Adjusting to back to school routines

Posted on: September 3, 2017

Sarah Cavanagh

It’s the hap-happiest time of the year — back to school season is upon us and after a summer clunking around the house, some families are eager to see their small residents off to school for the day once again.

Personally I have a tough time with back to school. I love summer and as it winds down the thought of pick-up and drop-off routines and two of my three little people being gone all day makes me sad and anxious.

I find my days to be, at least at first, to be sort of a fog. I miss our summer routine and our fun. Whether you (or your kids) are excited, scared, anxious, happy or sad there are certainly ways to make the transition from summer to fall easier for everyone.

If you have a little junior kindergarten in your midst then the transition is a much bigger one. They are off to a new adventure and one they will be so eager to share with you. There are excellent resources available from Best Start at to help you know if your child is ready and how to get them on the right track.

Important things to remember is that 4-year-old kindergarten is optional in Ontario and considering a condensed week or waiting another year is an option as well, if you feel your little is not ready.

Things to consider when deciding their readiness are:

  • Can they dress themselves?
  • Go to the bathroom independently?
  • Wash their hands?
  • Know their full name and address?
  • Open their lunch box and containers?

Also of importance are things like their ability to self-regulate (see and play (believe it or not) is fundamental. It helps young children learn how to share, problem solve and develop important motor skills.

As parents and caregivers we can prepare kinders for the transition by providing lots of love (secure attachment) to make them confident and curious, listening when they tell us their stories, playing with them, making sure they have at least three hours of physical activity a day and less than an hour of screen time, aim for at least 10hrs of sleep a night (the kids, not you — but keep dreaming), making sure they have had a checkup (eyes, ears and teeth too!) and providing them with the good nutrition they need to grow strong and have the energy they need for the day.

Sometimes summer can mean later bedtimes, flexible meal times, a skipped bath or story time so it’s helpful to do a soft launch for school and get everyone used to the new schedule in advance.

I find visual cues helpful and have made up little charts for morning (eat breakfast, brush teeth, get dressed, make lunch) and bedtime (bath, pjs, teeth, story) to help everyone get to know their jobs for the day.

Of course none of this means it will be an easy day. Children are people (of course) and they are unique. I have one son who ran to school and barely looked back and my second still has weepy days when he finds it very hard to say bye. The jury’s still out on the third.

Bottom line – they’ll survive and so will you. Some need a little extra snuggle or word of encouragement but consistency is (at least in my house) the name of the game. And nothing beats a good breakfast! It sounds like I’m joking but your morning sets the tone for your day. If your children are well rested, well fed and feeling happy and loved they will have a much better day and so will you.

In dealing with the empty (or emptier) nest, give yourself and your children a few days to ease into the new routine. Don’t schedule after school activities that first week but instead enjoy catching up on each other’s days and getting some much needed rest. You may want to re-evaluate your own evening schedule.

Are there activities that might be better tabled until next year or at least the new year? Are there things you see contributing to evening stress or anxiety that could be changed to make it easier on everyone? This is a time to institute some new routines – maybe homework time or a family meeting will replace the weekly trips to a friend’s house or soccer field.

Not that extracurriculars aren’t important but give your family time to adjust before figuring them out (especially if this is your first school year).

Now while my life revolves around being a mom to three small kids, there are other important transitions coming in September. Perhaps your son or daughter is starting a new school. In Carleton Place especially there are many new families coming into the neighbourhood so if your family is one of them you may be feeling the added anxiety of being in a new place.

Reach out to parent groups, Ontario Early Years Centre ( is a great resource and so are the Facebook mom groups. Get to know the popular kid-friendly spots, the best place to pick up the things you need and maybe get more comfortable with the lay of the land.

If your child or children are struggling and you need additional support in helping them with anxiety, disruptive school behaviours or other mental health concerns then Open Doors for Lanark Children and Youth ( has offices in Perth, Smiths Falls and Carleton Place. They serve children and youth 0-18 and their families and the service is free to the public. Lanark Community Programs ( provides resources to families with children experiencing physical and or developmental delays or who face barriers to normal development. They can help by connecting you to the appropriate support service and also provide education and training to parents, child care providers and community groups.

If you are preparing for a more long term empty nest and sending your not-so-little-anymore child off to college or university or to explore the world then it’s quite likely they will be more prepared for it then you will. I am (and have always been) a big fan of checklists. Before you move or travel, write a list of what you need and check it as you load the car. As with the kinders – an extra cuddle won’t go amiss, nor will a good breakfast!

The same tips apply for any change, basically give change a chance. Take care of yourself. If you’re stressed or overwhelmed you risk losing patience, falling behind on daily tasks or at work or getting sick.

Do one thing every day for yourself and while you’re at it one thing for your partner too. As life gets busy it’s important to be a solid team. The rest, as they say, will work out in the wash so take a couple of deep breaths and enjoy your final days of summer vacation as a family!