Summer still lingers for relaxing activities, but mid-August also is a ripe time for some back-to-school readiness.
Around this time each year, Spokane Valley parent Tara Depew starts to reboot a nighttime ritual for her two children to ease them back toward fall’s more rigid schedule.
After all, 8-year-old daughter Addy and 5-year-old son Jack have enjoyed later summer nights at Priest Lake, easier mornings sleeping in and more relaxed days around camps. Preparing for that first day of school, Depew has found it easier to begin two weeks prior with what she calls the four Bs.
“That’s always been the tradition as they grow up, so they know bath, brush, books and then bed,” Depew said. “It’s a routine in our family.”
She and husband Bryan send the kids to a bath around 7 to 7:30 p.m., then it’s brushing teeth and hair, books read as a family, and bed for the children between 8 to 8:30 p.m. A similar pattern is followed in the morning along with breakfast, as the children tend to wake up a little earlier.
At Sunrise Elementary, Addy will enter third grade and Jack will start kindergarten. Depew, school parent-teacher group president, drove the kids by the school recently to raise excitement and show its construction to renovate and expand the building for classes that start Sept. 6
Many teachers begin by mid-August to prep classrooms, including fourth-grade teacher Christy Berube at Lidgerwood Elementary. Spokane Public Schools’ first day for first- through 12th-graders is Aug. 31.
To help ease any anxieties children might have, Berube recommends parents and kids attend any scheduled back-to-school events. If possible, arrange for children to meet their teachers before the first day of classes, she said.
“It’s great for any child to meet the teacher before the school year starts, especially if it is a new school for them,” added Berube, entering a seventh year of teaching. She had a student two years ago with higher anxiety, so a parent brought her in before classes started to help Berube set up.
“We had a really good year. We’d already built a relationship.”
She’s also an advocate for slowly adjusting back to regular sleep times for what children need for being rested each morning as they head to school. And she’d love to see more frequent reading among children if they haven’t kept that up.
“I’d say one of the best things they can do is help get their child back onto a normal schedule,” Berube said. “In summer, we tend to stay up a little later and sleep in a little later. It’s helpful to have a couple of weeks where you can start going to bed earlier.”
“Students have the best of intentions to read over the summer, but definitely this is a good time to have them reading as part of getting back into school.”
Along with healthy meals, restful sleep before school boosts overall health and reduces stress, added Dr. Randi Edwards, a Spokane pediatrician at Kaiser Permanente’s Riverfront Medical Center. Adequate rest helps manage hormone levels, maintain body weight and repair and grow muscle tissue.
To ease anxieties, Edwards encourages positive family conversations about upcoming school learning and activities. Parents can validate feelings and offer suggestions to ease potential nervousness. If a child is anxious about a certain subject, a parent might offer to buy workbooks or seek tutoring.
A night-before-school themed meal can build enthusiasm and fun.
“It’s dependent on the kids’ ages, but having them prepare in their minds for school is helpful,” she said. “Help them learn teachers’ names, have them be involved in picking out school supplies, visit the school.”
“Schools have open houses usually, so attending those are a good idea and can ease some of those anxieties, when they see some kids they know or meet their teacher.”
August is a good month to plan for and organize any required vaccinations and medical paperwork, along with a child’s prescription and medicine needs for school, she said.
“That’s something we sometimes forget about too, so there is always a rush right after school,” Edwards said. “That’s something families can do beforehand to help ease that.”
Edwards also advocates for a relaxing evening routine before bed, such as a bath, soothing music and book reading. For older kids, family members can participate in a board game at a time children would be doing homework after school starts.
Games like Scrabble encourage fun with words, or Yahtzee helps them count numbers.
“Some kind of non-electronic learning game in the evening for a child can be really helpful in preparing them.”
Edwards offered other readiness tips:
About those sleep schedules – Two weeks before school, set an incrementally earlier bedtime each night, and an earlier wake-up time. As school starts, a sleep routine works best with a consistent bed time, avoidance of screen use at least two hours before and winding down in the evening. Children should get the sleep needed for their age-group. In general, Edwards said younger kids need about 10 hours of sleep. Older children can get in seven to 10 hours, “but every kid is different.”
Near bedtime, avoid big meals along with sodas or caffeinated drinks – Those ingredients might prevent a child from falling asleep. A general rule is to avoid any caffeine six hours before bedtime, as that can interrupt natural sleep patterns.
Maintain a peaceful bedroom – That means a dark room, comfortable bed and a room temperature neither too hot nor too cold. Electronic distractions like television, computers or video games should be removed from a child’s room. Once a child’s sleep schedule is back to routine, avoid slipping backwards and using a weekend for catching up on sleep.
Be prepared – Attend school events to help children feel more comfortable about returning. Stay updated on school news and have kids help buy school supplies as a sense of control for a new situation. Children also can help set up a home study area. A quiet, organized space can encourage a homework routine.
Help your children set realistic priorities – Parents and children can talk about striving for a balance among discipline, self-challenge and enjoyment. Perhaps that means removing one of three sports this year, or encouragement to try something new. Establishing a manageable schedule helps reduce stress. Daily activity should include some down time, where nothing is scheduled and parents have the chance to connect with a child.
Kids with special needs – For parents of special education students, it’s often a world of meetings, paperwork and documentation. Keep a calendar of events, phone records, special education meetings and conferences, perhaps in a binder. Understand when an Individualized Education Program is scheduled to expire and if a child is up for re-evaluation.
Girls – Edwards said some planning ahead and discussion can help a daughter who is close to starting to menstruate. That can include making sure a backpack has pads and panty liners easily available.
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