that they pick up the responsibility when I just refuse to pick it up for them. They don’t want to forget, so they add dates to the calendar.
Personal planners. I love planners on paper and on my computer. Everyone needs to find their own groove with planning, though. I have bought children’s planners several times, but my children just don’t use them. They’re great looking and useless to us. My children, without my prompting, have started just listing what they plan to do in a notebook. One started, and the other followed. You may need to experiment with this, but make sure your child has a convenient way to record important personal notes and events.
This Is Fun!
A new routine and a new school may be stressful for your child. Keep it calm and collected. Be positive. Focus on all of the great things your child will learn and do in school.
If this will be the first time your child has gone to school, you might consider a test run right down to the details of setting out clothes, early breakfast, and walking out the door. This can help young children transition from the play of home life to the school schedule.