Reducing Back to School Stress
The start of a new school year can be a stressful time for students and parents alike. This is especially true for students with learning difficulties. Whether the summer was fun filled and free of academics or included activities to help reinforce skills, starting a new grade level means new worries and a lot of unknowns. Children recall prior struggles and successes and wonder if the new year will include more of each. Here are a few suggestions that may help avert back to school stress during this time of transition.
At least a week before school starts, begin a back to school routine that includes daily reading.
Many families start imposing a back to school bedtime about a week before the first day of school. But how many include a daily reading requirement? Instead of waiting for that first assignment, try setting aside time each day (10 – 30 min, depending on age) to both read with your child and have your child read independently. This will not only reinforce reading, but help your child prepare for fitting daily assignments into the at home schedule.
When reading to your child, try selecting a book that’s one or two grade levels above his or her current reading level. This helps improve vocabulary and comprehension. This can also further your child’s interest in a number of topics. If you have access to the coming year’s curriculum, try choosing fiction and nonfiction texts that cover some of the social studies or science topics your child can expect to learn about. Early exposure to these topics can boost confidence. It can also encourage curiosity and classroom participation while also reinforcing the idea that learning doesn’t just occur in the classroom.
For independent reading, let your child choose the text. You can set guidelines about the reading level and number of pages the text contains. You might give your child some ownership in the activity. This can make it seem less like a chore and possibly even something to look forward to. Have discussions about the material. Include predictions, connections between the events in the story and things you and your child have experienced, and the author’s purpose. As often as possible, make these conversations lighthearted and more about discovering interesting books than school preparation.
Talk to your child about potential challenges ahead of time.
Children have a lot of questions about what to expect from each new school year. What do I do if I don’t know anyone in my class? If we get too much homework, how can I get it done? What if my teacher isn’t as nice as the one I had last year? If the stuff we do this year is really hard, what do I do? The week before school starts is a good time to talk about potential challenges and how to deal with them. Discussing possible problems and solutions, even sharing your own childhood experiences, can go a long way towards relieving some of the stress that accompanies change.
Try reminding your child that there may be others in the classroom who are feeling the same way. Let your child know you can look at the homework load together and make a plan for how to approach it. You could review the importance of asking questions. Explain that it will take time to get used to a new teacher. Taking a look ahead at the curriculum and highlighting some interesting things your child will learn about in the coming year can also ease concerns.
Try not to worry too much about beginning of the year assessments.
I know that’s contrary to what a lot of people will say, but consider these facts. Students usually have their reading level assessed within the first few weeks of school. During this time, they’re still getting used to the routine and teacher. They don’t necessarily know what to expect when assessed and back to school stress and anxiety can play a big part in the results. For this reason, there is often a substantial jump between a beginning of the year reading assessment and one given several weeks later.
While instruction is occurring throughout and also impacts scores, nerves are greatly reduced when the assessment routine and expectations are more familiar. Even though schools use consistent assessment procedures across grade levels, there will always be variances in the way each teacher presents them. Students need time to adjust to the process before the results can be considered reliably accurate.
Avoiding or reducing back to school stress can help your child adjust to the new routine of this school year. If your child continues to experience school related stress beyond the beginning of the school year, talking to the teacher, requesting additional help or seeking a learning intervention may help.