The different ways kids get back into school groove

TORONTO — The hectic back-to-school period is more than just a parade of to-do lists, errands and scheduling dilemmas for mother-of-two Natalie Romero.

It also happens to be one of her family’s favourite times to share special moments before the chaos of classes, homework and after-school activities take over their lives.

It will include a day trip to Toronto from their home in Guelph, Ont., brand new shoes, and in the early days of September, a visit to a favourite water park.

It’s an annual tradition that mirrors Romero’s own mother-daughter excursions that she had as a kid.

“I can actually remember many of my first-day-of-school outfits because it was such a special experience for us,” says Romero, who runs the blog Tales from Mummyland.

“It was about the whole experience of going shopping and having lunch together and going somewhere that we don’t go very often.”

She believes establishing fun back-to-school traditions can be a great way to help kids feel more secure about something that can be very stressful — whether they are starting school for the first time, changing schools, or advancing to a daunting new grade.

The rituals don’t have to be expensive or time-consuming, but they do need to be tailored to each student, says early learning expert Charles Pascal, a professor of applied psychology the University of Toronto.

“It really depends on the nature of the child,” says Pascal, whose own family traditions included going to a favourite restaurant in the days leading up to the first day of school.

“That first day back in school is about making the unfamiliar, familiar. Top-of-mind for kids going back to school is: Is my best friend in any of my classes?”

If the child is entering a new school environment, Pascal recommends visiting the school grounds and classrooms beforehand so it doesn’t feel too strange. See if they can meet their new teacher, if they don’t already know them, and start practising new routines that will be in full swing come September.

And keep things light and fun.

“You want to make conversations about school enjoyable and fun rather than (with) an underlayer … of pressure,” he says.

Popular traditions include one last trip to an amusement park, the cottage, or other favourite spot; a photo session in their new school outfit; a special dinner the night before; buying a small inexpensive gift like a journal or pen.

Calgary mom Paige Shaw says she packs these final weeks of summer with activities for her two kids, aged five and seven. That includes visiting her parent’s farm in Saskatchewan to do some harvesting.

“I find it helps if there’s any nervousness or anything, it’s that (notion) you still have so much more to look forward to — a little trip, things like that.”

Each year, her kids get a new book to read the night before their first day. Shaw says it helps keep them focused on the exciting possibilities that lay ahead, rather than the end of summer fun.

“We’ll go this week and they can pick pretty much whatever book they want and then we just put it up on the shelf,” she explains.

“And we start the countdown in a fun way instead of the, ‘Ugh, I can’t believe it’s only five more days (of holidays).’”

Lisa Marie Fletcher home-schools her five children in Whitby, Ont., but still has a back-to-school tradition to help them get back into the groove after a summer of fun.

It includes a trip to the dollar store where each child picks out an inexpensive storage box for their school supplies and papers. The kids then decorate their own box and put their name on it.

Fletcher says she’s learned to ease her kids — aged 2 to 13, from preschool to Grade 8 — into the school routine slowly.

“Who wants to go from nothing to full-out school on the first day? That can be a little overwhelming,” says Fletcher, who runs the website

She adds that a lot of home-schooling communities have “not-back-to school” events — picnics where home-school families can get to know each other.

Of course, home-schooling is flexible, and not everyone stops for summer, she adds. But she still likes the yearly traditions — they take advantage of back-to-school sales and the tourist attractions that are suddenly vacant come September.

“Things like the beach and the playground and the museum and all the field trip stuff,” she says.

Romero suspects her son is big on the back-to-school routine because her mother — his grandmother — often talks about how much she enjoyed that time.

And so Romero seizes on every chance she gets to strengthen family bonds.

“My son is going to be 10 next year,” she marvels.

“It literally feels like it was last week that I was dealing with the daycare and the toddler and the baby stuff.”

Cassandra Szklarski, The Canadian Press

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