By Bustle Studios
The start of a new school year is always exciting, but it also presents plenty of challenges. For both parents and kids, there’s a totally new schedule to adjust to, new projects to take on, fresh faces to meet, and so many things to learn! This fall may look a little different for families across the U.S., but whatever that reality might be, you want to make sure your child is set up for a great year.
“Whether school will be in person, online or both, it’s going to be a new learning experience for everyone,” says Haley Neidich, LCSW is a licensed mental health counselor and online therapist. “Parents’ focus right now should be on their own and their child’s emotional well being.”
Rather than harp on "what kids are missing" in the classroom, Neidich encourages parents to focus on ways to make up for the social and emotional changes kids may have experienced over the past few months. This includes fostering a learning environment in which creativity and imagination are valued to boost your child’s self-esteem.
To encourage parents to do just that, Romper has partnered with Highlights, the company dedicated to helping children become their best selves, to round up five projects, activities, and exercises that will prepare kids of all ages for a fulfilling school year. Whether your child is entering kindergarten, second grade, or middle school, these projects will definitely impact their lives positively for the upcoming months.
Whether your child will be learning virtually or IRL this fall, Neidich recommends establishing a sense of structure beginning at least two weeks prior to the start of school to ease the transition — whatever the format may be.
Parents can do this by creating a visual ‘Chore Checklist’ that includes everyday chores like dishes, laundry, making the bed, or something to get them outside, like watering the plants! Something interactive — like a dry-erase board that kids can actually check off themselves, or a print-out chart that records chores with stickers — helps children see their progress and prepares them for more structured school days.
“Positive, screen-free, calm time with parents daily is the most impactful way to foster positive self-esteem,” Neidich says. She suggests dedicating an hour a day to reading a book or educational magazine with your child. Highlights Magazine is a great place to start.
Every 48-page issue of Highlights Magazine helps kids learn about new topics, investigate fascinating subjects and explore the world through stories, games, puzzles, riddles, science experiments, craft projects, and more. There are three editions of the magazine, perfectly catered to your child's age: Hello Magazine (for ages 0-2), High Five Magazine (ages 2-6), and Highlights Magazine (ages 6-12). With magazine subscriptions, book clubs, and games available for every age group, Highlights exposes children to a multitude of topics and allows them to pick-and-choose activities they’d like to engage in.
“We should be cultivating a sense of wonder in our children by allowing them to lead the way for their learning and showing us what they'd like to explore,” Neidich says.
“Children gain self-esteem and learn about the world primarily through play,” Neidich says. “When we give our child agency to explore the world, we are fostering an active imagination.”
A nature-themed scavenger hunt combines outdoor exploration with learning and play. Parents can create their own criteria based on what’s available in their neighborhoods, or pick from many printable scavenger hunts already available online. Add a little friendly competition to the activity by making it a contest to see who can find the most items on the list, or turn it into a long-term project by taking pictures during the ‘hunt’ and creating a scrapbook later.
If you're looking for a great one, Highlights has got you covered!
Parents can expect to see an increase in anxiety in children as they prepare to go back to school, Neidich says. They should prepare by creating a safe space for kids to talk about their worries, as well as sharing their own feelings with their kids on a daily basis.
Supplement your ‘feelings’ talk with craft projects. For younger kids, a great craft is a ‘Calm Down’ bucket. Talk about healthy ways to deal with stress, sadness and anxiety with your kids and fill a beach bucket with different coping strategies — like stress balls, coloring books and a "Feelings Journal." When emotional turmoil arises, kids can then choose from one of their very own ideas to calm down.
If you're working with an older child, setting up dedicated time to journal with them is a great way to get them to explore their emotions, while still feeling like they can keep something for themselves.
For a fun family activity, sit down with your kids and each create a vision board (or list on a poster board) that represents things you’re excited about and looking forward to this year.
Zeroing in on achievements can cause anxiety in young children, so Neidich recommends shifting the focus to fostering a positive sense of self and joy in your children. Ask your child to fill their space with drawings, words and colors that represent what makes them happy, what activities they enjoy, what they’re looking forward to about school, and what they’d like to learn about this year. Display your posters somewhere you’ll see them everyday for inspiration — and add to it every few months to encourage trying new things!
Beyond projects and activities, the best way to prepare your children for a return to school is to manage their own mental health and stress levels while working to improve their parent-child relationship, Neidich says: “Kids perform best and learn the most valuable information when they feel safe and secure,.”
This article is sponsored by Highlights.