As summer comes to an end, parents are returning to the familiar school experiences of packing lunches, operating car pools, and coordinating sports practice. But, we can get so caught up in the transition back to school that we don’t make the most of the opportunity. Before the new school year starts, it is helpful to think through ways Christian families can strengthen their back-to-school routines. The start of school creates the possibility to reset our family rhythms in a way that sets our families up for spiritual and academic success.
So, how can we reshape our back-to-school routine so that it recenters our academic year on Christ? Here are four suggestions for strengthening your family patterns as you head back to school.
First, treat the start of the school year as a milestone for each child.
Entering a new grade is a big deal for kids, but parents can be tempted to take things for granted. There’s a reason why doting parents snap first-day-of-school pictures (and it’s not just so that they can rack up more likes on Instagram). It’s because they recognize that there is a unique significance to the moment.
One of the ways our family recognizes the milestone of starting the school year is through “one-on-one fun.” Starting in preschool, I take each of our four boys individually on a special outing. We go to Sonic where they can get their favorite treat (often a slush with nerds candy in it!), then we head to the local Academy store. As we overload ourselves with sugar and play catch in the middle of the aisles with all types of sports balls, we talk about the school year to come. What are you excited about? What are you nervous about? What are you looking forward to? Can I tell you about what my experience was like when I was in that grade? Through these one-on-one conversations, parents can shape the expectations of their children for the school year as they seek to prepare their hearts.
Second, reset your family rhythms to align them with your priorities.
Summer is often a crazy time for family routines. Vacations, late-night outings, sleeping in, and other factors can disrupt your normal flow. If parents aren’t careful, the chaos of summer can creep into the school year. The arrival of the new semester can provide a jolt to parents and kids alike who have forgotten what “normal” looks like for their family over the summer.
The beginning of a school year creates the ideal opportunity to reset your family rhythms. And this all depends on clarifying your family’s priorities. As parents, what do you hope to be true of your family’s daily experience during the school year? Once you know that, you can realign how you spend your time to pursue those goals. If things like family devotions, eating together, or limiting screen time have fallen by the wayside during the summer, the beginning of school creates the right environment to recover those areas of focus. But, if you, as parents, are not intentional about re-evaluating your rhythms, you will miss the opportunity to reset your routines.
Third, emphasize the opportunities that school creates for your children to love their neighbors as themselves.
Summer is often a season that is focused on us. It revolves around our vacations, our plans, and our activities. But school creates the environment to force us outside of ourselves by surrounding us with new people to care about and serve. If parents aren’t intentional, though, their kids will see school through the lens of what’s in it for them rather than how they can serve their classroom.
There are many ways you can emphasize how your children can love their neighbors as themselves. For example, one of the traditions our family has carried over from our childhood is what we call the “name game.” Our children head to the first days of school with the challenge to learn the names of five people in their class every day. By giving young kids this task, it forces them to focus, interact with others, and empowers them to make connections. Our kids earn rewards for their success, and once everyone has learned all the names of the students in their class, we have a family celebration. Whether it is through the “name game” or some other means, parents need to help their children turn outward to think through how to engage with and love their neighbors in their classroom.
Fourth, manage expectations in the household to set children up for success in the classroom and at home.
Returning to school can be challenging, especially for younger kids. As our kids went through kindergarten, I remember some of their most difficult moments at home regularly came at the start of the school year. It seems as if reacclimating to the rigors of the classroom saps their self-control in a way that can lead to challenges when they get home.
One of the best ways parents can serve their families is to set proper expectations for their kids as the school year begins. When I take my boys to our one-on-one fun outing, one of the primary things I focus on is setting their expectations for the school year in regards to: (1) the types of new academic challenges they will encounter, (2) the types of new behavioral challenges they will experience with other students, and (3) the types of new personal challenges they will face as they adjust to the new normal. It’s not just kids that need to adjust their expectations, though. Parents need to recalibrate what they expect from their children as they enter the school year.
Some parents dread the end of the summer because it closes out a unique time for their family to spend together. Other parents can’t wait for the end of the summer because they have reached the end of their rope after a season of chaos. Regardless of where you find yourself as the school year begins, every family can benefit if parents are intentional about identifying ways to strengthen their family rhythms through their back-to-school routines.