10 Tips for a Smooth, Fun Back-to-School Transition

These ten tips are designed to make the transition from summer to school smooth.  In our whole hearted approach, we view every challenge as an opportunity for growth and understanding.  Shifting into the rhythms of back-to-school – where our routines change, where there are different pressures for everyone on their time and energy, and where there are new social tensions – influences everyone in your family.   We hope these ten tips create more closeness and enjoyment as you enter the new school year. 

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1.       Know your child’s transition style

We all transition differently.  Some people stick their toe in the water to test it out.  Others jump off the deep end of the pool.  Most people are somewhere in the middle.  Knowing how your child transitions – and how you transition, because the return to school impacts everyone in the family – can assist you in preparing in a way that best soothes their nervous system and yours, too.

2.       Create rituals for saying goodbye to summer and hello to the school year

Rituals are soothing and calming.  Introducing a fun way to say goodbye to summer and hello to the school year can become an annual happening that everyone enjoys.  It could be putting all of your summer photos in an album, having a pool party, playing a game where you guess each family member’s favorite summer activity and what they are looking forward to when school starts, making a video of your summer, or looking at school photos from previous years.  Be creative and get your kids involved!        

3.       Plan ways to introduce or re-introduce your child to their teacher(s), classroom, fellow students, and school

I still remember my dad holding my hand as we walked to my first grade classroom.  It was all so new!  I had no idea what to expect.  To smooth out those new, jittery edges, plan a trip to walk around the school and meet the teacher.  This is especially important if your child is changing schools or entering school for the first time.  Have your child call a few school friends in advance of the first day.  They can reconnect so they feel more comfortable when they meet up at school.  Knowing they have spoken – or have gotten together for pizza one summer evening – will add familiarity to the many unknowns of the new school year. 

4.       Begin a smooth change in bedtime

Sleep is vital to health, learning, and enjoyment.  One of the biggest challenges of returning to school – especially for teens – is getting up very early in the morning.  About two weeks before school starts, begin a slow, smooth change in bedtime.  Have your child practice using their alarm clock to wake up a little earlier each day.   Back off the use of electronics two hours before bedtime to insure no sleep disruptions.

5.       Make the shopping fun while you have your child pick out their backpack school supplies

Involve your child in back-to-school shopping for clothes, shoes, backpacks, and supplies.  The move involved they are, the more influential they feel and the more invested they become.  Make it a special outing by including lunch at one of their favorite restaurants or a picnic at a park.  This shopping expedition can become one of your fun rituals for welcoming the school year.  Plan to do this early enough so that you feel that you have enough time and energy to enjoy it!   

6.       Talk about your experiences when you went to school

Children learn from our stories, especially those about overcoming challenges.  Talking about your school experiences can include how you overcame your fears; how you learned to make friends and meet new people; how you dealt with social pressures around hair, clothes, sports, or dating; or how you learned to study.  Avoid the “I walked to school in the snow uphill both ways” sagas.  Share how you rose to the challenge and were resilient.

7.       Invite and allow for free sharing of all feelings about the return to school

Your child may be happy, sad, mad, hurt, or afraid about making the shift from summer to school.  Inviting conversations about those feelings and allowing for free sharing of all feelings can make the transition smoother.  This doesn’t mean expressing anger through hitting someone.  It does mean creating the space for your child to be able to say, “I feel mad that summer is over and I won’t be able to ride my bike and swim every day.”  Responding with an open-ended question (i.e., “What else are you feeling?” or “What else will you miss?”) or a simple reply (i.e., “Really?”; “Tell me more.”; or even “Hmmmm.”) can inspire more discussion.

8.       Talk about what your mornings will look like

Creating a clear mental image of what mornings will look like can make Day 1 of school and each day after more cooperative and enjoyable.  Ask your child what they would like their mornings to look like.  Discuss your vision.  Be clear on the time he will get out of bed and the time you will leave for school.  Will she choose her school clothes the night before or in the morning?  Do you want to include new things this year, such as your child waking to an alarm clock or preparing his own lunch or breakfast?  Will he take a bath before bed or before school?  Create clarity prior to the first day of school, particularly if there are changes from last year such as a new school, different departure times, or added responsibilities.

9.       Tie summer activities into school life

When talking about school, mention summer events that your child might want to share with his teacher and friends.  A trip to a museum or a visit to another state may tie into a project or paper.  Have him put together a few photographs to bring to school to share.  Finding the connections between summer fun and school activities will help integrate the experiences.

10.   Find the benefit

Our time may be more our own during the summer (or not!) and the change to a more rigid schedule may feel almost painful.  (That could definitely be a projection!)  Look to the opportunities that school provides to help regain perspective.  There will be learning and growth.  New friendships will be made and old ones recharged.  Our children will experience fresh challenges and learn to meet them.  Frame the return to school in terms of an adventure, of opportunities and excitement.  Find that for yourself, as well.   

Robert Frost said, “Always fall in with what you're asked to accept. Take what is given, and make it over your way. My aim in life has always been to hold my own with whatever's going. Not against: with.”  Aim to work with this shift from summer to school, making it over your way.  Take lots of deep breaths, and have a terrific year!