While we all cling to summer and its reality of easygoing schedules for as long as we possibly can, the days are growing shorter and the schoolyear is right around the corner. "Many kids are excited about seeing friends they haven't seen since June, but some find it hard to adjust to the new schedule when they are so accustomed to the carefree cadence of summer," observes Kan Chen, director of Chyten Education Services in Bayside. But from transitioning your kids' sleep schedules in advance to maintaining some of the good habits they developed during the previous schoolyear, there are things you can do to help them get their groove back. We asked local experts:
How can I help my child ease the transition from summer to back-to-school?
"Learning never ends! Consistent reading and writing opportunities during the summer months is one of the keys to a successful transition into school. Getting a good night's sleep is also really important for children all the time, not just during the school months. Try to make everyday activities such as a trip to the beach or a walk around the neighborhood an educational as well as a fun activity. Ask lots of questions so that your child can practice their problem-solving skills all summer long."
-Nancy L. Picart, director, Small Wonders Child Care Center, Inc., Hauppauge
"Having consistent routines makes the day flow more smoothly. Both children and parents know what to expect and when to fit everything in. We've all heard the studies about how important it is to get enough sleep. Children love the freedom of being able to stay up later and sleep later on the weekends and in the summertime, and it's fun to allow that special privilege. Just try not to let them veer too far off schedule, and try to maintain some kind of consistent sleep/wake time even if it's later. On the weekends, if you allow them to stay up late on Friday and Saturday, wake them up a little earlier on Sunday, only about an hour or so later than you would on Monday morning. They may be tired during the day on Sunday, but they'll fall asleep easier that night and won't be tired for school Monday morning. It'll be difficult to stay focused and concentrate in school if they're tired. Use the same method to transition from a summer sleep schedule to a back-to-school one. During the last week of summer vacation, start waking them up a just a little earlier each day and putting them to bed a little earlier each night. By the last few days of summer, try waking them up closer to their normal schoolday wake-up time. Getting children to bed at a consistent time each night also allows for relaxation time for the adults at the end of the day.
Also, build reading into your schedule. Read with your child for at least 20 minutes each day. Some days are more hectic than others and you can find that even with the best intentions, you didn't get a chance to sit down and read. Make reading part of your child's bedtime routine. Start getting kids ready for bed 20 to 30 minutes earlier so that you're sure to have time to read. It's a wonderful opportunity to snuggle together and share special time with your child. Many children, even older ones who are reading independently, love to have their parents read aloud to them. It's nice to know that no matter how crazed your day was or how little quality time you felt you had with your child, you can both count on this time together.
Another strategy is to model reading. When children see us reading, they realize it's a worthwhile thing to do. As working parents, we don't often have time to sit and relax, but it's a great goal to have! When you have a free moment, curl up with a good book on the couch and invite your children to sit next to you with one of their books.
It's helpful to work on some academics over the summer, too-to maintain their skills and prevent regression and to help give them a jump-start on next schoolyear. Many schools and libraries now have summer reading clubs or programs. Encourage your child to join them. You can set up a pen-pal for your child. It could be their grandma or best friend. Children love getting mail addressed to them! This will help maintain their writing, spelling, grammar and handwriting skills. You can also purchase some educational games that target different academic areas and skills. Learning through playing games makes it fun, gives an opportunity for additional special family time, and can help ensure that they keep a positive attitude toward school.
When school resumes in September, be sure to establish a consistent homework time and routine into your daily schedule. Children have different needs. Some want to come home and get right to homework while they're still in 'school mode' so they can relax and enjoy the rest of the afternoon and evening. Others need some 'down time' before beginning homework. Your schedule may have to vary based on after-school sports and other activities, but try to maintain as much consistency as possible.
Providing a healthy snack prior to homework will help your child stay alert. Avoid giving very sugary snacks, as they create sugar highs and lows which can result in your child being sleepy and less alert. Take an active role in checking your children's homework agenda and backpack to be sure you're aware of their assignments and upcoming exams and to check for teacher notes, and to review graded tests and work. Make yourself available during homework time to offer assistance if needed, while encouraging independence. Be sure to check over their homework to be sure it's complete. Letting your child see that you care about their homework teaches them that it's important. Always encourage your children to do their best, and praise their efforts and achievements!"
-Melanie Rasmussen, president, Reach for the Stars Tutoring, Inc., Coram