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Switching Off Vacation-Mode: Tips To Getting Your Kids Back In A Back-To-School Mindset

We’ve spent countless hours by the pool, played all of the playdates, conquered all of the waves with our boogie boards, and successfully juggled getting our work done and having the kids at home so far this summer (hopefully). But now our TVs are becoming flooded with Target’s back-to-school wardrobes and Office Depot’s school supply deals, and suddenly the reality sets in that our kids will need to go from suntanning to studying in a few short weeks. Eek! Soon it will be time for early mornings, focusing on lectures, homework deadlines, and…dare I say…maybe a bit more peace at home? #silverlinings

If your recollection of getting your kids back to school involves meltdowns, missing homework, and consistent battles over bedtime, then this guide is definitely for you. Check out our tips for a seamless summer mindset transition! Spoiler alert: we have ideas to make things fun!

First, we need to EASE into the transition...

After a few months of fun on “island time,” getting back into a school mindset will take a few purposeful steps. It’s better to start implementing them a little at a time, a few weeks before the first day of school, to lessen the shock to the system. Here’s where you can start:

  • Set aside “no-screen” time. If summer meant “screen time anytime,” let your kids’ eyes and minds have a break for a couple hours a day so they can get used to spending some scheduled time away from the electronics and using the creative and social sides of their personalities. Best to give them a heads up…”Hey, Joey. After this weekend, we are going to start limiting screen time. So, enjoy the free-for-all, but please be prepared for changes starting Monday.” Then…stay strong, mamas and papas!
  • Review material from last year to get their brains working again. Give your kid a leg up by casually reviewing the materials they knew at the end of the last school year. It’s a non-challenging way of getting their brains in gear again, without the stress off trying to teach them something new…that’s what the coming school year is about. If this isn’t a popular idea with your kid, try to incorporate some fun logic puzzles as an afternoon activity, math riddles at dinnertime, or even a trivia game night that the whole family can enjoy. Exercising those brain muscles can come in many forms!
  • Create some school-schedule friendly routines at least 1-2 weeks before the first day of school:
  • Get back into a rejuvenating bedtime routine. Establish a bedtime that allows for ample brain rest and start waking kids up closer and closer to the time they will need to get up for school. Remember, preschool and elementary aged children need 11-13 hours of sleep per night, tweens need 9-11 hours and high schoolers need 8.5-9 hours to be fully functioning the next day. It’s easy for summer nights to get away from you (it stays bright out so late these days!)  A quick hack is to set an alarm for 30 mins before bed to block off time for brushing teeth, putting on PJs, and winding down with a book.
  • Create a morning routine. What needs to get done by the time you need to head to school? Make a list, assign some responsibilities (Who’s making breakfast? Who is in charge of packing lunch? Who makes sure everything is in the backpack?) and start doing some test runs. It’s not easy to estimate how long it will take for a child to put on his shoes…goodness…we have all been there. Best way to find out is to start the stop-watch and see how it goes. Once you have done it a few times, spotted and worked out the kinks, you can backtrack into the best time to wake up and start moving.
  • Create a daily activities routine that mirrors the blocks of time that will be spent at school. This might include reading time, physical education activity, a set lunch time, enrichment, etc. If your summer looked anything like mine, there were a lot of loosey goosey days, and setting up scheduled activity blocks will help your kids can get used to a more structured day again and help them manage their time.

Then, let your kids have a say in the matter…

Going back-to-school will feel more exciting to your kids if they get to make some decisions about how they will spend the year. You might find that they hold themselves accountable much more than when an adult tells them what to do and how to do it…with less of an argument, too!

  • Set up a family meeting to discuss how they’d like to start their school days. More autonomy and responsibility can be exciting…and can also mean less nagging. No one likes to nag and no one likes a nag! Some agenda ideas:
    • Do your kids want to make their own breakfast or lunch?
    • Do they want to make their bed before leaving for school, or is it less stressful to do it as soon as they get home?
    • Will they wake up to a self-set alarm clock or is it still helpful for a snuggly mom or dad “Wakey, wakey”?
    • Should you take a family trip to the grocery store so your kids can pick out some balanced meals for breakfast and lunch? (Set some parameters within your diet that they can choose from, such as one piece of fruit, one dessert, and one sandwich style.)
    • Do they want a 5 minute warning for when they need to head out the door or do they want to be left to their own devices (and consequences) to avoid being nagged told to get ready to go.
  • Help them set up a dedicated workspace. Whether it’s virtual learning or after-school homework time, set them up with some new school supplies or fun décor that THEY pick out. Ownership of their space might mean they like working in their space more. For kids that have more trouble than others sitting still, offer them an exercise ball to sit on or fidget toys at their fingertips. Have them help organize the school area exactly how they’d like it. (For us A-type parents, it’s okay if they want their pencils in the drawer and not a dedicated pencil cup on the corner. Just breathe through it.) You could also buy them new books, or have them borrow some from a friend, that they pick out for their own little library of must-reads.
  • Set a goal to try something new BEFORE school starts. Newness is always fun and exciting for everyone, so take a look at the upcoming curriculum or school-based activities, and see if there’s anything that is interesting to your child. (Yes – that is underlined, because that is important.) This is especially good for students who tend to fall behind – exposure in advance will give them some additional confidence heading into a new class.
    • Like what? – Glad you asked. It’s easy these days to find some online resources to get a head start with something new. Many STEM websites suggest hands-on projects. You can make it a family activity by either doing the project together, or asking your child to give a fun, age-appropriate presentation to the family about what they did.
    • What if my kid really isn’t into picking a school subject to dig into? It IS still summer…True, we don’t want this to feel like a punishment. Instead of a school subject, pick anything your child is into that they don’t already know much about or a skill that they have not yet tried. Learning is learning, no matter the subject.
    • What do I do when my kid has no motivation to do this on their own? One idea is to make it an adventure by literally going out and exploring. Did I hear you just think “field trip?” That’s what I was thinking! Field trips are generally the most memorable days of a kid’s school year, so get out there and experience something new where it is happening instead of reading about it. Another idea is to rope in a friend or two. Learning can be fun…but learning with friends is even more fun!
  • Set goals for the upcoming school year. Ask your child what their goal(s) are for the upcoming school year. They can be in reaction to areas that needed improvement from the prior school year, or something that motivates them to get the most out of the next school year. Share your own thoughts of goals you have for your child as well. Talk about how they align or can enrich the goals your child has already set for themself. Discuss a timeline for benchmarks and check-ins to meet these goals and put them in your calendar and your child’s calendar. Some goal ideas:
    • A new extra-curricular activity
    • To get a certain grade in a specific class
    • To read a certain number of books by the end of the year
    • No tardy marks
    • Turning in all homework on time
    • Making 3 new friends
    • Joining a new after-school activity
  • Suggest that your child write a letter to their teacher. This can help bring back writing skills that they might not have used in a long time and encourages them to make positive connections with adults/authority figures. They can write a note to their teacher from last year, reminding them of things they enjoyed in their class and wishing them a wonderful year with their new students. Another option is to write a note to their new teacher, telling them about their goals for the year, any concerns they have entering the new school year, or simply wishing the teacher a wonderful year and promising to do their best.

