Every August, as we prepare to return to school, I talk to parents who report a jumble of emotions, ranging from excitement to apprehension to relief. Even after 14 years of teaching, I still experience this same tumultuous amalgamation and see it in my students. And every year, as I visit with my students’ parents and my friends, we discuss the same common-sense strategies to make the transition smooth while making the most of the last precious days of summer. Still, many of us follow through with our best-laid plans only halfheartedly or all that preparation gets swept away in the first week of bustling schedules and hustling carpools, with no lasting positive effect. This year, I’d like to offer some ideas for extending what we know about the back-to-school routine into habits with lasting impact.

Help the kids get ready by getting into the routine early—normal bedtimes and wake-up times.  Of course, this tip is self-evident. Now consider how being more intentional and giving more ownership to your child can create greater self-discipline and planning skills. Ask your kids to help develop, through trial-and-error, a schedule that is reasonable. Help them to understand the passing of time, which is especially challenging for kids with impulse control difficulties, ADHD, and executive functioning troubles. Compare how one minute of brushing your teeth feels a lot different from one minute of watching your favorite show or playing your favorite game. Have children plan their bedtime and morning routines, and then see how closely they can actually follow the schedule. Revise as necessary.

If you have a special place for doing homework, maybe it has become cluttered or been used for another purpose during the break.  Get it all ready to be the quiet, orderly haven it was meant to be.  Again, involve kids directly. Develop their ability to plan ahead and reflect on their own needs and capabilities by asking them what they need in that space, and what should be discarded. Set the stage for a better-organized year by providing bins, folders, or trays that suit the personality and interests of your child while maintaining an uncluttered workspace. Help your kids to be honest and reflective in their assessment of their own strengths and needs, and then hold them accountable for maintaining an organized space, with the appropriate level of support and fading reminders, of course.

If your kids have fallen out of the habit of doing academic work and reading this summer, get the routine re-established before school starts.  Sit down and read together for a set time each day and complete review materials or word and number games together.   

A few of my favorite games that help build vocabulary, spelling, and knowledge of parts of speech are Apples to Apples, Cooking Up Sentences, and the old stand-byes: Boggle™ and Scrabble™.  Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child suggests games such as rummy, mahjong, hearts, and chess for developing executive functioning skills such as organization and planning. Visit the Math Insider website at a list of parent-recommended board games that provide practice with a wide variety of math concepts.  Tangrams, geoboards, and other puzzles are terrific for building important spatial and problem-solving skills. 

Try these fun websites:  Funbrain—the name says it all!  Fun activities, reading, and games with favorite TV characters. games with bright graphics that cover a number of topics. Engaging videos that support content areas, and a bank of brain teasers appropriate for middle school and older students. crossword puzzles.

Be sure to save your kids’ favorite websites and keep games handy. Continue to use these for repeated practice throughout the year, as brain breaks during non-preferred homework activities, during family time, and over the quarterly school breaks. Add historical movies, games that build skills, and on-line videos and games related to content areas into your child’s menu of activities.  Also be sure to keep an open mind and find the redeeming qualities in your kids’ preferred activities, and identify ways you can influence their use of social time and electronics to build skills that will serve them well in and out of school.