The heat and humidity outdoors might still scream summer vacation, but a new school year is rapidly approaching.
Students in Berks County will start heading back to class as soon as Aug. 21, with all 18 districts back up and running by the end of August.
That means students and parents need to start getting ready. And that doesn’t just mean buying new backpacks and picking out first-day outfits.
Dr. Olubunmi K. Ojikutu, chair of the department of pediatrics at Reading Hospital, recently shared with the Reading Eagle some tips on how parents can help their kids prepare to return to school.
Talk about it
The first step, Ojikutu said, is for parents to simply chat with their children about the upcoming school year.
“They should start softly introducing the idea of going back to school and talk about it,” she said.
Parents should watch how their kids react to those conversations, Ojikutu said, taking note of what kind of emotions they display. Some kids might be nervous or anxious, while others might be happy or excited.
“The idea might not be nerve-racking for everybody,” she said.
Ojikutu said parents should also take time to check in with themselves, reflecting on how they’re feeling about getting ready for the new school year.
“It might feel overwhelming for some parents; there’s lots to do,” she said. “You want to make sure that that doesn’t come across to the kids. Kids can sense your anxiety and other emotions.”
Parents should do their best to seem excited about the new school year, Ojikutu said, and create an environment where their kids feel comfortable talking about it and asking questions.
Of course, Ojikutu added, the last weeks before the new school year shouldn’t be totally focused on getting ready to go back to class.
“Don’t forget to still have fun,” she said.
Ojikutu said it’s important for kids to keep playing and that parents should encourage their children to be physically active. Playing also allows kids to build the soft social skills they will need when they rejoin classmates.
Get some sleep
Another benefit of physical activity is that it will help kids release restless energy, have more focus and get better sleep. That last part, sleep, is a critically important aspect of getting ready for school, Ojikutu said.
“A good night’s rest always leads to better days,” she said.
Parents should start working on a healthy sleep routine now, Ojikutu said. They should begin instituting a bedtime, perhaps slowly making it earlier and earlier each week until they reach their typical school night bedtime.
Ojikutu said bedtime should allow for preteens to get 10 to 12 hours of sleep and teens to get eight to 10 hours of sleep.
“That’s what’s going to help in regards to feeling refreshed in the morning,” she said.
Parents should also make sure their kids are getting ready to wake up earlier, since most sleep later in the summer than they do during the school year. The same approach used for bedtimes can be used for wake-up times, Ojikutu said.
Limiting the use of electronic devices is another way parents can help their kids improve their rest. Ojikutu said that during the school year device use should be limited to about an hour a day, and parents should start working in that direction leading up to the first day.
“I takes a few weeks to create a new habit,” she said. “You have to break the old summer habits as you’re forming the new school habits.”
And, Ojikutu said, electronic devices shouldn’t be used right before kids head off to sleep.
“An hour or half-hour before bed, shut everything off,” she said. “Electronic devices activate other parts of the brain. Your brain needs to be bored to fall asleep, your brain needs to unwind.”
Ojikutu said parents should keep an eye out for signs that their kids aren’t getting enough sleep over the first few weeks of school. They include fatigue, anxiousness, tiredness and grumpiness.
When it comes to eating, Ojikutu said routine is key for students.
And it all starts in the morning.
“Make sure they have a good breakfast,” she said. “I doesn’t have to be big, maybe some fruit, some proteins. Send them off with a healthy start.”
Kids also need to stay hydrated during the school day. And they should avoid sports drinks in achieving that.
“Water, water, water, water,” Ojikutu said. “Make sure they take a water bottle to school.”
Tackle the little things
Ojikutu said one way to help students deal with back-to-school anxiety is for parents to make sure they tackle the small tasks that need to get done before the first day.
That can include things like back-to-school shopping.
“Things like picking out a lunch bag, a water bottle, that can make things fun,” she said.
One of the biggest reasons for back-to-school anxiety that Ojikutu said she hears from kids is that their parents might forget to do something.
“I’m amazed how many kids are worried that there’s something their parents aren’t aware of,” she said. “Parents should log onto their school’s website and check for forms they need to fill out, schedules, payments they may need to make for lunch programs.”
Ojikutu said parents should check in with their family doctor to make sure their child is up to date on checkups and vaccines.
If a student is attending a new school, Ojikutu said, it’s a good idea to practice the route to and from the building. And back-to-school nights are a great way for kids to get comfortable with being back in a classroom, she said.
Take it slow
No matter how much a parent prepares for the start of school, it still might take a toll on their child, Ojikutu said.
And that’s OK.
She said doing little things like planning outfits for the entire first week ahead of time can help reduce a bit of stress. But that doesn’t mean they won’t come home emotionally and physically drained.
If that’s the case, Ojikutu said, it’s important to give them room to decompress.
“In general you should try to avoid naps after school because it will impact their sleep schedule,” she said. “But the first week, just kind of go with the flow. You want to give kids room to relax, to run and play.”
Ojikutu said some kids will be excited to talk about school while others won’t. Parents should follow their kid’s lead.
“Just let it happen,” she said. “We all process things differently.”
The important thing, Ojikutu said, is to simply be there for your kid. She said that, if possible, parents should make sure they’re around as much as possible during the first week or two of school.
If they can’t be in there in person — because of work schedules or other reasons — often a simple gesture will mean a great deal to a child.
“Leave them a note or a picture or a little heart drawing,” Ojikutu said. “Don’t underestimate the impact of something like that just to remind them that you care.”
School start dates
• Antietam School District
• Boyertown School District
• Gov. Mifflin School District
• Oley Valley School District
• Brandywine Heights School District
• Hamburg School District
• Tulpehocken School District
• Wilson School District
• Conrad Weiser School District
• Exeter School District
• Schuylkill Valley School District
• Daniel Boone School District
• Fleetwood School District
• Muhlenberg School District
• Reading School District
• Twin Valley School District
• Wyomissing School District
• Kutztown School District
Source: Berkshire mont