Hit the Ground Running: Prepare Early for Back to School

As published in the South Seattle Beacon

The sun sure took its time coming out this year. It feels like summer break just began. But we’re already well into August, and before you know it, September will be upon us. If you’re like me, just when you start getting the hang of your family’s summer routine, Smack!--a wave of fall activities and school responsibilities begin again.

As a pediatrician and a mother of a six- and a nine-year-old, I am very familiar with the additional work that the back-to-school transition brings. Yet somehow, from year to year, I forget about that two-inch thick packet of paperwork the kids reliably bring home that first week of school or all of the additional registration, permission, insurance and medical forms for all of their extracurricular activities that land in my lap. Add to that the school supply shopping, the fall clothing shopping, shifting bedtimes and the transition to new teacher/classroom/homework routines and it’s not long before I’m looking forward to Thanksgiving break!

So what’s a parent to do as September looms? Planning ahead can make all the difference. Here are some ideas to ponder:

New or first-time student? Take advantage of any scheduled events to meet teachers, classmates and families before the first day of school. Most schools offer opportunities for new students to familiarize themselves with their new learning environment and meet their teachers before the first day of school. If they are not offered, ask. Don’t forget to play on the playground too!

Create a master calendar. Include a calendar on your supply list. Posting a family event calendar with everyone’s daily activities on it in a common area of the house (such as the kitchen) helps everyone stay on track. Some families prefer sharing online calendars, while others find a good, old-fashioned dry-erase calendar works just fine. Set up whatever works for you.

Agree on routines and expectations. Set a specific homework time that works well for your child’s and family’s schedules - avoid the very end of the day when your child’s energy will be waning. Decide and discuss your family’s policy about daily time limits for computers, TVs, MP3 players, etc., as well as their use during study time. Minimal interruptions and distractions while studying maximizes study time, so keeping cell phones and TV out of the study area is ideal.

Set up a study space. Be sure each child has a study space that’s well lit, quiet and free of clutter. Younger children benefit from a parent close by to oversee homework time.

Shop early with lists. This year, I’m taking my kids to shop for school supplies a few weeks before school starts, when the sales start and the selection hasn’t been picked over. Many schools make lists available online or mail them home, and some even post their list at local office supply stores. Many kids like choosing their school supplies; keeping everything in the bag until school actually starts helps build the anticipation for the big day. Don’t worry about buying the wrong thing. Items can be returned (save receipts) or donated to the school to help other families.

Schedule well-child checkups. Take your kids for their annual well-child physical exam during the summer, before school starts, to avoid taking time away from work or school. By scheduling early, you avoid the last-minute rush to get those required immunizations and sports physicals.

Plan for school lunches. Summertime is a good time to start planning healthy school lunches and snacks to eat after school and sports. A nutritious lunch includes a protein, a grain, and a fruit or vegetable. These are good choices for after-school snacks, too, and help to create good eating habits. Low-fat milk, the diet’s best source of vitamin D, is an ideal accompaniment to most meals and snacks for kids. Will you also be bringing snacks for the soccer or football team? For hydration and energy, choose fruit for halftime.

Return to school hours. Establish a regular sleep and waking schedule at least one to two weeks before school starts. Even if it’s an hour later than the actual school routine, this will ensure that your kids—and you—are well rested. If your kids’ summer wake time is regular, but later than school day wake times (ours always are), you can also start waking them progressively earlier over the two weeks prior to the start of school.

With just a little advance planning, we parents can help our families avoid “September shock” and get off to a great start of the academic year.