The kids may be going (or have already gone) back to school, but it’s not too late for some back-to-school tips for us. Yes, parents, us. As much as our children are headed back to school full of excitement and nervousness, so are we. This is even more true if you’re a first-timer like me. I gathered some words of back-to-school wisdom for myself and I’d love to share them with you, too.
1. Meet the teacher. It’s just as important for you to meet the teacher as it is for you child. This is the person (or one of the people) who will be caring for and teaching your child for the next nine months. They’re basically a partner in raising your kid. Get to the know them. Take advantage of back-to-school or meet-the-teacher nights. Send a quick email introducing yourself and telling them how much you’re looking forward to the new school year. During the school year, if your child really enjoyed something, share it with the teacher. We’re all quick to go to the teacher with concerns; we should be just as quick to go to them with good news. The upshot: Don’t be a stranger.
2. Talk to your child. Talk to them about what they’re looking forward to this school year and what they’re worried about. Use this information to take your after-school check-ins beyond “How was your day?”. Not that you need to quiz them about this stuff daily, but you can follow up every now and again with things like, “You were worried because you didn’t know anyone in your new class. Who have you met so far?”
3. Set up a homework station. This could be something fun for you and your child to do together. Set up a space for them to do their homework. Look for a space that is as quiet and distraction-free as your child needs it to be. Ensure the space is comfortable, well-lit, and stocked with everything your child needs to complete their homework. Consider setting up a timer that announces when it’s homework time each day. Help your child remember to take brief breaks, like a walk around the block or something else to get them moving. They can do this after they complete each of their assignments, or at regular intervals set on the timer. You can be available to help if they ask, but don’t hover and don’t do their homework for them.
4. Keep the house stocked with healthy foods. Whether you’re preparing meals and snacks, or your kids are old enough to fend for themselves, be sure you have nutritious, healthy food choices on hand. Snack cups with raisins for your preschooler to help themselves to, healthy lunch ingredients for your elementary-aged child to pack lunch with, nutritious and filling breakfast choices for your high-schooler—all of these are important. We know that kids who are hungry are kids who can’t focus fully on learning.
5. Create a family calendar. Whether it’s a big calendar that everyone can see or a personal calendar you use to keep track of the who, what, when, and where of everyone’s schedule, make sure you have one central place to manage your details. That way you don’t schedule a dentist appointment against a major test or plan a vacation at the same time as the end-of-year recital.
6. Be careful about over-scheduling. It’s ridiculously easy to over-schedule kids, even when you try not to! This past school year, my daughter started five-day-a-week preschool. She had ballet class on Saturday morning, and went to church on Sunday morning (Dad’s a pastor, so it’s kind of a must!). We started thinking about getting her back into swimming lessons since she was old enough to take them on her own without needing us in the pool, but then realized she’d be double-booked on one of the seven days she was already busy. Yikes! It happens that quickly.
7. Remember to leave time for fun. Set aside a time of the day, or a particular day, when your child(ren) choose an activity for the family to do together. Create a fun end-of-week routine like pizza on Friday nights, or hiking on Saturday afternoons—whatever your family enjoys doing together. This is sort of the opposite of summer, when it’s mostly about fun, but you set aside time for learning; no brain drain for your kid!
8. Read with your child every day. Even if your kid can read on their own, you can still spend time reading together when you can read to them, or they can read to you. While there will be learning going on (seriously, they are practicing their reading and/or comprehension here), this is meant to be a fun, relaxed thing to do together. Encouraging a love of reading is one of the most important things you can do for you child.
One final note. I saw this on social media somewhere, and it was one of those things you read and go, “Duh” to, but then realize you were going to do the exact opposite of this completely common-sense thing. Here it is: Don’t make plans for the first Friday night or the first Saturday morning after school starts. If you want to celebrate, do something crazy, like let the kids eat pizza in front of a movie in the living room on Friday night and then sleep in (ha) and have chocolate-chip pancakes for breakfast on Saturday. Keep it simple. Your kids—especially the younger ones—are going to be exhausted as they adjust to a new schedule. Do your part to create a space for them to relax and unwind before the next week begins.
What are your back-to-school tips for parents? Share your wisdom in the comments.