8 Ways To Prep Your Child for the School Year

School is out for the summer and the fall semester feels like it will never arrive. A fulfilling and relaxing summer break can mean the difference between your child performing at peak potential next year or falling behind early.

Although summer break is intended for downtime, maintaining a healthy balance of leisure and structure will seamlessly help your child transition back to school. Unfortunately, two to three months without any learning is known by teachers to produce learning regression in children. Danielle Wilson, a 1st-grade teacher in California, finds her students' decline in learning over summer break extremely common and frustrating.

“Every year, we see learning regression that happens over the summer. We try to review as much as we can from the year prior, but we must start the new curriculum as soon as possible to fit in with grade-level standards. Kids who experience more learning loss than others end up having a much more challenging time trying to catch up while also learning new concepts,” says Wilson.

Summer learning loss (SLL) is a term seeing more recognition in educational research. For example, a 2020 study by Annenberg Brown University estimates that children can lose up to 17-34% of the prior year’s learning gains. Here’s a quick guide to balancing structure and activity to give your child a leg up next year.

1. Plan Family Trips or Activities

Chances are you won’t have time to vacation when school begins, and summer weather makes for the best getaways. Take advantage of your surroundings and visit a museum or amusement park for a day trip.

The outdoors can make for great back-to-school stories. Reserve camping spots weeks in advance as summer camping fills up fast. Teach your kid to fish, lay under the stars, or hike for breathtaking views. Depending on your budget, it could be time to visit relatives you don’t often see or visit another country! Get creative.

2. Maintaining Structure

Without a routine, anyone can become bored, unmotivated, and even depressed. Your child’s routine will inevitably become at least somewhat lax over break, but there are many options to help keep their days engaging and complete.

Summer camps are awesome ways to keep your kid busy and their socialization skills sharp. Organizations like Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts, and the American Camp Association have many fantastic overnight camps where children can form strong bonds with old friends or make new ones.

Many local organizations and public schools put on summer day camps or if your child isn’t ready for overnight trips. Day camps and church vacation Bible schools also give parents much-needed time to catch up on work or errands.

Summer sports leagues are excellent for maintaining discipline and engaging an active child. This should be fun, so let your child choose a new sport that intrigues them or hone their skills in a familiar one. Physical activity is also a way for children to stay healthy and improve mental wellness.

3. Keep Children in Touch With Classmates

Isolation is a slippery slope. The longer spent without social interaction, the harder it is to interact; thus, the more daunting the first day of school becomes. Likewise, without the mandatory time spent with school peers, it’s easy for children to become withdrawn.

Childhood is a time of social uncertainty, as many kids are often overly concerned about fitting in. Maintaining regular playdates and outings with their school friends can strengthen relationships and keep their self-confidence strong to take on another school year. If your child struggles to make friends at school, enrolling them in camps or sports can be an opportunity for them to find some common ground with peers.

4. Summer Reading Is a Must

As aforementioned, it’s typical for kids to lose a significant portion of their previous years’ learning over the break. Keep your child’s mind fresh with mandatory summer reading to mitigate summer learning loss. It can be frustrating to do homework over the summer, so instead, frame it as an exciting opportunity.

If your school doesn’t assign summer books, take a trip to the bookstore and let their interests wander. Ask them questions as they read and ensure they’ve got a book they like! There are loads of math and reading games online you can play with your children to keep it entertaining. Summer is also a great time to help your kids put to practical use some of the lessons learned during the school year. For example, if they're old enough, get them a pre-paid debit card, or one that has limited access to an account, so they can track their allowance, saving, and spending.

5. Make a Schedule

Contact your child’s teacher for next year and ask for an outline or curriculum they have. If it’s unavailable, you can look at upgrade standards for a rough idea of what to expect. Color code and label a detailed calendar of next year’s important events such as science fairs, book reports, essays, field trips, field days, etc. Review the calendar with your child and answer any questions they may have in the coming weeks before school begins.

Visualizing the coming year can be an exciting activity for kids and helps them to transition smoothly to the next learning phase. It can also help parents remember important dates when children may need extra help with schoolwork.

6. Attend Any Orientations or Back-to-School Nights

Orientations are usually just for parents, but some schools offer students a “meet the teacher” night. This is your chance to learn everything you can about the curriculum before teachers become busy with the coming year. Asking questions and remaining attentive during back-to-school nights can save you a lot of tedious e-mail tag, and teachers a lot of trouble. In addition, orientations help parents to gain confidence in teachers by establishing a personal relationship.

7. Visit the School and Drop-off Area

This is especially important if your child is preparing to enroll in a new school or is entering pre-k for the first time. Taking a little trip to school with your child can help them visualize and prepare. It might even be possible to arrange a tour, and checking out the playground will surely get any kid excited. Take note of how far the drive is and plan your morning routine ahead of time, accounting for traffic. This can also give you an advantage in navigating school drop-off lines.

8. Begin Adjusting Your Childs Sleep Schedule

It’s reasonable to assume that your kid wasn’t waking up at 6:30-7 am every morning over the summer. The first week of school can be the most challenging for students as they adjust to waking up early.

To avoid a clunky return to class, start waking your child up early several weeks before school begins. Then, if they are frustrated or want to stay in bed, you can plan some fun outings or activities in the morning to motivate them. Don’t feel too bad if they protest. You’ll be doing them a great favor and helping them avoid napping at their desks.

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