Over the next few weeks, K-12 students across Alabama will return to the classroom.
To help ensure students have a productive start to the school year, faculty members from The University of Alabama College of Education — Dr. Cailin Kerch, Dr. Lori Bruner and Dr. Alison Hooper — offer these tips for parents.
- Prioritize sleep: Getting enough sleep is critical for children to be successful in school. A lack of sleep makes it difficult for children to concentrate on learning activities and can lead to mood swings and trouble regulating emotions. Find out how many hours your child should be sleeping according to their age, and then gradually adjust their bedtime by 10 to 15 minutes each night to ensure they are still getting enough sleep to contend with earlier mornings.
- Plan ahead: Work together with your child to determine what needs to be done for the following day. Before bed, pack lunches, lay out clothes, charge devices and fill backpacks. Many families find it useful to have a designated space where everything is kept for the next day.
- Establish a bedtime routine: A predictable bedtime routine gives your child a sense of security and teaches them how to wind down and fall asleep on their own. Involve your child in creating a routine before bedtime, such as taking a bath, having a small snack, brushing teeth and reading a story together.
- Create a morning routine: Like bedtime routines, a morning routine can give your child a sense of security and lead to greater confidence to tackle the day. Determine what time your child needs to leave for school or to catch the bus, and work backward to figure out how much time they need to get ready. During the first few days of school, start mornings 15-20 minutes earlier than needed.
- Encourage independence: Encouraging independence promotes confidence, fosters self-reliance, and gives your child a sense of importance and belonging. For young children, involve them in creating a step-by-step picture chart to help them remember what they need to accomplish at different points in the day. Posting a chart with pictures by the front door might help children remember all the items they need for school.
- Visit school: Drive by your child’s school and visit their classroom during an open house event. Talk to your child about how fun the playground looks, or ask them to reminisce about their prior year at the school.
- Talk about feelings: Ask your child how they are feeling about the new school year. Be open and accepting of all answers. You may need to describe some emotion words like excited, nervous, happy or scared. Describe your feelings about school starting too. Connect with your child and show them you are a safe space no matter how your child feels about school beginning. Check in on your child’s feelings every day for the first few weeks.
- Manage feelings: If your child is nervous or anxious about going back to school, offer some suggestions on how they can deal with those emotions like taking deep breaths, taking a break to do an activity they enjoy, or breaking challenges into smaller steps. Share some of the strategies you use to combat anxiety with your child.
- Make time to connect: Make an effort to find at least five to 10 minutes each night to connect with each child. For younger children, take time to play with them or just watch them as they play. For older children, take time to talk with them about their day. It’s best to put down the phone and connect with your child distraction-free. Try this before school starts and do it as often as possible during the school year.