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5 Surefire Ways to Get Your Kids Ready for Back to School

Aug 13 2014
Nicole Black

Summer is coming to a close and even though the gorgeous weather might disagree, the big box stores have announced its end with aisles of back to school supplies and Halloween décor. You may not be ready to turn in the pools and the vacations for reading, writing and arithmetic, but ready or not, another school year is upon us. And we’re here to help.

Here are 5 surefire ways to get your kids ready for back to school.

1. Get Your Kids Pumped: Talk It Up!

Be excited for school and your kids will feed off it. None of this, “You have to go back to school” business. Put a marketing spin on it: “You get to go back to school.” And add a little cheesiness: “Why, hi there almost 2nd grader.” “How’s my favorite almost 3rd grader?” “What’s up almost 7th grader?”

And if you catch them doing something awesome, praise them with: “Wow, you must be almost ready for Kindergarten!” “That was a great choice. Clearly you’re almost a middle schooler.”

If you’re annoyed about their upcoming homework schedule or book reports, keep it to yourself. Not stoked about their new teacher? Don’t say anything, especially if there’s nothing you can do about it.

Bottom line: we have to teach kids to love school and to love learning. And it starts with our attitudes as parents. Keep it positive.

2. Build Confidence: Practice and Pre-teach

A lot of before-school nerves come from our kids’ fears that they may not know what to do or how to answer questions. If your kiddo is uncomfortable at math time, introducing them to the math skills ahead of time will lessen their anxiety. They may never love math, but it definitely won’t cause them as much strife in their lives. We can ease our kids’ fears by introducing them to what they will be doing in the classroom before they get there.

And luckily, math is everywhere. Count in the car, skip count in the bath, add the number of chicken nuggets left on their plate, and subtract the pretzels still left in their bowl. Is your kid going into third grade? Start having them memorize their multiplication facts now. They’ll get a head start on all their peers and feel extra confident to participate.

Reading lists and summer bridge workbooks aren’t the only way to attack the alphabet and reading. Go on a “N” hunt, find all the “the” words in their favorite book, challenge them to make the alphabet out of Legos.  The list is endless and is quite frankly another blog topic, altogether.

Play school and let them be the teacher. Let them control it all and have you do the work. Let them test you and quiz you and grade you.

Read great books that get them excited for school. Practically every commercialized character from the Bernstein Bears to Strawberry Shortcake has a book about getting ready for school. Use what they love to your advantage. A personal favorite of mine is Ms. Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten by Joseph Slate. Struggling with separation issues? Try another favorite of mine, The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn.

3. Build Anticipation: Count It Down

The passage of time is a very abstract, therefore difficult concept for kids to grasp. This is true if they’re counting down to their birthday, vacation or a visit to the candy store.  “Is it tomorrow?” “Nope.” “How ‘bout the tomorrow after that? Or the tomorrow after that?”

A physical and visual cue can often make it more concrete, more real. And on the plus side, you can stop answering the ‘how many more days’ questions. Just point them to the countdown clock and sip your coffee.

You can use a good ol’ fashioned paper chain. Each link would represent one day left until school. They rip one link each morning, physically counting down until they run out of links.

A homemade calendar or a store bought calendar is another option that my kids gravitate towards. They can mark off each day or stick a sticker on each day that passes.

Heck, you could move beans from one jar to the next. The point is that it’s not only a process, it’s their process. They rip off the link, they cross off the day, they move the bean. If they’re involved, they will ‘own’ it. If they own it, they’ll get it.

4. Build a Routine: Get and Stay Organized

There’s literally a teacher’s course called “Spending Time to Save Time.” The whole point of the class is to force teachers to stop and think how they want a process to happen in their class before the start of the school year. What’s the procedure for turning in papers? What do the kids do if someone needs a sharp pencil? Or a Kleenex? Or a one-way trip to the principal’s office?

Parents can and should do the same thing for their homes. What’s your procedure for homework? Can they come home and rest for a little bit or do they get right to work? Do they walk in the door and hang up their own backpack or can they chuck it in the middle of the floor? Can they get a snack or do they get it during their homework? There’s no right and no wrong, but you need to know the answers that work best for your family. And you might need different procedures for each different kid. Or different procedures as the year progresses.

Where do you want them to hang their backpacks? Buy a cute hook and hang it at their level so they are in charge of putting it away and getting it in the morning.

Where are they going to do their homework? Have supplies ready to go to minimize their eye rolling and whining. And/or your eye rolling and whining.

Where should they put papers they need you to sign so you’re not dealing with trip slips in the carpool line at 8:05?

Put up a Reminder Center for all things school. Use a corkboard or a whiteboard or fun little frames with a dry erase marker. Write down when PE is so they wear their tennis shoes that day. Need to remember their bake sale goodies? Write it down on the board so everyone is responsible for taking them. Wednesday is Library Day? Find the book and have them put it in their backpack Tuesday Night.

Most kids thrive on routine. They like predictability. They know what’s coming and what to expect. Will things fall through the cracks? Absolutely. But starting the year off on the right foot will bring you that much closer to sanity.

5. Celebrate!

Things are special to kids if you call them special. Today is Orange Sock Day. So exciting. Tomorrow is Brush Your Teeth on One Foot Day. Even more exciting.

Celebrate the end of summer with a Last Summer Playdate or a Last Day of Summer Dinner or an extra special Last Day of Summer Party. If you’re serving boxed mac n’ cheese and purple popsicles and throw up a construction paper sign and maybe a balloon or two, it’s a rockin’ party for any kid.

Celebrate the 1st Day of School with just as much flair. Take those 1st Day of School photos showing off their new backpack. Write on your kids’ car window with a window marker: “This car has a brand new 3rd grader in it!” Let your husband sing the ridiculous Get Ready for School Song at the top of his lungs that his dad used to sing him. Blast some awesome music for breakfast. Celebrate with ice cream after school or a playdate at the park with new classmates. If you call it special, it will be. And it will be remembered.

And maybe, just maybe, the little known Back To School Fairies might come to your house. If they stop by, they usually leave a brown lunch sack filled with back to school supplies, some stickers and a new book. If you’re lucky, they’ll even write a ‘Have a good 1st day note. Those tricky Back to School Fairies are just trying to get kids excited for school.

So, you’ve got this. You’re kids have got this.  And we’ve got your back. So will yourself out of that pool and drag your kids away from the ice cream truck. School is almost in session. And it’s going to be a great year. 

Nicole Black is a credentialed elementary school teacher, tutor and substitute teacher. She is raising her 3 awesome kids, volunteering in their classrooms and is just trying to make it to bedtime. Her hobbies include attending IEP Meetings, sleeping in and searching Pinterest for inspiring recipes that she may or may not ever make. Oh, and she also likes to write.