I’ve had my share of unrealistic expectations of mothering, so I shouldn’t have been surprised that when my older son began full-day school, it was far from what I’d imagined. I expected my son’s first full day of school to be a smooth and happy experience; however, like many children, he had to transition emotionally, physically and mentally to being “on” for a whole day. He spent the first weeks—which turned into months—coming home, as we deemed it, a grumposaurus.
When I started talking to some mommy friends, I found solace in the fact that I was not alone. Here are tips to help you and your child survive the transition to full-day school:
Practice the school routine prior to school starting.
To help your child adjust, plan to shift their schedule from summer to school mode before school starts. Shares Lee Nodes, a mom from Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, who has worked as a counselor and special education teacher, says, “Routine, especially at home, is so important. We start the early-to-bed routine several days before school starts in the summer to get the kids used to it, so it isn’t a shock.”
Also adjust their lunch schedule to their school’s timing. Sarah Sheridan, a fifth-grade teacher in Rockford, Illinois, suggests, “You can contact your school to find out when your child will be eating lunch. A child who is used to eating at 11 a.m. can get hungry if their scheduled lunchtime isn’t until noon.”
Reduce morning stress on school days.
Reducing stress in the morning can help make the whole day turn out better. Be sure to lay out school clothes at night and give your kids plenty of time to eat a healthy breakfast.
Helping them with their morning routines can prevent stress too. “Give kids a pictorial checklist. You can download great pictures to match your child’s list of things to do … down to the exact backpack they will be heading off to school with,” suggests Jennifer Bailey, a teacher and autism consultant who is mom to two elementary-aged boys.
Refresh and encourage your child while they are at school.
No, you can’t attend school alongside your child, but don’t underestimate the value of a note or other reminder in their lunchbox.
Sheridan reminds parents, “For the youngest students, missing their parents can be a real concern. Family photos can be a reminder for the nonreaders that their parents will be waiting for them at the end of the day. Whether it’s a photo taped in a lunchbox or a small photo on a yarn necklace, it can be a real comfort.”
Create a home environment that allows after-school downtime and sharing.
Whether you pick them up at school or they arrive home on a bus, children coming home from full-day school will most likely be ravenous and needing to relax. Bailey’s advice to parents is simple: “No trying to ‘talk’ about [their day] until we have their basic needs met—hydrate them, snack them, rest time.”
Allow your son or daughter some time to play outside or in their rooms, before talking about their day. But then, whether during dinner or at bedtime, allow them to unload. Nodes finds with her family that “Right before bedtime is the best time to talk to them. … They seem to be an open book at that time of night.”
The first week of full-day school may be a big shock for your whole family, but be patient, as the tiredness and grumpiness may linger beyond that week. Sheridan explains, “For younger grades it takes much longer, around winter break, for students to slip into their schedule, whereas upper-elementary students take a few weeks to fall back into their routines.”
Bailey agrees. “It takes our whole family a good month to get into the groove of the school year. … Try to limit overscheduling.”
Lastly, if your efforts don’t seem to working, be flexible. Nodes concludes, “Adjust routines if needed. Are they getting enough sleep, food, et cetera? Anything else going on at school?” By keeping your patience, you will help ease the transition to full-day school for your child and, perhaps just as important, yourself!
Jessica Efird is a writer and blogger at SweetPeasandPumpkins.com. Before blogging, she worked on Capitol Hill covering education policy. She is a wife and mom to two young boys.