4 Expert-Approved Ways to Start the School Year Strong

Even if your kids spent all summer swimming or playing at camp, here are the last-minute ways you can get them primed for school and make the transition back easier than ever.
By Jacob Biba
Jul 12, 2019




Jul 12, 2019

One week, your kids are running through the house dripping wet after spending all day at the pool. The next, they’re sitting politely in class soaking up knowledge about dinosaurs, volcanoes, and the solar system. But as the freewheeling fun of summer vacation gives way to the rigor and structure (and excitement!) of back-to-school season, there are certain ways you can ease your kids’ transition back to the classroom, so they’re ready for a successful year. 

Here are a few tips and strategies to help get your kids get back into the swing of learning — all while they continue to embrace the carefree air of summer. 

Make Learning Activities More Fun (and Keep It Casual) 

One of the most important things you can do leading up to school is to look for ways to integrate learning into everyday fun and activities — without making a big fuss over it. “Even when you're doing activities that are fun, you can throw in things that will engage kids in some amount of learning,” says Novea McIntosh, Ed.D., an assistant professor of teacher education at the University of Dayton, Ohio. “Make it informal and fun, and unbeknownst to them, they'll actually be learning.”

Take for instance, these Klutz Circuit Games: They may appear to be all fun and games, but with a step-by-step instruction guide, wires, LEDs, and buzzers, children must tap critical thinking and STEM skills to build their own electrifying games. Any activity that is playful but requires new skills will help ease your child back into the learning that’ll be expected of them in school, while they still enjoy the fun of summer. 

Ways to Learn That Feel Like Play

Teach Them How to Play a Brand New Game! 

Introducing children to new board games before school starts is another effective way to prime them for absorbing new knowledge, but let your child learn how to play them at their own speed. “In order to build our kids' confidence, especially younger ones, we want them to feel like they're understanding things, or they're part of something that is significant,” says McIntosh.  

In other words, when introducing a new game to your children, don’t just read the instructions out loud. Instead, model how the game should be played, how to develop a strategy for winning, and how to learn from mistakes — then let them take the lead. “This will help them with problem solving and critical thinking skills in a collaborative way, which is a good representation of classroom teaching strategies,” says McIntosh. 

Kulami is great pick for children in upper elementary grades, especially when it comes to learning how to develop and test out different strategies. For younger kids, United States Geography Bingo not only helps your child develop valuable listening skills, but teaches all about our country in a fun and engaging way.

Games That Promote Learning

Talk About All Types of Diversity 

Leading up to school, McIntosh also suggests parents engage their children in books and materials that focus on diversity and inclusion. “Remind them that students come to their classrooms with differences,” says McIntosh. “And I'm not only talking racial differences — think about autism, ADHD, and other learning disabilities. Help them understand that each child is different, including them, and they're going to come in with different gifts.”

Reading stories about diversity (likeThe Sandwich Swap, about a fight that starts over cultural differences, or the thoughtful My Brother Is Autistic) with your kids before school starts is a great way to help them understand one another’s differences and why it’s important to celebrate those differences, and to ensure they return to the classroom ready to learn with acceptance and respect. 

Great Books That Celebrate Diversity

Encourage Social-Emotional Learning

Before the school year kicks off, devote time to social-emotional learning by helping your children embrace their own "productive struggles" — those that build problem-solving skills — and become more resilient, says McIntosh. 

“If their feelings are hurt, help them to think through what's going on and how they can feel better,” she says. Reading can be an incredibly valuable tool for social-emotional learning, because it gives children emotional practice dealing with situations they may not have encountered yet in real life. Popular series like The Owl Diaries for early readers and books like Wonder for upper elementary readers are highly effective ways for kids to learn about themselves, their feelings, and the importance of empathy.

Promote Social-Emotional Learning

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