UA Matters: Preparing for a New School Year
In August, millions of children will start a new school year. New classes, new routines, new friends and new teachers are part of the excitement of the new school year, but they can also be a source of worry and stress. The University of Alabama’s Dr. Jason Scofield says parents and children can do several things over the summer to help better prepare for a worry-free, stress-free new year.
- Have children work on mentally stimulating activities throughout the summer, especially reading for younger children. Educational researchers and policy-makers sometimes refer to summer vacation as the time of “the summer slide” or “summer learning loss.” This is usually less of an issue for children who exercise their minds consistently throughout the summer months. Trips to a museum, good books, practicing an instrument or new (educational) apps can provide just the right kind of stimulation. Sessions with a tutor, a summer class or enrichment program are more formal ways to accomplish this.
- Arrange opportunities for children to socialize with their future schoolmates. The occasional afternoon at the pool, a bike ride at the park or a Saturday movie can keep school friendships fresh or even start new ones. Not surprisingly, research has linked positive social relationships with motivation, interest and grades in school.
- For children attending a school for the first time, take time to visit the school. This is good for parents (who can also feel some anxiety) and children. Walking the halls, meeting the principal, seeing the cafeteria or playing on the playground can remove some mystery from the experience and make everyone more comfortable, especially for the first day. It can be especially helpful to attend any summer tours or orientations the school might offer.
- Start (or re-start) school routines before summer ends. Find out when the school start date will be (usually between early August and Labor Day depending on where you live), and, as the school start date draws near, begin transitioning to the expected school routine (e.g., getting to bed earlier, getting up earlier).
- Allow children, particularly older children, to have a say in the style and color of their school clothes or supplies. Not only is autonomy related to self-esteem broadly, but it has also been shown to positively affect how satisfied children are with school, the quality of relationships with teachers and school adjustment in general.
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