With a new school year rapidly approaching, we at The Family Center/La Familia want to support your family with the back-to-school transition. Go back to school with confidence with these seven ways to create healthy back-to-school routines for young children.
Don’t spring new routines on a child the night before the new school year. Instead, ease into new routines starting one to two weeks before school begins. Try reigning in bedtime and wake time in 15-minute increments, giving your child’s mind and body time to adjust.
Add in other school routines, like choosing clothes the night before and getting dressed before breakfast, one at a time during this one- to two-week window.
It can be difficult if you have kids of different ages at home to remember that a plan that works for one child may not work for another. Even children of similar ages have different personalities, so customizing your back-to-school plan for each child gives them the greatest chance of success.
Consider what areas each child needs the most help with, and what they can do on their own. This makes mornings run more smoothly for parents, too! Some children will get the hang of things in the first few days of school, while others will need more reminders to form or re-form habits.
Make it visible
Visual aides are a valuable tool for young children. School packing checklists, morning routines, and bedtime routines are good candidates for colorful charts on the wall. Depending on their age, children can mark off list items as they’ve completed them with a washable marker, and you can show and describe each item on the list.
Pictures are helpful for children who aren’t reading yet, such as a picture of a toothbrush to signify “Brush your teeth.”
Reviewing expectations ahead of time is key for kids. Before you implement back-to-school changes, explain them. For example, “Starting tomorrow night, you’ll be going to bed 15 minutes earlier and waking up 15 minutes earlier. School starts again soon, and you’ll need plenty of sleep to feel good in the morning when it’s time to wake up.”
The older your child, the more notice you can give them. For preschoolers, giving notice a week in advance may not be as helpful – they might feel prolonged anxiety about the change, or they may simply forget. Use what you know about your child to make the decision that feels right to you.
When it comes to setting a routine, keep each step short and simple. Examples of items for a morning routine include:
- Brush your teeth
- Eat breakfast
- Get dressed
- Pack your backpack
- Put on shoes
- Free time or play time, if other items on the list are complete (try starting the day with some outdoor time if the weather is nice!)
As with a morning routine, explain expectations for a new bedtime routine so kids know what to expect. Again, the older your child, the more notice you can give them of what’s to come. Remember, you know your child best.
Having a structured bedtime routine helps young children wind down for bedtime. Eventually, their minds and bodies will begin to recognize that certain activities mean bedtime is approaching.
Examples of items to include for a bedtime routine are:
- Screen time (set expectations for how much, and when)
- Brush your teeth
- Take a bath
- Brush your hair
- Put on pajamas
- Choose clothes for tomorrow
- Pack your backpack
- Story time
Playdates and extracurriculars
Setting up playdates and signing up for extracurricular activities helps children get excited about returning to school. If possible, reconnect with playmates your child will have in their class this year, so they will have a friend waiting for them on the first day.
Prioritizing playdates and clubs or after-school events reminds young children that there’s a lot to be excited about when school starts again.
Don’t forget to connect
Make time to check in with your child. Set aside times that you can give your full attention to their concerns, excitements, and fears. Eating together every morning and/or night gives you built-in time to connect as a family.
If possible, give yourself a buffer each morning to avoid rushing out the door. Rushing fuels childrens’ anxiety and can lead to extra resistance.
Reading and bath time are other good built-in times to connect with your child. If they aren’t in the mood to talk, playing or cuddling are good options. Remind them that they are important, and celebrate their accomplishments – in school and out.