Back-to-School Tips for Students and Families
It’s August, and you know what that means: nearly time to go back to school! We've compiled a list of some timeless tips to make the process less stressful for you and your family. Check out our helpful back-to-school tips for students and families.
Special thanks to School Counselor Bernadette Mathis, as well as Parent Ambassador Regional Coordinators Candice Danner (Eastern PA), Cindy Dingeldein (Central PA), and Darcie Lusk (Western PA), for sharing their strategies and tips!
A key component of back-to-school success lies in physical preparation. “When my kids were growing up, they preferred if I did not bring up the ‘s’ word too soon!” says Lusk. “But I liked to be prepared for a smooth transition to the start of a new school year. Some physical preparations seemed like a subtle, yet positive, way to start establishing a back-to-school mindset.”
Create a home learning environment. Whether your children are headed to a brick-and-mortar school and need a work space for the evenings, or they're enrolled in a cyber charter model like PA Virtual, designating an education space at home is a great way to provide structure. This might be a desk in their room, space in the corner of the den, or even clearing off the end of the dining table after your meal. Try redecorating with fun colors and art, if applicable, and evaluate if new school furniture is required as children grow.
Get ahead of the game by establishing routines and schedules early. Maintaining routines lets your child know what is expected of them — and helps minimize confusion, ambiguity, and the anxiety of the unknown. According to the Head Start Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge Center, schedules and routines also help students feel safe, secure, and in control of their environment. This includes wake-up, study, chore, and meal times. The key here is consistency.
“In general, at least K-8, we recommend parents get kids acclimated for the school year as far as routines are concerned,” Mathis remarks. “[Parents] should start getting the family used to the timeframes and structure a few weeks ahead of time. Students who structure their day have a much easier time than those who don’t.”
Gather class information, welcome letters, and expectations in advance — and take notes! Reviewing schedules ahead of time means you won’t be overwhelmed by all that information on Day 1. Keep these materials easily accessible near learning spaces.
Most schools have some type of orientation session for parents. If this is the case for you, write (or type) like the wind! You’ll thank yourself later when you have those usernames and passwords that you need.
- Keep your supplies and books organized. No more frantic searching! Having a system for supplies means less time scrambling for a pen or book — and allows your student to focus on the task at hand. If you have all your child's books and materials for the year, only unpack what is needed for the beginning of school.
Don't forget the power of color coding! Educational reference site ThoughtCo. suggests pairing a suite of colored highlighters, folders, notes, and even stickers with particular subjects, and watch as homework tracking becomes easier. Not sure where to start? Understood.org has a short video to help you get these materials organized!
The transition from summer to school can cause apprehension, or even anxiety, in students. Emotional preparation, coupled with physical readiness, makes the shift less jarring. Remaining calm, Danner notes, is important in facilitating change. “It could be a little overwhelming at first, even for returning families. Take it slow — it takes time!”
Keep tabs on your child's mental and emotional health, and maintain open communication. Children want to share their thoughts and be heard, and being tuned into their mental and emotional states helps you be a more effective support pillar. As you and your child create learning spaces, buy new clothes and supplies, and other arrangements, listen for cues regarding their emotions. For Lusk and her children, such conversations revealed "occasions for encouragement, understanding, support, and guidance — all of which added up to helping my students prepare emotionally for the start of a new school year."
Empower your child to be proactive and draw on teachers’ expertise and mentorship. Develop your child’s sense of agency by encouraging them to obtain and incorporate teacher feedback. Establishing such habits prior to the start of school reinforces that asking for help and accepting teachers' offers for assistance are positive practices — and that doing so does not make a student any less of a scholar.
Don't forget to devise a strategy for parent-teacher communication as well! The more you know about your child's needs, the better you and their instructors can prepare them.
Map out your plan for staying engaged with learning and homework. Similar to communicating with teachers, your participation in your child's education signals that you're there to support them, and want to see them thrive. Knowing you are committed and interested in their learning can keep kids motivated. If you're a PA Virtual parent or guardian, your role as a Learning Coach is an essential part of your child's success.And remember, your child's biggest cheerleader is YOU! So wave those pom poms and let them know you're on their side.
Don't forget the power of attitude! It's no secret that life gets stressful. All the back-to-school information and requirements can overwhelm you and your student. Be authentic and acknowledge any challenges — and, most importantly, how they make you feel. Write them down, share them with someone else, or even just verbalize them to yourself. Then watch a funny show, tell a joke, or find something that makes you smile and helps lift your spirits. "Put on your happy face, and laugh a little," says Dingeldein. "There will be many new things — and that is ok!" The important thing is that you keep moving forward.Besides, according to the Mayo Clinic, laughter helps ease tension, increases endorphins, improves your immune system, and may relieve pain. So have a great guffaw at those cat videos on YouTube!
As you observe the many back-to-school sales, ads, and supply lists, remember the power of preparation. By taking small steps now, and engaging your entire family in the process, you'll find that a return to school is less stressful — and that your last few weeks of summer fun are more enjoyable! We hope that these back-to-school tips for students and families are helpful for you.
NOTE: This blog was originally published in August 2021, and has been updated for accuracy of content.