Returning to school after so many weeks off can be a shock to the system, for children, parents, and teachers alike.
As the mother of two primary-school-aged boys, I know from experience how hard it can be to re-adjust to the early starts, the long school days, and the uniform - not to mention the homework. And no matter how organised I think we are for their return to school, having shopped for the best school shoes weeks ago, there always seems to be the inevitable panicked scramble the night before, and utter chaos getting out of the door that first morning.
So as the end of the holidays creep closer, I’ve spoken to teachers young and old, both newly qualified, experienced, and even retired, about their top tips for really getting your children back-to-school ready...
1. Encourage your child to think for themselves
‘Encourage your children to think for themselves,’ suggests primary school teacher, Jill. ‘At school I get children asking what to do when they have reached the end of their page or found a bit of fluff on the floor! Instead of just telling them what to do, ask them what they think they should do and this will help them learn to think more independently which will make the return to school much easier – for them and their teacher!’
2. Make sure they can tie their own shoelaces
‘Make sure your child can tie their own shoelaces,’ suggests primary school teacher, Lydia. ‘It sounds such a simple thing but you wouldn’t believe the number of children who still can’t do this by the time they leave primary school. The holidays are an ideal time to tackle this task and you can get creative by practising this on a piece of cardboard cut into the shape of a foot with holes punched in it or on a real shoe.’
3. Watch a film together (but choose wisely)
‘Help support your child’s English lessons by watching the film version of a book they’ll be studying during the school year,’ suggests retired secondary school teacher, Janice.
‘Nowadays there are so many film and TV adaptations of literary classics, from William Golding’s Lord of the Flies to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and something for every age and interest, including Little Women, Charlotte’s Web, and Harry Potter. This will help them to become familiar with the story so that they’re not starting it fresh at school. It will also provide a relaxed way to discuss themes and topics addressed within the text which will prove very useful when they come to talk and write about it in class.’
4. Make a calendar
‘I make my children a calendar every school holiday,’ says Jo, a primary school teacher. ‘On it, we write what we are doing every day, which days are quiet days at home, which days they have sports clubs or playdates, and when we are together as a family.
'As well as helping to organise our holiday it’s a great way of helping them to see visually how many days it is until they go back to school so that it doesn’t come as a shock. I find that this helps them prepare mentally and even get excited as the countdown to seeing their school friends and teachers again begins.’
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5. Change your clocks
‘Most children are used to staying up later during the school holidays so that the week back at school I always find they’re exhausted,’ says Susie, a primary teacher. ‘Children never like going to bed early so I always tell my parents to trick their children by secretly putting all the clocks forward by an hour the day before they return to school. It means they’ll go to bed an hour earlier and won’t moan about it because they’ll be none the wiser! Just make sure you remember to change them back once they’re asleep so you’re not late for school.’
6. Organise a playdate
‘Help to make your child enthusiastic about going back to school and seeing their friends again by organising a play date the week before you return to school,’ suggests Hannah, a primary school teacher. ‘They won’t just enjoy seeing their friends but they’ll also be excited to catch up where they left off once they’re back in school. It can help to quell any nerves and remind them of how much fun they’ll have.’
7. Don’t pack your child’s schoolbag
‘A lot of parents make the mistake of packing their children’s bags for them before they return to school,’ says Elaine, a secondary teacher. ‘Whilst they think they’re helping them it actually has the opposite effect. Children, of all ages, should learn to pack their own bags for school. Becoming accountable for what they need to take in every day, from stationery to reading books and games kits, will not only teach them to be independent but will also mean they’re less likely to lose things because they’ll be keeping tabs on everything that is in their bag. It never ceases to amaze me how many teenagers still let their parents pack their school bags!’
8. Label everything
‘And I mean EVERYTHING!’ insists Susan, a games teacher.
‘As a teacher, you would be amazed at the number of hours that are spent every week (by students, teachers, and parents alike) looking for lost items and then reuniting them with their correct owners. Children can get very distressed if they lose a favourite pair of trainers or piece of stationery, and there’s the cost implication of replacing it for parents too.
'Avoid the time, money, and distress wasted on lost items at school by making sure you label everything your child takes in with them and wears. Even socks and pants, as these are always getting lost when getting changed for games or swimming. Years ago parents used to spend hours sewing in name labels but you don’t even have to do that anymore as there are now lots of options in terms of name stamps, stickers or even just using a permanent marker!’
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9. Start a tradition
‘I’ll never forget one of the children I taught who was always really excited to be back at school on the first day after the holidays,’ reveals secondary school teacher Monica.
‘When I got chatting with the child they explained that it was because of their back-to-school tradition of having whatever they wanted for breakfast on the first morning back,' she explains.
'For that particular child, it was pancakes, something they only normally had on special occasions. It made the first day back something of a celebration and also meant the child had lots of energy for the day ahead. It struck me what a good idea it was to invent a back-to-school tradition.
'I suppose that it doesn’t have to be a special breakfast, it could be a kitchen disco or a stop-off to collect conkers on the way to school. Whatever it is, by inventing a back-to-school family tradition you’ll get your child excited about the day rather than fearing it.’
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We've got lots more back-to-school content in our Back to School Month hub including How to tackle back-to-school shopping without buying everything brand new and Confessions from parents about what they’re most looking forward to once the kids go back to school.