Back to school

The start of the school year - especially this year - can feel abrupt and overwhelming. Here are some tips to ease the transition.

My entire life, I have loved the first day of school. As a child, the night before school started felt a little like Christmas, with new clothes set out for the morning, new supplies in the backpack. The potential that came with a new school year, with new teachers and new classmates, was absolutely thrilling to me. As an adult, I continued to adore this fresh beginning, throughout the few years I taught public school and into my graduate studies as well. 

I still love the freshness of the start of the school year as my children start the year, but the start of the school year brings another, less desirable challenge. Inevitably, when the school year begins after the summer, the new routine of our day is overwhelming and exhausting to our entire family.

Over the months our kids are off school, the edges of our routine get fuzzy as we relax to what our schedule demands. Because we are lucky enough to have in-home childcare, our children wake up on their own, typically hours later than they need to during the school year. They wander downstairs and grab a snack or breakfast, get dressed whenever they want to play outside or with a friend, and there’s often nowhere they need to be at a scheduled time. This pandemic year has provided a welcome reprieve from pickups and dropoffs, activities and schedules. Lunch happens organically, nothing is packed ahead, and bedtime slips later as we linger outside catching fireflies and roasting marshmallows. 

Resetting our routine as we start the school year is always stressful on our family, particularly since we are so relaxed through the summer. The stress in starting the year is often a topic among my friends with school-aged kids, as well, as we feel exhausted and overwhelmed by the first few weeks of school. But, over the past two years, I’ve learned a few things that have made the transition a bit easier on all of us. So, I’m writing this to share not only with you, but as a reminder to myself as we embark on what can be a brutal transition from the longest summer ever:

Set Appropriate Expectations

The first key to making the transition back into a new routine easier is to have an appropriate expectation that it will be an adjustment, and that adjustments are stressful. The first two weeks of any new routine are really challenging, but each day gets a little easier than the one before. Most people don’t change rhythms easily, so grant your family grace during the transition and recognize that it is acceptable to not be fully adapted right away.

Prep Ahead

If there’s anything you can prep ahead during the transitional time, do it. Let “current you” take care of “future you” by setting out clothes for the morning, planning and prepping meals and taking care of errands like getting gas and groceries ahead of time. Set alarms and calendar events in your phone for the various new scheduled events, such as wake-up times for each person, time to leave, and pick up times to reduce the stress of forgetting or running late. 

Clear the Schedule

During seasons of transition, your energy can be easily drained by the effort it takes to navigate the new routine. So, for the first two weeks, try to avoid doing anything extra. Order in food if you can, cancel social engagements and dedicate your free time to things that energize and recharge you while you adapt to the new routine. Plus, when your schedule’s cleared, you’re freed up to head to bed early so that you can get all the sleep you need to be well rested for the start of the next day. 

Whatever this season looks like for you, hang in there. Before you know it, you’ll be synced into this rhythm and it’ll feel like a well-oiled machine.


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Colleen Cook works full-time as the Director of Operations at Vinyl Marketing in Ashland, where she resides with her husband Mike and three young daughters. She's an insatiable extrovert who enjoys finding reasons to gather people.