How to Transition from Summer Break to the First Days of School

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The first day of school is right around the corner! Students aren’t the only one who feel jitters during back to school season. Teachers and parents alike both anticipate and dread the end of summer break. If this is you, you’re not alone.

These weeks leading up to and following a student’s return to school, however, can shape the rest of their academic year. If you make a back to school game plan in advance, you can help your classroom run smoothly and your students adjust to school life.

So, how do you make the most of the first days of school? Check out these tips for starting off the school year right, including how to prepare for the first day with students and plan the perfect back to school night.

How Can Teachers Prepare to Go Back to School?

For teachers, preparation is key to a successful first day of school. It can be tempting to relax as much as you can before the hustle and bustle of the school year begins. But you’ll thank yourself later if you plan ahead. Try to organize your classroom—and your first day of school lesson plans—at least a few weeks in advance to avoid procrastinating.

But that doesn’t mean you need to throw yourself into your job and push your own needs aside. Stress can take a toll on teachers, especially during the first weeks of school when parents and students are adjusting, too. To relieve stress and avoid teacher burnout, plan at least one self-care activity in your routine every day.[5] If you can practice self-care before the school year begins, chances are you’ll be able to make it a habit once the school year tightens your schedule.

First, don’t wait for back to school night to contact parents. The Internet and online communication can be one of the most effective ways to inform and build relationships with your students’ families.[8] Send an email or text within the days leading up to school so that you have at least some connection before you meet them.[9] If you don’t yet have parent contact information, make sure to collect it during your back to school night.

How Can Parents Help Children Prepare to Go Back to School?

For parents, as for teachers, preparation can go a long way. Parents, work with your children during the last weeks of summer break to gather everything they’ll need for a positive return to school.

A few essential questions to put on your back to school checklist include:

  • Have I asked my child’s new teacher for a school supplies list and prepared as much as we can?
  • Have I taken steps to help my child start the school year healthy, like limiting non-educational screen time, spending time outside, or keeping
  • immunizations up to date? [4]
  • Does my child have a backpack that fits them comfortably and won’t cause too much back strain? [1]
  • Have we practiced the route to school or to the bus stop to help my child be on time every day? [6]
  • Does my child have any concerns about the first day of school, and have we discussed possible solutions?

For students attending school for the first time, transitioning from home life to a busier school environment can take some time. Parents, you can help by planning playdates with similarly aged children before they start school.[3] That way, they’ll feel less shy or overwhelmed once they’re spending much of their week in a classroom

Making the Most of Back to School Night

Back to school night is an opportunity for parents to get to know their child’s new teacher and also learn how they can best support their child during the year. Family engagement can improve your classroom community and academic achievement.[10] Finding ways to encourage positive communication between parents and teachers should be a focus for any back to school event.

Try to make your back to school event light and fun to promote a friendly atmosphere. A few back to school night ideas to encourage this could include classroom tours, get-to-know-you games, or samples of lessons your students will learn during the school year. Depending on how you school’s event is set up, it’s possible many families will be coming in and out throughout the night, so choose events that are easy for parents to join or leave.

After you get to know new parents, ask them how they’d prefer to be updated on school events. Some might prefer a newsletter email, for example, while others might find texts helpful. You may even want to start a Facebook group or Twitter account for parents. If you can figure out how to reach the majority of parents early in the school year, you’re more likely to promote long-term parent engagement.

Parents, don’t be afraid to ask questions! Teachers put back to school nights together to help you feel comfortable in class. They want to know any questions or concerns you have so they can better address them. Additionally, feel free to ask how you can get involved with school events. Many teachers are happy to have families in class and often appreciate the help.

What to Establish During the First Weeks of School

Routines

Students thrive best when they have a routine, so work to establish your classroom routine early on in the school year.[7] You could, for example, schedule math and reading lessons during the same time each day or plan a recurring activity for your students (like freewriting or a class read-aloud) every morning. Additionally, try to go over your classroom rules on the first day of school so students know what is expected of them.[13]

Relationships

One of the most common predictors of difficulties for students in transitioning back to school life is a lack of friends.[2] During the first week of school, try to focus on helping students make and build relationships with their peers. Back to school crafts, get to know you activities, and team building exercises are all great ways to encourage a friendly classroom environment.

For example, icebreaker questions such as these can help students bond during the first day of school:

  • If you were an animal, what animal would you be?
  • Do you play any sports or instruments?
  • What do you want to be when you grow up?
  • If you could have one superpower, which one would you choose?
  • Who is your biggest hero or role model?

