During back-to-school time, the air crackles with excitement. New belongings are purchased, labelled, and worn with pride. Lunches are freshly packed, backpacks are eagerly zipped, and photos are happily taken. Kids are greeted by teachers and reunited with friends. Everywhere you turn, there’s a sense of optimism and new beginnings.
As the weeks go on, though, the novelty of returning to school may wear off. “Any time something is new, it brings about a natural enthusiasm, yet as time passes and work load or expectations increase, the norm quickly becomes less stimulating,” says Josie Murphy*, an elementary teacher with the Waterloo Region District School Board.
If you’ve noticed your kids dragging their feet in the morning or complaining about going to school, there is still time to intervene. While you can’t fully match the exuberant energy (or shopaholic mentality) of back-to-school, here are some ideas to help your child continue to view school in a positive way.
Talk about it.
Chatting with your child about his or her school day is an obvious first step. “Celebrate the things that went well, or discuss a topic that was covered in class,” Josie suggests. Many teachers have online blogs or classroom-specific social media accounts that provide updates and conversation starters.
“Joining a school club or team fosters a sense of pride in the school, enables students to meet others with similar interests and gives them something to look forward to,” Josie says. The notion of getting involved also applies to parents, so if you can, volunteer to help out at the next field trip or pizza day.
Dial back the screen time.
Josie endorses the use of computers and iPads for math, literacy skills and coding, but warns against a pattern of excessive exposure to non-educational screen-based games. “Based on my observations, it seems that students who play a lot of video games are harder to engage unless a task offers instant gratification or appeals directly to them,” she says. “In contrast, students who spend time outdoors, play sports or do extra-curricular activities tend to show greater stamina for tasks, have more positive relationships with others and are generally more engaged in learning activities.” If your child seems to be in a rut, maybe a break from his or her device is in order.
Bump up bedtime.
A cranky, under-motivated kid is likely a tired one. Ironically, screen time and extra-curricular activities can both be culprits here. Whether a child is staying up later to watch YouTube videos or getting home after dark due to a team practice, the resulting next-day fatigue is the same. Adopt the “it’s a school night” approach whenever possible and see if an earlier bedtime helps them bounce back.
Re-commit to reading.
If your child’s class has a Home Reading program, go all-in. The reading practice is beneficial, and the time spent cuddling and chatting together is a major bonus. It can be energizing to discover a great author or an entertaining book series. If you’re not sure where to start, ask the school’s teacher-librarian or visit your local library for age-appropriate recommendations. If you’re new to the graphic novel scene, be sure to check out Jen Millard’s top picks.
Visit during non-school hours.
Sure, school is a place to learn, but a lot of fun things happen there too. If your school hosts an open house, movie night or other special event, make an effort to attend as a family. Linger at the playground after school or walk back in the evening to give your kids the chance to fully explore the outdoor play spaces.
Book a play date.
“Interacting with peers outside of school develops meaningful friendships,” Josie says. The notion of getting to school to see a favourite friend can provide much-needed motivation on a sluggish morning. In the schoolyard, keep your eyes peeled for the parent of the student your child frequently mentions as a desk partner or recess pal. Introduce yourself and propose getting the kids together sometime.
Spice up their lunch.
This doesn’t have to mean adding a sugary treat (Halloween is coming soon enough). Maybe the cool lunch bag or water bottle your child admired during back-to-school shopping is now affordably priced on clearance. Or, splurge on some summery fruit like watermelon or berries to add a splash of nutritious colour. Try making a new muffin recipe together, to provide variety. If all else fails, write them a classic “Love, Mom” lunch note (with a smiley-face).
Consult the teacher.
Some minor moaning and groaning about school is one thing, but if you notice significant changes in your child’s behaviour or attitude, set up a meeting with the teacher. “If a student is feeling anxious or reluctant about coming to school, I want to know about it,” Josie says. The teacher may have further insights or suggestions about how to build some positive momentum.
Sometimes, the smallest thing can turn a child’s mood around. One morning, my 7-year-old was particularly grumpy about going to school, but we didn’t have time for a sit-down talk because I was in the middle of packing his lunch. Out of desperation, I grabbed a Sharpie marker and started drawing a funny face on the outer peel of his banana. He started giggling, and soon his older brother wanted some banana artwork, too. It changed the entire tone of our morning.
Feel free to ride out the back-to-school honeymoon period for as long as it lasts, knowing that reality will set in eventually. And, just like after a real honeymoon, a little creativity can go a long way to keep things going strong!
*Name changed by request.