11 Ways to Ease the Back to School Transition {+ Free Printable}

Y’all, transitions are hard. Especially for our little people. Think about a time when you’ve gone through a huge change. Starting a new job. Having a kid. Getting married. Moving to a new city. It’s daunting each time. So many unknowns, so many new things to navigate. And that’s with our fully developed adult brains and years of experience living in the world and weathering transitions. The impact feels so much bigger for our kids, and perhaps the biggest transition they will experience regularly is going back to school. 

woman hugs girl in front of school busTrading out the lazy hazy days of summer for the structure and rigor of a school day is a challenge, but there are ways to help your child ease into the back to school transition. This will of course vary depending on the age, developmental level, and temperament of your child, but here are eleven ways to help them through this time of year. 

Back to School Transition: Things to Do With Their School

Visit School Before You Go

Most schools do meet the teacher, but depending on your child, you may want to visit school an additional time before you actually go for your first day. Most schools will let you come and walk around the building, see classrooms, etc. if you ask. This gives you an opportunity to let your child get familiar with the space and eliminate the unknowns before they actually go to school. That big unfamiliar building can feel scary for a small person who has never been there before, and it’s helpful if the first time they go there on their own isn’t the very first time they have ever been there. 

Take Pictures of School

While you are at your school visit or at meet the teacher night, snap photos of the things you see or places that your child will frequent at school. This could include different parts of their classroom, the cafeteria, gym, playground, library, bathrooms. You can then look at those photos with your child and talk through all of the things they will do at school so they know what to expect. This can also help your child find things to look forward to when school starts. Do they love outside? Talk about recess? Got a little bookworm? Show off that library.

Hang A Photo of Your Child’s Teacher

If your child has a new teacher, ask them for a photo and hang it up so your child can see it. You can talk about who their teacher is, anything you might know about them, and wonder what they will be like together. This allows your child to get familiar with this important person before they leave you to spend the whole day with them, and makes them seem like less of a stranger.

Ask for A Schedule of The School Day

Getting a schedule of the day can also help in letting your child know what to expect. If it is useful for your child, you can even mimic a school day at home in the days leading up to school. Rehearse drop off, have lunch in their lunchbox, have storytime, pretend to do gym. This might be a bit much for some parents to do, but may go a long way if your child is getting used to a new routine. 

Consider Half Days to Start

Ask your child’s school if they will allow them to do half days for the first week. This gives them the opportunity to ease into the transition and build up the endurance to go a whole day. School is exhausting for our kids, especially that first week, so if you have the capability to work your way up to it, do. 

Back to School Transition: Things You Can Do At Home

Let Your Child Choose Their Supplies

What makes us feel better when we have a lot of unknowns? Control! Humans love control. It makes us feel safer. Finding ways to give your child some control in the transition will help lessen their unease. Let them choose their backpack, the color of their folders, their lunchbox, and what they will eat for lunch on the first day. Anything you can think of that you can let your child take ownership of and choose, go for it.

Consider a Countdown 

If you have a young child, a paper chain countdown is a concrete way to see how many days are left until school. With an older child you can cross out days on a calendar, repurpose an advent calendar, download a printable, etc. This tells your child exactly how much time there is until school so they know what to expect and the transition does not come as a surprise. It’s also a good avenue to talk about when you may need to do before school prep activities, and squeeze in anything they may want to do before school begins. 

Make Your Child A Calendar

calendar with days of the week and magnets with activitiesAt my house, we have a simple dry erase calendar from Target that shows all the days of the week, and magnets with pictures on them. This helps my child know what happens each day, and we will often review the schedule in the morning or the night before so they know what to expect. Giving your child their own calendar and involving them in filling it out helps to give them more control as well. Knowing what to expect each day can make them feel more confident, instead of having to guess where they will go or what they will do.

Make Checklists for School Mornings

A morning routine checklist with all the tasks to get ready and/or a list of what to pack for school can help in those hectic school mornings. Even preschoolers can follow a checklist made with photos. Bonus discovery at my house, having the list of things to pack for school also helped when it was my partner’s turn to do school mornings, ensuring they didn’t forget anything. 

Check out this free printable to make your own customized school bag packing list.

_School_Bag_Checklist_Printable (1)

Rehearse The First Day of School

Put on your pretend hat and rehearse that first day. Go through the steps of your morning routine. Pack your child’s backpack as if you are going to school. Do all of the things you would do on a typical school morning so that when that first day of school comes, it’s not so new. With older children you could time them as they get ready, or play music to make it more fun. Bonus points if you “leave for school” and go get a treat as a surprise. Rehearsing also gives you the opportunity to validate your child’s emotions about going back to school. “It’s the first day of school {for pretend}, I bet you are feeling excited or nervous. What does your body feel like?” 

Don’t Plan Anything Extra

For the love of freshly sharpened pencils, do not make the first week of school also the week you go to the waterpark, or take a weekend trip, or have family come to visit and do a bunch of activities. Our children’s brains and bodies are wiped from the constant engagement and figuring out all of the new things that come with the return to school. Adding to their plate is just asking for trouble. Have a chill weekend. Watch a movie. Let them nap. Whatever they need to recover from the week. Then it starts all over again on Monday. 

Mamas, good luck on the back to school transition! If you have any other tips or tricks to make this season go smoothly, let us know!


 

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Lindsay G. was born and raised in Fort Worth, Texas, and she and her husband headed south to Spring in June of 2016. As a clinical social worker, she works full time with families growing their families through adoption. Lindsay met her husband John when they were both camp counselors. They welcomed their future little campers G in December 2017 and R in 2020. Lindsay is constantly reading, researching at least one new thing, and attempting to organize her life through bullet journaling. Her first book, Parent Goals: The Millennial’s Guide to New Parent Preparedness will be published in November 2021. In her free time, she enjoys binging Gilmore Girls on a loop, baking, and running in the Houston area’s beautiful parks. Check out her website www.lindsaygarrettlcsw.com for parenting prep, support, and more.

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