Newswise — The back-to-school blues usually mean kids moaning over lost freedom, moms dreading the chaos of buying back-to-school basics while dealing with the feelings of an empty nest. But a little last minute planning can chase those blues away.
Get reading! Summertime signals freedom for most kids, but too much laxity can backlash when they head back to school in the fall. According to the Center for Summer Learning at Johns Hopkins University, teachers often spend four to six weeks at the beginning of each school year re-teaching material that students have forgotten. Kids also can feel behind before they even begin when a new year and grade begin, so if you children's only reading materials all summer have been the TV Guide and video game instructions, help them dust off some cobwebs. Kids don't have to dive into textbooks; they can read whatever interests them - novels, newspapers, magazines or comic books. Make the library or bookstore their favorite hangout by scheduling some late August trips to coincide with events, such as book signings, story-time, children's writing groups, art exhibits, concerts, and workshops. Bring your children's friends, challenge them to a read-off, and offer prizes for those who read the most books before school starts.
Make sure they get enough sleep. No matter the season, school-age kids and teens need an average of nine hours of sleep per night. Summer activities wreak havoc on sleep patterns. Sleep problems cause crankiness, learning difficulties and accidents, and can even make some children more prone to depression. Better sleep means happier children. If you've indulged them with later bedtimes, balanced with later wake-ups, start getting back to a regular schedule to avoid disrupting sleep patterns before school starts. That way you can ease them back into their school-time sleep schedule, particularly if you start at least a week before school opens. Young children have an easier time transitioning their sleep back to fall, but once puberty strikes, the effortlessness of transition comes to an abrupt halt. Pubertal changes in the sleep hormone melatonin encourage later sleep and wake up times by shifting the circadian rhythm. That's why, according to the National Sleep Foundation, it's tough to get your teen up in the morning, even after a full night's sleep. To help your children get more zzz's make sure they avoid bright light at night (including computers and TVs), and brighten their morning wake-up with plenty of sunlight.
Play! Childhood is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Once it's gone, it's gone, so let your kids be kids. Let them get dirty sliding into home plate, digging in the garden, or building castles in the sand. Computer game play is okay during the dwindling days of summer, but keep it to a minimum, even though there's no homework. Instead, get them out of the house. Active play fights obesity, stimulates thinking, aids in getting a good night's sleep, and is just plain fun. Children need to engage in play with their friends to improve their relational and problem-solving skills, and summer provides them with the opportunity to catch-up on the play they may have missed during the school year, especially since many schools have drastically decreased recess time or eliminated it all together.
Spend time together. You most likely did not have the luxury of extended summer vacations, but you can still make the best of it by making special time for your kids. Take day trips, go the movies, walk around the neighborhood, take a bike tour, or simply relax at home together. Make time for family dinners - just keep them simple so you can spend more time with the family and less time in the kitchen. Order healthy take-out, or better yet, make it a true family meal by having everyone participate in the planning, cooking and clean up, as well as the eating. You'll get so good at it that you'll be able to rev up family mealtime all year round.
Shopping made easier. Have your children give you a deluxe tour of Internet shopping. See what's 'in' for the fall, price compare and have their lists ready to go before you hunt for the school supplies. This will save you time and money - and ready you for easier holiday shopping. You can use some of that saved time and money to celebrate the new school year and your children's advancing into the next grade (or promote how proud you are for second tries for those kids left behind a grade).
Plan ahead for your fall dates - with your kids, your partner, your friends and yourself. Get in the mood by decorating the house with Autumn's beauty, and pick some days for basking in cider and hot apple pie, bouncing on a hayride, prowling through a pumpkin patch, or just snuggling under a blanket outside on a crisp fall eve talking about the day's events. Fall is a magnificent season. Use its beauty to banish the blues and welcome in all that fall has to offer.
About Mary Muscari: Associate professor Decker School of Nursing Binghamton University, State University of New York
Topics areas include parenting, from toddler age and up, especially teens. She has conducted a number of parenting workshops around the country; most popular topics: keeping kids safe from predators ('live' and Internet), bullying, raising nonviolent kids.
Parenting books include: Everything Book: Raising Adolescent Girls (Moira Mc Carthy with Dr. Mary Muscari) (2008) Everything Book Raising Adolescent Boys (Robin Weiss with Dr. Mary Muscari) (2008) Let Kids be Kids: Rescuing Childhood (2006) Not My Kid 2: Protecting your Kids from the 21 Threats of the 21st Century (2004) Not My Kid: 21 Steps to Raising a Nonviolent Child (2002)