A Clean Slate for the New School Year
Get started on the right foot to create lasting family habits
As summer fades and displays of school supplies begin popping up in stores across the city, many parents ponder how they want the school year to unfold for their family. Whether it’s to maximize family time, help a child develop new study habits or foster more independence, we have expert tips on how to set and accomplish new goals.
The start of a new school year is an opportunity to reset routines and put practices in place that can become habits as the school year progresses. When thinking about the best ways to organize your family life for the upcoming school year, organization, routines, homework and balancing extracurricular activities are the most cited trouble spots. Take this time at the start of the school to design new routines to help you and your children achieve goals that fit within your family life.
Chief among parents concerns is helping children to be more organized. After diligently purchasing, preparing and packing school supplies, many parents are distraught to find that just a few weeks into the school year pencils are already missing, notebooks are disorganized and assignments that were due yesterday are somehow still stuffed in the bottom of their child’s backpack.
“Parents often express that they are tired of nagging and would like support with taking a step back while also ensuring that their child will independently engage in healthy habits,” says Lisa Podell, an executive functioning coach and founder of Better Sessions, a company that empowers people to work, learn and live better through one-on-one support. “Although offering daily reminders can provide an immediate solution, it may lead to a perpetual cycle where your child relies on that parental support for accomplishing daily tasks. I encourage parents to integrate the skills required to be successful at school, such as time management and planning, into their home routine so that kids are exercising these muscles on a daily basis.”
The ability to manage time in class or at home without being rushed, and thinking ahead to know what they need tomorrow or in their next class, can be a challenge for kids. Help foster these skills by practicing at home.
“Set deadlines for simple tasks like finishing dinner or getting ready for bed so your kids have an opportunity to practice time management,” Podell says. “Provide responsibilities that enable your child to practice breaking down tasks into smaller, more manageable steps, and have them mark important dates and events on their own calendar so they begin to see a picture of their week and month ahead.”
Children also need to recognize that organization is a habit that requires effort each day. Bea Moise, parenting coach and founder of the company A Child Like Mine, recommends parents create designated spaces for school items to land each day to help teach organization.
“When things pile up kids can become overwhelmed and shut down,” Moise says, “but by helping them organize their things each day, and by ensuring that everything has its place, you can help them stay on top of their things and be organized and prepared for school.”
Evening Wind Down
In addition to helping children become more independent, many parents have a desire to re-work morning and evening routines that often are off track early in the school year. Want to have a better morning routine? First look at your evening routine, advises Moise.
“The most important routine for parents to establish at the beginning of the school year is an evening routine that includes effective preparation for the next morning,” she says. “A good evening routine is important because, not only does it allow for intentional time for connection between parent and child, it also helps set the tone for the next morning.”
As you craft your evening routine, think about everything that you and your child needs to do to get out the door in the morning, then prepare as much as possible in the evening. Pack backpacks and hang them by the door, lay out the next day’s clothes and consider doing some prep work for breakfast. And, of course, consider bedtime.
“The morning is not going to go smoothly if your child wakes up tired and cranky” Moise says. Prioritize an early bedtime to ensure morning success.
The Morning Checklist
When it comes to morning routine, parents and children need to plan ahead. For kids, Podell recommends a wake-up time that realistically matches your child’s morning pace.
“Kids routinely underestimate how long each morning task will take. Consider timing how long each step takes before the start of the school year and then work backwards to establish a realistic and achievable wake-up time,” she says.
Save yourself time and foster independence by delegating a new task to your child. Start with what you know your child can do on his own like getting dressed or remembering to brush his teeth, then work toward a new goal.
“Select one task that you were in charge of last year and delegate that responsibility to the child for the new school year, such as setting the alarm the night before or packing lunch,” Podell says.
For kids that need a little more support, Moise recommends sitting down before the start of the school year and brainstorming a morning checklist.
“The checklist can include everything that needs to happen in the morning and, often, just having a visual list of these things helps the child move through their routine more independently,” she says.
Give yourself (and your children) a more relaxed start by getting up before they do.
“When you’re already awake and ready, your children are waking up to a structured environment rather than one in which everyone is trying to get ready at the same time,” Moise says.
While evening routines set the tone for the next day, and morning routines set the tone for the day, afternoon routines are where many families find challenges. With after-school activities, multiple pickups, and hungry, tired kids, getting children to sit down and do their homework or study can be a real challenge.
Whether you believe in the value of homework or wish your kids didn’t have to complete any work at home, the reality is that most families attend schools where homework is regularly assigned. When working to establish a homework routine that works for the whole family, think through your priorities before jumping in.
While good grades are important, a child’s love of learning is what most parents ultimately want. With that in mind, work to create a routine that celebrates learning rather than one that encourages your kids to rush through homework with only their grades in mind.
“Parents should work hard not to bring their own stress to homework time,” Moise says, “Center homework time around positive things associated with acquiring new skills and information, and really work hard to celebrate their hard work and learning.”
Allow kids some downtime when they arrive home from school before asking them to jump into homework. Consider offering them a snack or some outdoor time before breaking out their bookbags. Also have a designated homework spot that’s free of distracting noise and clutter so that kids can focus as they complete their work.
When it comes time to sit down to do homework, have them make a list of what they need to complete and check it off as they finish. Doing this can help homework feel less overwhelming and help kids practice their time-management skills.
In order to help students stay organized, include homework station cleanup in their typical homework routine. Have kids pack their backpacks and place them where they’ll need to grab them on the way out the door in the morning, and tidy their homework spot so it’s clutter-free for their next afternoon.
In the Zone
In addition to creating a good homework routine and a clean, organized homework area, recognize that focus is a skill that kids need practice to develop. Sustained focus can be difficult for kids when they are first transitioning back to school, Podell says. To help kids practice the sort of focus needed to sit down and get homework done, complete a project or prepare for a test, start by intentionally integrating focus practice into their lives before the start of the school year. Set up a homework space before school starts and have your child practice a quiet activity there for a few minutes each day.
“The activity doesn’t have to be school related, your child can increase their focus by simply sitting quietly and reading a comic book, putting together a puzzle or drawing” Podell says, “The key is to start in small increments so that by the time school begins, they are mentally and physically prepared to sit for sustained periods of time.”
When parents are asked to describe the school year in one word, many choose busy. With work, homework, sports and extracurricular activities, many families find it difficult to come together, even for dinner, at all during the week. Avoid the sort of busyness that takes away from family life by considering how any new sport or activity may impact your family’s priorities, and consider how many activities are too many for your family.
“At a certain point, you have to say enough is enough and help your child prioritize their activities,” Moise says. When overscheduled, you may find everyone in the family is stressed and unable to enjoy the little moments. Reduce this stress by identifying how many activities or sports your family can reasonably handle, and be diligent about saying “no” or “next season” to any that cross that boundary.
Good habits take time to establish. While it’s important to evaluate routines to make sure they’re working. Moise recommends giving new practices at least a few weeks before making any changes.
“It takes time to build routines and doing so can feel really hard at first,” she says.
Another key thing to keep in mind among the busyness of the new school year: “Remember to really, really enjoy these moments. You can’t get the days back as your kids grow and these times are really special.”
Julia Pelly lives in east Charlotte with her husband and two young children. You can find more of her work at juliapelly.com.