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Back to School Strategies: Make a Schedule

by Jennifer Moore, Psy.D. & Zachary Stern, Psy.D.

The transition back to school is one that can be very challenging for children and families. The summer months (WOW, did they fly!) are often less structured and kids tend to have less responsibilities. Preparing your child and family for the more structured school year can help ease the transition for everyone. One way to accomplish this is through making schedules and implementing routines. Here are some helpful hints:

Hmm…what should be included in the routine?
Consistency is key when putting together a new routine or schedule. This includes identifying a consistent time for waking up and going to sleep, eating meals, as well as completing homework and engaging in extracurricular activities. Additionally, it can be helpful, especially for younger children and those who struggle with executive functions (i.e., organization, time management, planning, etc.), to outline the steps involved in completing different activities throughout the day. For example, the “morning routine” can include getting out of bed, getting dressed, brushing one’s teeth, eating breakfast, packing up for school, putting on one’s shoes and coat, and getting on the bus or in the car. Breaking down the routine in this way helps kids develop an awareness of what’s expected of them when we tell them to “get ready for school.”

Think about what your child values too!
Often, when making a schedule, we tend to include only the activities or tasks that we have to do. While this seems sensible, it may result in a grueling schedule that is filled with less-preferred activities. When developing a schedule collaboratively with your child or teen, be sure to ask for input on what they like or want to do in the evenings for their own relaxation and downtime. Then, insert these preferred activities into the schedule as well. This step will not only help your child understand how much time they have for play or relaxation, but it will convey the important message that your child’s hobbies and self-care are a priority too! In doing so, you will likely increase their buy-in with following the schedule and developing healthy routines for the school year.

Make it visible (and accessible)!
After creating your family’s back-to-school routine, it is important to make sure it is easily accessible to everyone in the family. Kids benefit from visual schedules with pictures, as well as checklists, in order to help them follow the routine. Post your child’s weekly schedule in a common area, such as the kitchen, so that the expectations for your child’s routine are clear. You may even decide to have a box next to each step for your child to mark off or place a sticker once that step is completed. Be sure to praise your child when they adhere to the routine!

You may also decide to have a separate calendar outlining the family’s activities for the upcoming week and/or month. Have each member of your family select a color, and color-coordinate everyone’s individual activities to make it easier to digest (and more fun to look at!). For adults and teens, it can additionally be helpful to then transfer this calendar to your phones so that everyone has access to the information away from home.

Be flexible, and learn from your mistakes!
Fact #1: Making a good schedule is hard. Fact #2: Sticking to that schedule is even harder!
It’s difficult for kids, and it’s difficult for adults too. Many important skills are needed in order to make a good schedule: Attention to detail, good time management skills, and the ability to prioritize effectively. It’s important to understand that making a good schedule may take a few tries, at least! Because we each function a little differently, no one schedule will work for every child and every family. After making up an initial schedule, think about it as a rough draft. Try it out for a few days, or a week or two. Take note of what parts of the schedule worked really well, and which ones were really tough to adhere to. After you’ve collected some information, come back to the drawing board and make improvements to your schedule to better fit your needs. When things don’t appear to be going as planned, be flexible, and discuss alternative options for how to fit everything in. Trial-and-error is one of the best ways to learn. This activity can be a great opportunity to model for your child how to engage in effective problem-solving, and how to persevere even when you don’t get everything right the first time.

Other helpful links:

Helpful Tips for Transitioning Back to School

Sample Picture Schedules and Visual Planners

Preparing Your Child for a New Sleep Schedule

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