Back to school: Helping your child prepare to learn

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Shelly Reese

The dog days of summer are waning.

For students – and their parents – that means returning to the schedule and structure of school year routines.

What can you do to help prime your child’s brain for a successful return to school? Dr. Meghan Markovich, a pediatrician with St. Elizabeth Physicians, offers these tips:

1. Practice your routine.

Chances are your summer schedule is vastly different from your school year drill. Take a couple weeks to inch your way back to your routine sleep and wake patterns. If your kids have gotten accustomed to lounging in their jammies all morning, this is a good time to relearn the habit of waking to an alarm and getting dressed. These practices may seem like a late summer killjoy, but they will reduce some back-to-school stress and help ensure your child is well-rested when the first bell rings.


2. Reduce uncertainty.

Uncertainty is stressful for kids. Encourage them to talk about their worries and do what you can to reduce uncertainty. Many schools offer children a chance to meet their teachers, visit their classrooms or pick up their schedules before school begins. If your child is nervous about returning to school, take advantage of these opportunities. If she hasn’t seen her school buddies much over the summer, invite a few over for an end-of-summer get together. Reintroducing familiar faces will help her feel more comfortable and excited for the coming year.


3. Food for fuel.

Nutrition has a huge impact on brain function both in the immediate term and over the course of an individual’s life. Sadly, popsicles are not brain food. If your family’s dietary habits have slipped a little over the summer, now’s a good time to get back on the nutritional bandwagon. That’s especially true when it comes to breakfast.

“When a child skips breakfast they don’t have any fuel in their tank. When they start the day with a donut or sugary cereal, their blood sugar will spike, then fall, leaving them with less energy.  A nutritious breakfast has been shown to improve concentration and even behavior in school,” Markovich says. “A healthy breakfast consisting of fresh fruits, whole grains, and lean protein – such as a glass of skim milk or a boiled egg – will give them the energy they need to carry them through to lunch time.”

Psst … Check out these quick breakfast recipes for the morning rush.


4. Respect your child’s individuality.

Going back to school can trigger a range of sometimes contradictory emotions in a child and different children will respond to the situation in varying ways. Watch your child’s signals. Your diligent daughter may head straight to her desk ready to jump into her homework, but your fidgety son may need some run-around time in the backyard first as well as a little kitchen-table supervision while he does his homework, especially at the beginning of the year. “What works best for one child doesn’t necessarily suit another. Try to help your child develop the work habits that best suit his or her age and personality.”


5. Get plenty of sleep.

Back to school can be physically and emotionally draining. Try to make sure the whole family is getting enough sleep.


Above all, be patient with your kids and yourself. No matter how much you prepare, something is likely to go awry: a lunch forgotten, a form lost, a deadline missed. Roll with it. “Back to school doesn’t last forever,” Markovich says. “Getting into a routine early will help everyone, and winter vacation will be here before you know it.”

Want more? Take our quiz to see if you’re really ready for the first day.

Back to school: Helping your child prepare to learn