Social-emotional learning

Teaching social-emotional skills early on can make a big difference both for individual students and in your classroom as a whole. Students who receive social-emotional lessons in class make significant gains in conversational skills, behavior, and even academic performance.[15] While putting together your lesson plans, try to include a few activities on the first days of school that focus on social-emotional development.

Need a simple way to encourage social-emotional development? Use these first day of school read-aloud books that teach social skills with your elementary students:

  • David Goes to School by David Shannon
  • The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi
  • Miss Nelson is Missing! by Harry Allard
  • First Day Jitters by Julia Danneberg
  • The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn, Ruth E. Harper, and Nancy M. Leak

5 Quick Teacher Tips for Transitioning Back to School

Getting ready for school after a long summer break can be intimidating. But if you take steps now to gather ideas and activities for the back to school season, you can finish the last days of summer break with peace of mind.

Keep these five short tips in mind to most of those first weeks:

  • Organize and decorate your classroom as soon as possible. That way, you won’t have to scramble to get everything prepared in the days before school starts.
  • Family engagement is crucial for providing students with the support they need. Try to get to know and communicate with parents by the first day of school.
  • Teacher burnout can sneak up on anyone, especially during back to school season. Avoid overworking yourself and make time for self-care every day.[14]
  • You can do your part to prevent school bullying from day one. Model kind behavior for your students and include social-emotional learning in your class curriculum.[12]
  • The first week of school can be overwhelming for students. Keep your lessons simple while students transition from summer to school routines.

Sources:

1. Weir, E. Avoiding the back-to-school backache. Canadian Medical Association Journal, September 2002, 167(6), pp. 669.

2. Peters, S. “I Didn’t Expect That I Would Get Tons of Friends More Each Day”: Children’s experiences of friendship during the transition to school. Early Years: An International Research Journal, 2003, 23(1), pp. 45-53.

3. NSW Department of Education. Getting Ready for School. Retrieved from nsw.gov.au: https://education.nsw.gov.au/public-schools/going-to-a-public-school/media/documents/getting-ready-for-school.pdf.

4. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Parent Tips: Healthy Back to School Habits. Retrieved from nhlbi.nih.gov: :https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/wecan/downloads/tip-back-to-school.pdf.

5. Kyriacou, C. Teacher Stress: Directions for future research. Educational Review, 2001, 53(1), pp. 27-35.

6. O’Brien, L. How to Get Good Grades in Ten Easy Steps. Retrieved from boyd.k12.ky.us: http://www.boyd.k12.ky.us/userfiles/321/Classes/23862/HowtoGetGoodGrades.pdf.

7. Gill, K. 7 Back-to-School Health Tips. Retrieved from healthline.com: https://www.healthline.com/health/back-to-school-health#nutrition.

8. Minero, E. Parent Engagement in the Digital Age. Retrieved from edutopia.org: https://www.edutopia.org/article/parent-engagement-digital-age.

9. Concordia University Portland Room 241 Team. Foolproof Strategies for New Teachers: Prepare, Organize and Engage. Retrieved from education.cu-portland.edu: https://education.cu-portland.edu/blog/classroom-resources/three-foolproof-strategies-for-new-teachers/.

10. Keller, B. Schools Seek to Channel Parent Involvement. Education Digest, September 2008, 74(1). pp. 11-15.

11. Hernandez, S., and Leung, B.P. Using the Internet to Boost Parent-Teacher Relationships. Kappa Delta Pi Record, 2004, 40(3), pp. 136-138.

12. McClure, L. 5 Back-to-School Tips for Teachers and Parents. Retrieved from blog.ed.ted.com: http://blog.ed.ted.com/2016/09/15/5-back-to-school-tips-for-teachers-and-parents/.

13. Nast, P. Establishing Classroom Rules. Retrieved from nea.org: http://www.nea.org/tools/establishing-classroom-rules.html.

14. Kriegel, O. How to Nail the First Week of School: Tips for a New Teacher. Retrieved from wgu.edu: https://www.wgu.edu/heyteach/article/how-to-nail-the-first-week-of-school-tips-for-a-new-teacher1808.html.

15. Durlak, J.A., Weissberg, R.P, Dymnicki, A.B., Taylor, R.D., and Schellinger, K.B. The Impact of Enhancing Students’ Social and Emotional Learning: A Meta-Analysis of School-Based Universal Interventions. Child Development, 82(1), January/February 2011, pp. 405-432.

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