Don’t forget the fun…

Here’s where we can bring some extra big smiles into the mix! Going back to school isn’t a total drag. It can also be fun and exciting! While leaving summer vacation might be sad for your kids, those last few weeks of summer are great time to remind them to what they have to look forward.

  • Schedule a playdate with school friends (or a “hang out” for older kids…we cool). These could be friends they may have lost touch with over the summer, or, perhaps, if you are aware of the new class lists, someone in your child’s new classroom. You could also schedule a playdate with a child they want to get to know better.
  • Throw a back-to-school party with your child’s closest school friends. Instead of a “last summer splash”, focus the party around looking forward to class. Hand out fun back-to-school goodies such as cool pencils or mini notepads and after the best post-summer reunion ever, remind them that now they’ll get to see each other every day!
  • Buy them a special new first-day-of-school outfit. Schedule a day to go to your child’s favorite store and get them some fun, new clothes. I’m thinking 90s movie shopping spree montage. Your kid won’t know what I am talking about…but you do. The same can go for new school supplies!
  • Make a back-to-school playlist. You can start playing your first day of school soundtrack right when they get out of bed until they leave for school. Having music playing can make the whole atmosphere of the morning more positive. Tip #1: If you are driving them to school, please note that blasting the music and rocking out in the front seat is a sure-fire way to embarrass your child…Be cool. Tip #2: You may want to enlist your child in the playlist creation to make sure it will be the right music to pump them up, especially if you have very different tastes in music.
  • Ask your kid(s) to order up their favorite first-day-of-school breakfast…then get up early enough to make it. Nothing will get them out of bed quite like the smell of bacon and waffles in the morning! That is, unless their favorite breakfast is cheesy eggs and fruit salad.
  • Arrange a small caravan with your child’s best friends. This way they can all show up to school at the same time and walk in together with buddies and confidence.

And, finally, just be there for them.

Let’s be honest, times of transition and change might evoke some strong emotions from your kids (and from you!). The most important thing is that they feel supported as they navigate the next grade through all the potential educational and social missteps and successes.

  • Set aside time to have a conversation with your kid(s) before school starts about how they are feeling about going back to school. Your child may be sad about returning to school or anxious about the change, and it’s a good idea to do your best to calm their worries before their first day and help them mentally and emotionally prepare.
  • Be supportive about their social situation. If your kid hasn’t been around school friends in a long while, there may be some concern about falling back in with, or meeting new, friends. Try talking about ways to initiate friendships, taking cues from your child about their comfort levels with each. Don’t be insulted if they claim your ideas are stupid or embarrassing. Just offering the help lets them know you care. Some ideas: Asking questions about them (showing interest goes a long way), smiling at people (so does a smile!), ask to borrow a pen or pencil (even if you have one in your bag…it can break the ice), compliment someone (who doesn’t love a compliment?), join a club or team (common interests can lead to solid friendships), or share your tastiest snack item (sweet times together). If all else fails, I saw a blog that suggested making “Friend Wanted” posters…I’d say reserve this one for the right kind of kid.
  • Gratitude creates a positive attitude! Just because summer is ending doesn’t mean you can’t still relish in its sunny memories. As a family, write a list of everything you all enjoyed about summer vacation and share some fun stories. Then, (and this one may take a little more thinking and prodding), you can also write a list of everything to look forward to in the school year. Seeing more friends, learning a new skill, participating in school sports… etc.
  • Praise their efforts. Positive reinforcement of anything your child does to acclimate to the upcoming school year will inspire a positive outlook about the change. Keep an eye out for opportunities and shower them with praise and compliments!

Hopefully, using these tips and tricks, you can turn the idea of back-to-school from tantrums and way too early alarm clocks to friends, exciting new things, and productive routines.

Wishing you an easy transition and a wonderful school year!

Rabbi Aimee Gerace

Education Director, LBSRS


Click here to visit the LBSRS web page to find out about our religious school!

Mon, March 4 2024 24 Adar I 5784