As soon as school ends for the year, it’s nearly time to start planning for the next one. Single-parent households may face some special challenges when it’s time to go back to school, especially after a recent divorce, move, or any difference in lifestyle that changes a previously established routine.
Whenever possible, try to make decisions with your ex-spouse in shared custody arrangements in order to maintain consistency with your kids’ rules and routines at both homes during the school year. A consistent schedule and set of rules leads to better sleep, better study habits, and better performance at school.
If your kids are living in a new home or school district following a recent divorce, it can take even more time to get back into a school-year routine, but planning in advance can help minimize the transition. And if your kids attend year-round school, you can still use these tips and ideas to help transition them back to school after quarterly breaks.
1. Start establishing an earlier bedtime 2 to 3 weeks before the first day of school. Many kids stay up later and sleep in later during summertime, but it can become a problem when they suddenly have to go to bed and wake up significantly earlier. Kids may not be able to fall asleep before the bedtime they’ve become accustomed to, and if they’ve been making up for it by sleeping in, a child who doesn’t transition to an earlier bedtime could lose four or more hours of sleep the night before school starts. A few weeks before the first day of school, start getting the kids to bed 5 to 10 minutes earlier each night to create a smoother transition to an earlier sleep time, and wake them up a little bit earlier each morning as well.
2. Establish school-year rules in advance. Prep your kids for the school year by establishing rules before it begins. Rules will be different for every family and household, but your kids will understand what’s expected of them during the school year if you clearly communicate rules to them in advance. In addition to establishing bedtimes, you may want to establish homework hours, a morning routine that gives everyone the time they need to get ready, and other expectations such as details surrounding their after-school activities and responsibilities.
3. Create a study spot at home. An established workspace with minimal distractions leads to better study habits and school performance, as does establishing regular study hours each afternoon or evening. Most school-aged children will bring home some kind of homework assignment, and pre-school aged children can begin forming good study habits by reading books, practicing numbers and letters, and doing art projects or other educational/development activities. A regular study time before or after dinner can also help busy parents prepare dinner and do other housework while the kids are occupied.
4. Go school supply shopping before and after the first day of school. Schools often send school supply lists out in advance and expect kids to have all their supplies with them on the first day of school. But more often than not, there’s an additional list of items specific to each classroom that comes home on the first day of school. Purchase some school supplies in advance so kids have what they need the first week, but plan to shop in two rounds in order to cover all your bases.
5. Sale shop for back-to-school clothing. Stores stock fall clothing and advertise back-to-school sales as early as July, but it doesn’t cool down enough to wear them until October, when the stores are stocking winter clothing and putting fall items on sale. By waiting until the seasons are changing, you can save a ton on money on back-to-school clothes.
6. Plan or enroll in after-school activities over the summer. Where will your kids go after school if you’re not at home to meet them? There are a variety of options for after-school activities for kids with working parents, ranging from nannies and daycare to afterschool classes, activities, and sports programs. These programs are in demand and can fill up fast, so it’s best to start researching your options and make a decision well before the school year begins.
7. Create a healthy lunch meal plan. With more communities concerned about healthy eating habits, hot lunch options may now include whole foods and even produce grown by the kids in a classroom garden plot. Hot lunch is a major convenience for working parents, but it can also be a financial burden for many families. If school lunches don’t work for your family, come up with an alternative before the school year arrives, and work together with your kids to put together a shopping list that makes it both easy and affordable to pack a healthy lunch each day.
8. Attend advance parent-teacher conferences. Many schools host a parent-teacher meet and greet the week before school begins, so both students and parents can meet their teachers in advance. This is a great opportunity for parents to address general concerns, special issues their child may have, or to just help better prepare for the school year. It’s definitely worth going!