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Goodbye Summer, Hello Fall: 5 Tips to Transition Back to School

For many families, this school year will serve as a fresh start. Whether your child is attending school for the very first time or returning to in-person learning experiences, it’s important to consider the emotional impact of new beginnings. The tips below will support the entire family as you navigate this transition together. 

5 Tips to Transition Back to School

Gather for a family “Picture Night” to reflect on the summer experiences you’ve shared.

Reflecting on shared experiences during times of transition allows the entire family to acknowledge endings and beginnings, which are repeated throughout our children’s lives. As a preschool teacher, whenever my three-year-old students completed a unit of study, I encouraged them to reflect on all that they had learned by asking, “How should we celebrate the end of our study? Now that you’re experts on this topic, who would you like to share this information with? How?” My all-time favorite culminating experience was when my students travelled to neighboring classrooms with our composting worms in tow, fielding questions about these fascinating creatures and leading a hands-on “Worm Time”.

Now, with my own children, I mark the end of each season and school year with some sort of culminating experience. Together, we reflect on the adventures we’ve shared, what we’ve learned, and how we’ve grown. Earlier this summer, I shared that my family gathers every Friday evening for a “Picture Night to reflect on all that we’ve experienced throughout the week. My son suggested that, before heading back to school, we plan an “extra special” Picture Night, where we look at photos from the entire summer. If Picture Nights aren’t your thing, chat with your child about what they liked most about the past few months and brainstorm ways to “say goodbye to summer”. If your child recently learned how to ride a bike, you can invite someone special to join your family on a celebratory bike ride. Or maybe your child discovered a new favorite food and you can plan an end-of-summer dinner party for some neighborhood friends!  

Introduce one new family ritual that revolves around play, mindfulness, or both!

Whether you start the day with some mindful movement or gather for an evening block session, try committing to one new family ritual. Challenge yourself to dedicate at least 10 minutes per day to this shared experience for the first month of school. One month in, you can check in with your partner or children. Is this family ritual serving everyone well? Maybe you’re ready to try a new way of connecting on a daily basis! 

Encourage each family member to set 3 specific goals for the coming school year.

When introducing goal-setting to younger children, try sharing a personal goal, as well as one goal that you have for your family this year. You can begin by explaining, “A goal can be something you’d like to do differently this year or something new you’d like to learn. This year, I’d like to run a half-marathon. I hope my training helps me feel strong and confident on race day! One goal I have for our family is that we will explore one new hiking trail together every month.” Depending on your child’s age and developmental stage, you might gather as a family to discuss your individual goals, illustrate/write your goals to display in a communal space, or encourage each family member to journal privately.  

Help your child visualize what the start of school will look like.

Children are constantly looking to us for information, especially when it comes to new people and places. 

Can I trust these new teachers? Will I have fun at my new school? If my school closes for COVID cases, will I return to remote learning?

Be sure to address anything that your child might consider “different” about this school year, such as mask-wearing policies. Show your child that you’re comfortable discussing back-to-school details by asking, “Do you have any questions about what school will be like?” If you don’t have the answer that your child is seeking, investigate together! “Hmm… I’m not sure if your class will have outdoor time with Parker’s class this year. Last year, every classroom had their own, separate outdoor time. Let’s ask your teacher when we visit your classroom next week.”   

Engage in honest, age-appropriate conversations about how everyone is feeling right now.

If your child expresses fear or anxiety about heading back to school, acknowledge your child’s feelings, without trying to “fix” (or rush through) the tough stuff. This often means talking less and listening more.

It’s also important to show your child that it’s possible to feel two (or more!) very different emotions at the exact same time. Be honest with your child about the mix of emotions you’re experiencing, rather than plastering a smile on your face and focusing solely on the positive. 

When sharing your own conflicting feelings, try replacing the word BUT with AND: 

Instead of saying, “I’m sad that summer is coming to an end, BUT I’m excited for you to attend school in-person this fall.”

Try saying, “I’m sad that summer is coming to an end AND I’m excited for you to attend school in-person this fall.”

BUT rushes and/or diminishes uncomfortable feelings. 
AND acknowledges the complexity of mixed emotions.

When this simple language shift becomes a family habit, children learn to identify their feelings without judging them.

For more language support, be sure to check out our Guide to Positive Language Strategies and our Positive Language Webinar Series.

Be sure to check out the earlier articles in our Camp Mama series for playful tips to support your family this summer and beyond: 

5 Playful Tips for Your Family’s Next Adventure

5 Ways to Strengthen the Bond Between Siblings

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