One of the topics we always discuss in depth at this time of year are the routines, expectations and practices we use to integrate children into the classroom each fall, and to set them up to succeed with the challenging academic and social work that will unfold throughout the year. Here are a few ideas for how you can support your children’s success in school through a consistent and developmentally appropriate home environment.
Getting out the door: Establish predictable morning routines with your children. Map out the morning using visuals (graphic organizers really help!), so that they understand how much time it takes them to do each step — get dressed, use the bathroom, brush teeth and hair, eat breakfast, make their lunch, get their shoes and coats on, etc. When children are included in this process they feel ownership and responsibility for their morning tasks, adults get to do less cajoling through each step, and everyone’s morning experience improves.
Fueling up: Children can be picky eaters, but having a healthy, balanced breakfast is a huge boost to their academic success and emotional stability. Who likes being hangry? No one, and it hits children especially hard. Talk through your expectations for your child’s breakfasts, offer them limited choices that meet your expectations, and include them in your shopping trips to make sure you have what you need for their mornings.
Being on time: Being a minute or two late — or more — may not be a big deal to some adults, but many children experience being late as stressful or shameful. Coming in late can also be disruptive to the teacher and the class, and the child may have missed out on important class routines or information.
Emotional grounding: Challenging mornings happen to us all, and even the best-laid plans simply don’t pan out. When you encounter one of these mornings, remember that your child needs to be emotionally connected and secure to effectively enter the complicated world of classrooms and classmates. In these situations it’s wise to slow down, breathe together, and connect with open hearts, so that your child doesn’t carry the morning’s struggle into the rest of the day.
Downtime: We provide several breaks and other opportunities for play and movement during the day, but let’s be frank: many children are often intellectually and/or emotionally tired by the end of the school day. Enriching them with after school activities is wonderful and important, but children also need downtime when they can play, read, do art, or simply daydream. Resist the urge to overschedule your child.
Screens: It’s your house and you pay the bills, so you set the rules. That being said, we have a clear viewpoint: when it comes to free choice use of screens, less is more. The neuroscience of addiction is scary, and many children have trouble putting down a device. Computers and tablets should be used in public spaces like the dining room, not in bedrooms. And yes, you can simply say no; we got our oldest daughter a cell phone just two weeks ago, right before she began high school.
Homework: First, every child should read every night, for at least 10-20 minutes. Second, every child should help out with the work of the home — dishes, pets, laundry, etc. Third, our teachers generally follow the American Psychological Association’s recommendation of max of 10 minutes per grade per night, but sometimes a child will struggle with a particular assignment or even consistently with a specific area. If this happens, lovingly have them stop working, and email your child’s teacher to let them know and help your child problem solve.
Bedtime: Just like in the mornings, the post-dinner routine is a crucial way for your child to process and integrate their emotional and social life. As you develop your family’s evening routines, include time for talking together in a calm and intimate way, and make time to hear about the ups and downs of the day without trying to offer coaching or catastrophizing; children’s work is to off-load their feelings, and as parents, our work is to hold that space without imposing our own emotions.
The home-school partnership that exists at Gateway is one of the unique and powerful ways in which our community intentionally works to align our values and actions in support of the children. Likely you have many techniques and tips to share with our community, and we sincerely hope you make the time to connect with other parents about these and other topics. Sharing the burden and reveling in the joy of being parents is amplified in this loving community!