Since we started remote schooling in March and moved straight into summer vacation afterward many families have found their day to day routines have become quite relaxed. No need to get up as early in the morning or go to bed as early at night and given the continued quarantining there has been no reason to have a strict day to day schedule either. But as schools begin to start again, we need to start preparing for the new school year. Whether school returns in person or remote, our kids need to be ready to jump back in well-rested and ready to learn.
Gradually change back the sleep schedule.
It is never the greatest idea to just get kids in bed early the night before school starts and jump headfirst back into the school routine the next day. What will happen is you have a tired, mentally and/or physically unprepared kid heading off to school or logging in remotely, making for a tough start to the school year. When possible, it is best to try and start getting ready 2 to 3 weeks before school starts.
2 or 3 weeks before school starts gradually move back your kids’ sleep schedule so that you can get back to what it was pre-remote schooling and vacation. You can do this by moving both their bedtime and wake up time in 15-minute increments every second day until they reach their normal school sleep schedule. It is important to move both their wake up and bedtime so that you can ensure they are getting the sleep they need throughout the sleep schedule transition.
When gradually moving your kids’ sleep schedule it is important to aim for your kids to be back to the school sleep schedule one week before school starts. This is because the last week is used to maintain the school sleep schedule to give their bodies time to adjust and to practice going to bed and waking up at the appropriate time each day.
After school officially starts, we also suggest not changing the sleep schedule on the weekends. Having a consistent sleep schedule throughout the whole week helps to keep kids’ circadian rhythm regulated.
With school-age kids it is important to talk with them about the sleep schedule changes you are making. Because they are fully aware that they have had the luxury of a later bedtime over the last months, they need to know and understand why it is being changed, so they are on board and do not fight it. You can also give them some power and independence in the process by asking them how they’d like to be woken up in the morning – by you or an alarm. Some kids are quite happy having their mom or dad come in and wake them up, but other kids will like the independence that having an alarm clock brings.
Tighten up your bedtime routine.
Often bedtime routines become lax during vacations as you get busy enjoying summer activities later in the day. If you’ve noticed that your previously strict bedtime routine has become a quick brushing of teeth, toilet and in bed process, start reinstituting a relaxing bedtime routine. Your routine can be whatever works for your family but can include things like quiet play, reading, a bath, or soothing music. Bedtime routines are incredibly important as they help kids relax ready for bed as well as being a wonderful sleep cue that prepares their brains for sleep.
Ban before bed electronic use.
Computers, phones, and tablets are wonderful things. With the likelihood of our kids doing at least a few days of remote learning (if not more) on any given week, we need to be strict about their post-school electronic use as it can impact on sleep. The blue light that electronics emit will delay the onset of Melatonin, which makes it harder to fall asleep. Kids can also get so focused on their enjoyment of the activities they are doing on their device that they end up delaying getting to bed on time.
Older kids who have their own phone may also delay sleep as they lay in bed replying to friends or playing group games on their computer.
Electronics should be put away at least an hour before bedtime and to reduce the likelihood of your kids being tempted to get them back out after bedtime, store them in a common room of the house. If your kids enjoy reading before bed as part of their bedtime routine, then we suggest a physical book, not a tablet.
It is also important for you, as parents, to role model the no electronics rule before bed and in the bedroom by keeping yours outside in your common room as well.
Create a soothing sleep environment.
A calm and soothing bedroom environment is key to a good night’s sleep, especially as you work at getting your kids into bed earlier while the sun is still out at bedtime. If you haven’t installed them already, invest in some good blackout blinds to block out that sun that’s still up at bedtime right now. It will also ensure that your kids don’t wake up earlier than they need to.
Also, make sure that the room is nice and cozy for your kids and that the room temperature isn’t too hot or too cold, especially while it is still summer. A hot room makes it a lot harder for kids to fall asleep and sustain sleep overnight.
Maintain a healthy diet to aid sleep.
Both sugary foods and caffeine impact sleep. If your kids drink caffeinated beverages, then make sure to avoid them within 6 hours of bedtime so that doesn’t impact their ability to get to sleep. Eating well and exercising every day also helps with sleep.
Don’t overschedule kids in the last two weeks.
Making the last 2 weeks before school relaxing and not overscheduled is important for kids. This helps to ensure that the go into the school year well-rested, but also helps them feel like they had a good break (so they are mentally prepared).
The same can be helpful for the first few weeks of school. Oftentimes in the early weeks of school, just participating in school daily (even if it ends up being remote) is tiring enough. Thus, our suggestion is to wait until they are used to the daily routine of school before organizing extracurricular activities. It is important to protect our kids’ opportunities for downtime.
Start preparing their minds for school.
The summer slide is a very real thing. This is partly why teachers give kids summer homework like a little bit of math and reading. It helps reduce the impact of the summer slide while also giving teachers an idea of where each child is at academically when they hand in their work.
Kids can forget a lot over the summer months while they are relaxing and not using their brains so much for academics. If your kids have a love of reading, then this will reduce the likelihood of the summer slide. If they like to take the summer to fully relax and not do anything that feels like schoolwork, you will likely need to make it your mission to get them reading for 15 to 20 minutes every day for the last few weeks of summer vacation.
Practice wearing masks.
Oh, how we wish we didn’t have to mention this one! If your kids will be going back to school in person at all then practicing wearing a mask for the length of a school day will be very important. If they are not used to masks or apprehensive about wearing them, start small with shorter periods either indoors or during an outdoor excursion and then work your way up to the length of a school day. Make sure they also practice taking it on and off themselves as they will be responsible for these tasks when they have lunchtime.
Practice school routines.
Not only is it important to start working on your kids’ school sleep schedule, but it is also important to get them practicing other school routines like packing their bags, getting ready for school, and so on. Kids can start practicing some of these by getting up in the morning and immediately having breakfast and getting dressed for the day, practice laying out clothes each night, and their daily reading could be a great way to start practicing homework.
Starting school again is such an exciting time but this year it is also filled with lots of uncertainty about what school will look and feel. If you feel you need help getting your kids prepared this year, please contact us to organize a consultation. I hope your kids’ have a good start to their school year, whatever it looks like where you are.