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Back to school: Get into the groove early, say experts

Start about a week early to mitigate summer melt and minimise back-to-school trauma

  • Students at Arcadia Preparatory School. Easing into a school schedule now can mitigate summer meltImage Credit: Supplied
  • David Cook is Headmaster at Repton DubaiImage Credit: Supplied
GN Focus

The start of the new academic year is still weeks away and parents have been tearing their hair out keeping kids busy in what appears to have been an exceptionally long break. However, now is the time for students to ease into a schedule so school days become easier. 

“Re-establishing routines just before term starts will help children and young people readjust and hopefully avoid too much fatigue in the first weeks back in school,” says David Cook, Headmaster at Repton Dubai. “After several weeks of potentially unstructured time during the holidays, during the last week of the break, families should try and re-establish term-time routines such as regular meal times, going to bed at a reasonable time and waking up in the morning early, as if the term had started already.”

Loss of learning

Summer melt, or learning loss, is a well-documented phenomenon that affects children of all ages over long vacations such as this year’s two-and-a-half-month break. Students forget two months’ worth of maths instruction from the previous term by the time a new year begins.

Parents and teachers may therefore have to work harder than normal to get children back into the groove. “Recent research does suggest the long summer break can be detrimental to children’s health and that they tend to spend lengthy time watching TV and playing with devices,” says Kephren Sherry, Deputy Principal at The Arcadia Preparatory School. 

As a mother of a teenager, I’ve faced my share of beginning-of-term trauma, rushing out to buy essentials because I’ve only just been made aware of them, and then having to deal with the sudden impact of long school days.

My experience as a corporate coach showed the way when applied to the home: set your goals, establish a path to reach them and tackle them in increments. Setting a routine is the key to success.

Sherry says it’s always beneficial if parents start getting children prepared the week prior to school opening so that there are no shocks and surprises. “Going back to school after a long break is never easy. Children can be assured that everybody is going through the same experience as them and the first day is always the hardest.”

Stick to a schedule

Sunaina Vohra, Youth and Family Life Coach at the Athena Life Coaching counselling centre, concurs that a pre-school timetable dulls the pain of a hard start.

Besides physical preparation, such as sleeping and waking as close to school timings as possible, and reading past notes or the next grade’s books, she advises mental encouragement: acknowledging that the child has done well over the past year and asking how they are going to maintain and improve on past performance, as well as what goals they might  want to see themself achieve over the coming year.

“It is here that parents must clarify how they can best support their child to achieve his goals and reassure him that they are there for them,” explains Vohra. “This is also the time to talk about school friends, appropriate age-related discussions and gentle reminders of boundaries they would like their children to follow.”

Cook says routines can help avoid fatigue in the first weeks back in school. “Overall, parents can help a great deal in reducing any anxiety about these changes and help create a sense of excitement and anticipation about the new year ahead.”

Pre-term check list

Start waking up in the morning at the time you would on a school day.

Get uniforms ready, buy new essentials such as shoes and bags, and resources like books and stationery.

Check the school website for new changes, or new timings.

Do a test drive to clock possible obstacles if your child is going to a new school.

Ask about reading or other assignments. Or get your child to write an essay about her holidays. 

Keep a positive mindset about school and share it with your kids.

— With input by Keith J. Fernandez/ Group Editor, Commercial Publishing