Though much of the country has already had their first day of the school year, some school districts still don’t start until the day after Labor Day. But whether your kids have already started or will start soon, it’s never too late to make an effort to make back-to-school time fun for your geeklings of all ages.
1. Lunch fun. If you pack your kids’ lunches, begin including notes, puzzles, drawings, or other fun things in their lunch bags. This reminds them that you are thinking of them, and gives you the opportunity to brighten their day with mazes, quotes from their favorite movies, drawings of favorite or made-up characters, or just a note saying you love them. Change it up each day, so they aren’t sure what to expect, but keep it discreet in case they want to be adored by you privately. If your kids don’t bring their own lunch, this can be accomplished by including something in their school bag instead, perhaps in a special pocket they will know to look in.
2. Game night. It’s always important to set aside time during the week to focus on your kids without distractions. But, during the school year, it’s even more crucial to stay connected with them, and to have personal time that doesn’t involve chores or homework. Take a couple of hours, one night per week, and play some games. Have your kids take turns choosing, but have everyone play together. Emphasize communication, good sportsmanship, and paying attention to gameplay. Whining is not allowed. Most kids can easily learn to be happy for a sibling who beat them in a game. “Good game!” Using that phrase goes a long way, regardless of who won.
3. Food surprises. If you do send a lunch with your kids, show them that they are worth going the extra mile for by packing healthy but tasty food. Include their favorite fruits and vegetables, healthy protein options, and maybe a special small dessert treat that is their favorite. Make an extra effort for those Monday lunches, especially. If you have time, consider arranging their lunch in Bento boxes. There are plenty of books and accessories which give step-by-step directions and copious amounts of inspiration. Not everyone has time to make a masterpiece each day, but even attractively presented food in little compartments is always fun to eat, no matter how old your kids are.
4. Personal identity. It’s important for kids to be able to express themselves, showing off their individual tastes. Help your kids personalize their backpack, notebooks, jackets, or any item they choose, either by finding items that already reflect their personality (e.g., my Trapper Keeper with kittens on it from elementary school), or by accessorizing. Find stickers, badges, charms, and more that help your kids show off their love for Minecraft, Hello Kitty, astronomy, ancient Greece, Star Wars, or whatever is their interest these days. Or, if they prefer to keep it private, you could help them personalize their bedroom door, or a wall in their room. Be sure to check in with them at least once per quarter to see if they want to change up their self-expression.
5. Clothes. If your kids go to a school that doesn’t require uniforms, have at least one outfit for each kid that they feel really good about wearing. It can have characters they love, or be a style that is their favorite. But it always helps a kid’s confidence to go to school wearing something that they know looks good on them or that makes them feel warm and fuzzy inside. This is especially important for 7th grade and upward. And even if your kids do wear uniforms, usually personal accessories are allowed, and are a great way to express personal style. Hair scrunchies, school bags, or even superhero underwear can make kids feel more themselves.
6. Communicate. Each day when they get home from school, talk to your kids, one-on-one, with no interruptions. No phone, no television, no other kids. See how their day went, and learn about joys, struggles, and events that happened. Don’t grill them, but ask a question or two, and then let them talk. Hear what they say, and see how they are adjusting to the new year, socially and otherwise. It’s a good idea to do this every day throughout the school year, but it’s especially important now.
7. Anticipate fun events. The beginning of the school year is very close to some big holidays and events, so get excited for them as a family. Halloween, Thanksgiving, and whichever winter holidays you celebrate are mere months away. Start discussing plans, planning costumes, decorating the house, and participating in events related to the holidays. These are enjoyable traditions to experience as a family.
8. Plan special time with a friend. For the first or second weekend after your kids go back to school, arrange a sleepover or other fun activity for each kid with one of their favorite friends. That way your kids have something to look forward to, even if they are having a hard time with the transition back to school. If you want to aim higher, host a party for several of your kids’ friends, like a birthday party but without presents or one person being the focus. You could also arrange for a group outing, such as paintball or a trampoline room party.
9. Weekend movie marathon. One weekend, early in the school year, plan a weekend movie marathon, covering all of the Star Wars movies, the Back to the Future series, Rogers and Hammerstein films, or The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. Or just have each kid pick out a couple of movies, and watch them all together as a family. (Though if you have a large family, you may want to break this up over two or more weekends.) Make sure everyone has a comfortable place to sit or curl up, and make popcorn and have special drinks.
What are your favorite ways to make the transition back to school easier for your kids?