Getting your kids to school dressed, fed, and ready before the first school bell rings can seem like a Herculean task -- especially when every family member is used to a more relaxed summer schedule of sleeping in, lazing and playing about, and eating at off times. But, have no fear, it can be done! We're here to help with a few of our own mom-approved tips for helping kids (and their parents) transition back to school more easily. From natural remedies for back-to-school anxieties to having multiple breakfast solutions to making school preparations part of the fun, here are 7 ways to beat the back to school blues and help your kids be prepared, relaxed, and excited for the year. And be sure to check out our previous posts on getting kids organized for school, especially when they are going for the very first time!
1. Begin the back to school routine in the summer.
As in NOW! While things are a little more relaxed, get the school cycle started. Inhabitots editor Beth begins putting her kids to bed earlier and waking them at the time they would need to get up for school two weeks before school actually starts. This gives kids (and their bodies’ circadian rhythms) ample time to adjust to the school schedule. If that seems just too painful, try a modified schedule, moving bedtime forward by ten or fifteen minutes and moving up wake time by the same increments over the course of a week or so. At my house we follow a similar routine all year round: wake up, read, breakfast, get dressed, go. It’s a lot lazier in the summer, but keeping the same general activities keeps my kids primed for the inevitable return to school speed-up.
It’s still normal for kids to be tired while they get accustomed to the hustle and bustle of school days. Even if they are getting “normal” amounts of sleep, they may be exhausted in the mornings. Whenever I go to wake my daughter, I sing a little bit of “Good Morning” from the film Singing in the Rain. Even when she’s in no mood to get up, it still helps her begin her day in a positive way.
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2. Get it together the night before.
Unless you are the most alert, awake parent on the planet (and if you are, want to come over and get my kids ready for school?), trying to corral everything in the morning is a plan for failure. I try to do as much as I absolutely can the night before. This includes repacking backpacks and putting signed permission slips and forms back into folders or bags. I’m terrible about checking the weather, but when I remember I always add my kids’ raincoats, scarves, etc., the night before. Inhabitots writer Becky makes her own adorable zipper bag pulls that double as a checklist for her little one. Hers are personalized for her toddler and his needs, but you (or your child) could make ones in the shape of notebooks, lunch bags, or any other school supplies she needs to be reminded of.
We also try to have our kids pick out their clothes the night before, but acknowledge that they may change their mind two or three times in the morning before settling on a final outfit. It’s also good to lay down some ground rules before the school year starts such as “Your school does not allow princess costumes” or “Your skirt has to be longer than your fingertips when your arms are by your side.” Having these discussions beforehand will help you avoid most 7am tantrums. Another suggestion: limit your child’s clothing selection. Many schools now have uniforms which makes outfit selection easy. If your child doesn’t have a uniform, it still may make sense to divide their closet into “clothes for school” and “other clothes.” Giving kids a more limited amount of clothes to choose from should make the process less daunting than facing an entire wardrobe.
3. Be prepared to take breakfast on the fly.
In an ideal world, we’d wake up naturally to birds chirping in the dawn light and make breakfasts from scratch for our grateful and happy-to-be awake children. Those fantasies sometimes don’t work out as planned, so it’s a good idea to have back-up nutrition plans. Make breakfasts that can be put together quickly the night before, like chia bowls or overnight oats. If you have a few moments in the morning, throw together a smoothie that the kids can sip on the way to school. Keep a stash of homemade granola bars that can be grabbed on the go. If your mornings are crazy busy, consider keeping some healthy breakfast bars in your car (no judgment: a parent’s got to do what a parent’s got to do). If your kid rides the bus, goes to an extended day morning program, or even has a little free time in his classroom at the beginning of the day, check with his teacher and see if he can eat a bite when he gets to school. A friend of mine has a son who is very resistant to eating in the morning, but he happily has a quick breakfast once he is at school before the activities of the day officially begin.
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4. Make the return to school an event to look forward to.
Start a back-to-school tradition: bagel breakfast on the first day of school, a movie night to celebrate finishing the first week of school, or some other occasion that everyone looks forward to. Making it a group activity, such as an outing with friends or neighbors to buy school supplies or a playdate at a local park, can get kids even more excited about being back with their buddies. Inhabitots founder Jill is looking forward to an outdoor, back-to-school get together with some of her older son’s classmates and their teacher so that the kids can get reacquainted with each other and bid summer farewell at the same time.
Other ways to make getting up more fun: make it a race to see who can get dressed first or let them place an “order” for their favorite breakfast the night before school starts. If the prospect of pancakes and hot chocolate don’t get my little ones moving, next to nothing will.
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5. Reconsider your school route.
If you live in an urban (or relatively so) place, consider ditching four wheels for two. I sit in a ridiculous amount of city traffic every day to my son’s school, and then I drive back the other way in more city traffic to drop off my daughter at her preschool. And every day I watch enviously as families bike past, leaving all of us car dwellers in their dust. If you live fairly close to school and your child is old enough, consider having him or her bike with you. If your tot is too small, try a bike/stroller combo. Not only is it great exercise, biking to school is a great way for kids to build independence and confidence. If your family can’t switch over to biking to school, consider public transportation such as buses or subways. Even if you don’t save much time, you can use the commute to catch up with each other, finish homework, or eat an on-the-go breakfast.
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6. Try natural remedies for common back to school issues.
Almost every kid has back to school jitters, but heading back to class can cause true anxiety for some kids. If fears crop up at night before bed, consider giving them a little massage with lavender or another calming essential oil or having them soak in the bathtub before bed. If school stress comes out in the morning, encourage kids to eat a breakfast that will give them the stamina to face the day and also consider putting on a short meditation CD on the way to school.
Peppermint is a powerful and natural brain stimulant yet it’s also been shown to soothe nerves. They even make peppermint pencils to help kids concentrate and stay alert during school. My kids love to drink peppermint tea in the morning. For kids who have ADHD or if you want to help your child focus better in school, several smaller studies have shown that eliminating refined and processed foods and artificial dyes and colorings can be beneficial in helping them stay focused. There is also some evidence to show that omega-3 fatty acids can help improve behavioral outcomes in children with ADHD.
7. Pack a little bit of summer with your kids when they go.
It is a bummer to go back to school for most kids. Who wouldn’t miss all the sun, water play, camps, hanging out? The start of the school year doesn’t need to be the end of those good memories: pack a photo of your child playing at the pool in their lunch bag or add a seashell to their pencil case. Any little detail that will make them smile during the course of their day is a good addition.
Another way to keep the spirit of summer going: don’t overschedule your child every day after school. Inhabitots mom Jennifer laments how the return of school often means immediately having kids participate in numerous after-school sports and activities. If possible with your family’s schedule, leave an afternoon or two free every week for playing outside, exploring, or even doing less structured activities at home. Several parents I know back off on after school commitments for the first month or so of school or until their child seems adjusted to the schedule. Kids generally love the freedom of summer and the opportunities to explore that it represents, so easing up on activities may be just the thing to keep them in that seasonal spirit even if for just a little longer.