Back to school season is upon us. And while the start of a new school year always comes with a combination of trepidation, excitement, and nervousness, this one brings a good deal more. Because of course it does. The majority of kids spent the past year plus logging into remote school. Many young children who were about to start school didn’t get the chance to; those who had just started school were pulled away before they could become comfortable with it. Then there’s the fact that COVID is still alive and well and so masks and other such measures will be present.
All of this and more means that kids will need some more support as they strap on their backpacks. That’s why we assembled this list of small nice things to do for kids going back to school. There’s no particular order here. Some are practical (Get routines squared away!) others are nice just because (Go big on breakfast their first week back!); all, we hope, will help make the transition to school a little bit better for everyone.
Run through your back-to-school routine. Schedules can be hard for little kids to adjust to, especially if they’re a part of other, large-scale changes. Practice the routine — waking up, getting dressed, eating breakfast, going to school — at least a few times before the first day so that it’s not a surprise when the big day arrives.
Breakfast. Dinner. After-school activities. Plan as much as you can plan the first week and walk them through it. There will be plenty of unanticipated moments, so help them control the rest.
Bring up how much you loved learning geography. Talk about all the fun new games they’re going to learn and all the new friends they’ll meet. Mention how jealous you are of all the cool books and stories they’ll read in class. Just try to amp them up for the experience. Your excitement will get them excited.
Start a first day of school countdown. This could be an art project they add to every day or simply a calendar that they mark days with a big X. Anticipation for an important milestone helps keep everyone grounded.
Help them prep some fun facts or talking points about themselves if they’re nervous about speaking up.
If they’re feeling nervous, help them learn to handle the feeling by teaching them a coping mechanism. Maybe it’s silently counting to five. Maybe it’s taking a few deep breaths. Maybe it’s thinking, “That’s not true!” when they are confronted with intrusive thoughts.
Glittery? Feathered? Mechanical? Whatever. Get them psyched about selecting their favorite pens, pencils, and supplies. When pumped about tools, they’ll be more excited to put them to use.
Create a wish jar. Ask your kids to write down their hopes for the coming school year and place them inside. You do the same. Agree that at the end of the year you’ll open the jar to review them.
Start a night before-the-first-day ritual. This will solidify that school year is starting and make clear that it’s an occasion to mark. Maybe you get together and talk about what the kids are most excited about, what they’re least excited about, and what they’re curious about. Maybe it’s that you all go out to dinner and discuss the year ahead. But do something.
For the first day back, make your kid the lunch of his or her dreams. Seven-layer nachos? Sure. This is fun but it’s also important to remember that lunch is not what it used to be. Many kids mostly eat in the classroom now, to avoid large crowds, and might not get to hang out with their friends.
Get your kid a cool, funky lunch box. Or just something to make the above a bit more special.
Because many schools and districts have mask mandates in place, let your kids stand out in other ways. Let them get purple highlights or hot pink streaks in their hair, for example. Or help them customize a cool pair of shoes.
With their assistance, set up a designated homework nook in your house — one that’s comfortable and free of distractions so they are ready to get down to business.
Read a few children’s books that cover such topics as nervousness, diversity, the joys of school, and being new. Some great choices are The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson and Rafael Lopez, The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi, We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T Higgins, and Be Big! Beatrice’s First Day of First Grade by Kate Kizer.
Get your kid a piece of jewelry — a necklace or bracelet or charm they wear — and get a matching one for yourself. Tell them that whenever you’re thinking about them, they’ll be able to feel it (and vice versa).
Be five minutes early for drop-off and pick up. It really does make their world so much less anxious.
Ice cream after school every day this week. Or milk and cookies. Or whatever it is they love. Go ahead and do it. Times have been weird and school will be weird. A great snack takes the edge off.
If you’re able, take time off work the first week of school. In other words? Get your shit together so that you can be there for them.
Pancakes! French toast! Scrambled Eggs! Prepare a fun breakfast every morning during the first week.
Put something on the calendar that they can look forward to. Family movie night. Nacho night. A sleepover with a friend (if that’s safe to do!). Maybe a weekend museum trip.
Set up an outdoor playdate so the kids in class can get to know each other or just remember one another. Kids who have been isolated for the past 18 months or so can get acclimated to being around larger groups.
Buy them their favorite candy and give it to them after their first day of school.
Take them for a pre-drop-off treat. Maybe a donut. Maybe an early morning at the park. Just do something to help them take the edge off.
Put notes in their backpack to let them know you’re thinking of them. Include more than just sentiment. Think: A funny joke, a brainteaser, or instructions for how to draw something cool.
Driving your kids to their first day? Pick out a fun song to listen to in the car.
Just be there for them as much as possible. Things have been strange and uncertainty still looms. Your support — and consistency — are crucial.