Prepare Your Little Ones for School with the Right Activities, Routines & Habits
Aug 17, 2017 08:16AM ● Published by Melanie Heisinger
All Summer Long
By Aly Yale
Though the start of school is still more than a month away, it’s never too early to start prepping your kids. While it may be a little premature to stock up on supplies or go back-to-school shopping, the mental and physical preparations should start long before August rolls around - at least that’s what experts say.
In fact, according to educators in the Mansfield and Kennedale ISDs, you can prepare your little ones for school all summer long with the right activities, routines and habits. But crunch time? That’s around 3 to 4 weeks before the first day of school. That’s when preparations should be 100 percent under way.
Revving Up the Routine
The first, and arguably most important, step of getting your kiddos ready for school requires implementing a routine - one that ensures they’re sleeping, waking and eating as they would during the school year.
According to Matt Herzberg, principal at Mansfield ISD’s Mary Lillard Intermediate School, that routine should include “having a good night’s sleep, waking up early and having a good breakfast. Everyone wants to unwind at the beginning of the summer, which usually leads to later nights and later mornings,” says Herzberg. “As summer comes to a close, it’s helpful to get students back on a schedule and routine so they are ready for school to start. The biggest mistake would be not preparing students with a schedule and routine as school draws near.”
Katina Martinez, principal at Kennedale ISD’s Delaney Elementary School, warns parents not to let their kids stay up - or sleep in - too late. “When kids have extremely inconsistent sleeping habits during the summer,” says Martinez, “then the body has a really hard time making the physical adjustment.”
All in all, kids need about 8 to 10 hours of sleep a night, she says. Martinez instructs parents to: “Make sure they get plenty of rest, eat as healthy as you can get them to and try to keep consistent wake-up and bedtime times.”
To make things easier, parents can start implementing a school-like sleep routine gradually, says Gina Rietfors, principal at Cross Timbers Intermediate School in Mansfield ISD. “Begin setting the alarm clock earlier each day, so kids can gradually adjust their biological clocks for school,” says Rietfors. “Spend the mornings and evenings each day that week going through the usual school day routines.”
Ideally, parents should start doing this a month or so before school starts. Though according to Jennifer Powers, principal at Wester Middle School, bedtime routines should really vary by age group. “Do not wait until the night before school to start getting to bed earlier or starting a bedtime routine,” warns Powers. “Younger children need a bedtime routine, especially during the school year. Start that a few weeks before school starts so that routine is in place. With older students, parents may want to make sure they are getting to bed a bit earlier toward the end of summer. Definitely do not wait until school starts or the first few days will be long, tired days for your student.”
But it’s not just sleeping habits that are important in gearing up for school. Healthy eating - particularly at breakfast time - is also crucial to prime school performance. “Be sure the student is having a healthy breakfast,” says Michelle Smith, lead counselor at Ben Barber Innovation Academy/Frontier High School. “This can improve memory and increase energy.”
In the end, says Rietfors, it’s all about remembering kids are still developing - and they need that healthy sleep and nutrition to succeed. “Don’t lose a routine,” she says. “Kids need and thrive on structure, in and out of school. While a summer routine will differ from a school year routine, it is important to maintain consistent bedtimes and nutrition schedules. Summer is a time to enjoy long days with family and friends; so staying up late is okay on occasion. But I recommend not making it a habit. Children are still developing all the way through high school and need sufficient sleep and nutrition to flourish.”
Staying on Point
Most parents want to see their kids succeed academically in school. And while enrolling them in SAT prep courses or forcing them to study next year’s textbook could certainly do that, most local educators say that’s not totally necessary. In fact, if parents can get their kids to do just one simple thing during summer, they’ll be well ahead of the game: Read.
Across the board, educators from all grade levels, schools and ISDs agree: reading is the single best thing a child can do during the summer. “The most important thing that a parent can do is to encourage their students to read,” says Karen Anthony, English teacher at Frontier High School. “The outcome for school success is directly tied to students who enjoy reading and read frequently.”
Students don’t even have to read scholarly novels or books off their class reading lists. They can simply read what they enjoy. “Reading for enjoyment is as important as reading for an assignment,” says Anthony.
According to Cross, kids can even read magazines if that’s what they enjoy most. Whatever it is, it will still help expand their mind, give them an edge for testing and build their vocabulary.
Martinez agrees. “Any kind of book is a good book,” she says. “Just have students reading. Even if it is an easy book, students will benefit from the practice of reading.” She tells parents to, “Visit the public library often. Question your students about what they read.”
Powers suggests parents read to their kids, which she says “is not only preparing them cognitively but is also a great way to spend time together.”
According to Rietfors, even seeing their parents read on their own can have a positive impact. “Parents should encourage reading in the home by having time set aside daily for reading,” she says. “Kids should see their parents reading, parents should read aloud to their kids (at all ages) and kids should have quiet time to read books (even if just looking at pictures) independently. Having a variety of reading material available helps promote a love of reading where kids can choose among their own interests.”
Educators also suggest flash cards, educational websites, taking educational day trips to libraries and historical spots and even simply talking with your kids as other worthwhile summer activities.
“There is so much value in having daily conversations with children,” says Powers. “They get to hear a good model of appropriate speech and are also exposed to many different vocabulary words.”
The Great Outdoors
Amidst all the reading and school prepping, it’s still important that kids get a little fun in the sun once in a while. “Summer is the time for kids to get out and move,” says Martinez. “Even if it is hot outside, kids can still be participating in kinesthetic activities inside.”
Rietfors reiterates the “move, move, move” sentiment. “A big mistake is letting students stay indoors too much where they might be watching TV, getting on the computer, playing video games or accessing their smartphones/tablets,” she says. “Brain research indicates that physical activity improves brain function and cognitive performance. The more physical activity a child receives, the more ready they will be to learn.”
Thankfully, Mansfield is full of resources for these physical activities. “Take advantage of the many parks that Mansfield has to offer,” says Rietfors. “Going on nature walks with your children is a great way to learn as you ask them questions about what they see and hear in nature. It also provides that physical activity that improves brain function.”
In the end, once routines and good reading habits have been instilled, the best thing a parent can do is simply this: Remember that kids will be kids. “Let them play,” says Herzberg. “Keep them active and eating healthy. This will go a long way in keeping them physically prepared for school.”
Martinez says kids should “run and play. Use their imagination. Play some board games. The one activity that I would recommend is playing outside with friends,” she says. “Kids need to learn to use their imaginations more, because this, in turn, helps with all other areas of socialization and learning.”
As Powers puts it, “Summer break should be filled with fun - and kids need that.”
All in the Attitude
In the end, all the preparations and routines won’t make a difference - not as long as parents seem disinterested. Parents can make a big impact on their childrens’ perception of school just by having a good attitude about it. “Parents can help by being excited and positive about the new school year,” says Powers. “Enthusiasm is contagious!”
Rietfors agrees, saying we need to get rid of the negative connotation of going back to school. “Having a negative outlook on the end of summer,” she says, “will have a negative impact on children being ready to come back to school.”
But that positive parent influence shouldn’t end when summer wraps up. According to Stephanie Vetere, assistant principal at Coble Middle School, parent engagement is key throughout the entire school year. “Plan a certain time each week to check in with the student on their grades and social situations at school, as a family,” she says. “Be involved - as a parent, not a friend.”
The Set-up for Success
Though ultimately it’s the child who controls their own successes in school, local educators say parents can do much to improve outcomes and help their kids along the way. Encouraging a healthy, active, reading-filled summer and a positive attitude toward learning? That’s number one.