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Finding the Best Family Routine for a New School year

Posted by Brooke McLeod on September 3, 2021 at 2:05 PM


Labor Day weekend is upon us. It has long been described as the Sunday night of summer. It marks the season of change, with fall and a new school year on the horizon.

Brooke and familyThis time of the year reminds me of the summer grass. Some days dry and tired from the sun, unsure which is best: water or shade, likely both. Rest surely required, but sometimes not found. The reverberating laughter of the summer days well lived is still heard, and while days are reminiscent of the family van clad with the turtle top, there is a new quiet that enters and competes for loudest sound: catalogs with backpacks and sports apparel, new-fangled lunch accessories, latest trends and all the reminders of the outside world with hints of shiny, new schedules and adventures beyond our summer days that lure us to inch near. It is a time that is nostalgic of the sweetest summer lived and already longed for, but a constant pull to stay here and be present while planning what is to come.

 While embracing the remaining dog days of summer, it is inevitable that we need to prepare for our new schedules of the school year ahead.As parents, this sometimes is a far too daunting task. While we collect tips and tricks from trial and error like the shells once collected in July on family days by the ocean, we often forget that none of this needs to be done alone. Change is hard and adjusting to new schedules takes time and patience.

This is the time to hitch our wagons.

Neighbors and friends with older children are seasoned veterans and certainly grateful for the chance to share the wisdom. Phoning or emailing a parent that you have become friendly with when dropping off your child at summer camp, an acquaintance that you frequently chat with on the sidelines, all untapped resources at your disposal. We often feel that we need to automatically have the answers as parents. But this is simply not the case. Seek out those whose parenting styles feel like yours, or those that you admire or appreciate. Everyone loves to help; we know that we do, but forget that so do others. Everyone likes to be asked, to feel part. And this season of change is an opportunity for us to comb our resources and discover what works for the children in our community, and could it too possibly work for yours? Combing resources: who do you know that could help?

Your child's homeroom or advisory teacher is an expert in the developmental age and school year they teach; don't be afraid to ask the questions that you want to be answered. We are all happy to share what we have learned along the way. After all, never before have you and your child been here. You aren't expected to hold every answer. Hitch your wagon.  

Planning your upcoming schedule several weeks in advance.

Building your day backwards from your child's school start time. This is a great start. Waking prior to your child. This has always afforded me a rhythm to my days. Every day has a rhythm, the order of what occurs and when. Unloading the dishwasher. Flipping the laundry, folding the socks. Walking the dog. Showering. Setting some things in your home on autopilot that need to be done. What is something that can be completed before your family awakes? The quiet and calm of the day ahead during this space allows us to mentally prepare for the day, rather than the constant worry to catch up. Decide to build a rhythm.  

Prepping meals.

While prepping meals is something that I have yet to master, some prep work, no matter how small can shave precious moments off of your day. Keep it simple. What about dinner? What day is the most hectic? That night is set for pizza. Are you lucky enough to have a family where most members eat salad? If so, prepare all the ingredients of a salad (minus the dressing) in a gallon ziploc bag, lettuce, croutons, shredded cheese -- the works--one for each night. Stash them in your fridge ready for the taking. One less task when preparing for the night's meal. Dinner is where we come back together after a day spent apart. 

Listening, asking the key simple questions:

  • What was your favorite part of today?
  • Tell me about lunch
  • What did you play today at recess?
  • Leave out the heavy hitting questions. Build space for them. Giving space for your child to answer and listening when they do is a tried and true way to avoid the dreaded: "it's fine" answer.

The important piece of their day will bubble to the top if you build a space. Dinner, even if for a short amount of time, your family gathered together, provides anchoring to your family's day. Don't skip it. 

What makes your child tick?

Motivation seems to lie only with you? Buy-in of your children is something we need to sail more effortlessly together. All children are able to be motivated, just like adults, but like us they find motivation in different forms. Remember the days of figuring out  your love language? Tap into being the detective to what makes your child tick. Does your child strive for one-on-one time with you? Or does your child strive for material possessions that need to be set as a goal to work towards? Or is your child rooted in experiences? Does your child perhaps thrive under competition?  Look closely and see if you can use the base of their motivational sparks to your advantage as you discuss the expectations of the days ahead.  

When your child returns home from school, what are the must-dos?

  • Chores?
  • Where are the backpacks placed? 
  • What from their school day can they control?
  • Lunch boxes, shoes, sports equipment...where do these items belong? Designate a space for these items.

What are the rhythms that will help with your family moving through their day together? What do you need help with? Every school-aged child is capable of helping, and everyone needs to know they are needed. A hands-on deck approach is key as we move into this upcoming season of change and newness is the key. Returning a backpack, an emptied and wiped clean lunch box to its designated spot. Carrying up a load of folded laundry, feeding the dog. Good habits are formed out of repetition. Remembering to give yourself grace as you plan your new routine; you have the ability to start again, edit what you thought would work, and then try again. Reset your sail and continue on. Revising and editing of your family's days is to be expected, give yourself the grace to try again.  And that first week? Remember it is the first.

Rhythms and habits are formed over time.

You are their decompression zone. Sometimes it isn’t pretty. Children and adults alike keep it together the best they can all day, and come home to your safety after a day well-lived. Sometimes they do not act well. Let them melt. Keep boundaries, but remember you are their calm. The first week is new for everyone. As wonderful as their experience might be, the newness is a challenge. New people, new expectations, new everything.  Let tight, jam-packed weekend schedules go this week. Let them eat well and rest. Hectic weekend schedules might not be ideal. Focus on setting your rhythm, establishing patterns to your days that will be helpful. Let the extras go as everyone adjusts.  A school day is one that requires routine and repetition. It builds consistency into an ever-changing and stressful world, especially in the lives of our children. While predictability may not be packaged as shiny and exciting, it serves the purpose that our children crave--stability. Hitch your wagons. Comb your resources. And remember, as the architects of our family experience we have the power to revise and edit often. If it isn't working, try again. All of these truths are universal. The season of change is not easy for anyone, but when we are housed in a supportive community, many hands make for lighter work. Farewell summer, and welcome to the green grass of September.

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Brooke McLeod began teaching after working for the U.S. Senate, upon the completion of her Masters degree in Education. She has previously held teaching positions in both elementary and middle school divisions in public school. Joining the Sanford community in 2008, Brooke taught in our Lower School division, specifically in the fourth grade. After dedicating four years to our younger Warriors, Brooke moved up to join the Middle School as the sixth-grade reading teacher. Brooke and her husband reside in North Wilmington with their children. 

Topics: Community