Excited students line up with colorful backpacks on their first day of school

Helping Young Children Transition Back to School

Young children thrive on predictable routine, but transitioning from the summertime – full of unstructured fun with family – to the school year schedule can be a little bit tricky. Here are some tips and tools for parents to use in making that transition smooth and joyful for little ones:

Establish a Goodbye! Hello! Ritual. Rituals are a wonderful way to help children through all kinds of transitions in life. Say ‘goodbye’ to summer with an end-of-summer picnic, for instance, or a splash party in the back yard with the other kids in the neighborhood. Let your child and his friends help you create a banner that bids farewell to summer. You might say ‘hello’ to the new school year by scheduling a special breakfast to celebrate the first day of school with friends in his class.

Reunion time! Beginning a couple weeks before the new school year starts, begin reminding your child that she will be seeing all of her friends again when school starts. If you know who her teacher will be, you can start talking about her new teacher and anticipating aloud all the fun things she will do this year in school.

Back on track! Be sure to return to a consistent nighttime routine and meal schedule a week before school actually starts to help reset your child’s sleep rhythms. If you’ve drifted away from healthy, regular eating times, this is a good time to get back on track. A well-rested, well-fed child will be happier and more adaptive when transitioning back to school.

Start a paper chain. Cutting out equally sized strips of construction paper about an inch wide and 6 inches long, create a link for every day. Allow your child to draw a little picture of something he loved about his day starting with the final days of summer and continuing all the way through Thanksgiving. By then you will have a long, colorful chain you can hang on the holiday tree or along the banister in celebration of fond memories.

Special reads. Start reading some special back-to-school books to your child the week before school starts. Some of my favorites are: This School Year Will be the Best!, The Berenstain Bears Go to School, Little Critter: First Day of School and The Kissing Hand.

It’s important to be sensitive to the fact that your child may feel anxiety about the change in her routine. You can ease her in by using the tools above, remembering that young children thrive on predictability and preparation.

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About the Author

Lynn Louise Wonders, MA, LPC, RPT-S is an early childhood development and parenting expert. She offers private coaching and consultation for parents throughout the U.S. She is a well-known professional in the field of play therapy, providing training, supervision and mentoring to child therapists world-wide having practiced for more than 15 years in schools, child development centers and through her private practice.