Recently I have been thinking about practical strategies to help families ease the transition to the new school year. A tool that many families find helpful is to post a family visual calendar in a prominent place in your home. I have written about this before, but mid-August seemed like a good time to remind families of the benefits of using a visual family calendar including:
Being able to reference a visual calendar gives children a sense of the flow of the week and helps strengthen executive function skills such as planning and time management.
Use of a visual calendar supports the concept that children share responsibility for their schedules and holds them accountable: instead of needing to ask a parent what time the birthday party begins, children can look at the calendar and find that information for themselves.
If you have a complicated weekly schedule and different care givers are present for your child on different days, presenting a visual depiction of which adult will be in charge of drop-off and pick-up each day helps increase predictability and provide clarity for your child regarding what to expect.
If you have a child who asks a lot of questions about what is happening next or when certain events are going to take place, providing a visual calendar helps parents shift from being the source of providing this information verbally to being able to encourage independence: “When is hockey practice? Good question – why don’t you go check the calendar?”
A visual calendar also gives family members the pleasure of anticipating upcoming fun events: “Everyone is so excited for our beach day. You can look on the calendar to see how many days until we go.”
A visual family calendar can take many different forms: some families like to fill out a paper calendar and hang it on the wall, while others prefer the flexibility of using a whiteboard. If you have a young child, you can pair a photo, simple drawing, or clip art with words on your calendar. Depending on the age and temperament of your child, you might find that it is most effective to focus on one week at a time rather than looking ahead to the whole month. Since young children are typically focused on the here and now, families with toddlers and preschoolers may want to limit conversation to what is happening todayand write out a visual schedule for just one day (similar to the daily schedule posted in many preschool classrooms): “Today you have school in the morning. After nap we’re meeting our friends at the playground.”
Once you know your child’s weekly school schedule, a strategy for increasing independence and strengthening executive function skills is to work together with your child to write out a list of the items that need to go in their backpack each day. The list can be posted near where your child’s backpack is stored. There will be daily items as well as items that only need to come to school on certain days, for example:
Monday – water bottle, snack bag, homework folder, sneakers for PE
Tuesday - water bottle, snack bag, homework folder, library book
Wednesday - water bottle, snack bag, homework folder
Thursday - water bottle, snack bag, homework folder, trumpet
Friday - water bottle, snack bag, homework folder, sneakers for PE
An extension of this concept is to work together with your child to write a list of items they need to bring to each extracurricular activity. If your child has a bag or backpack devoted to the activity, consider attaching the list to the bag, for example:
soccer – cleats, shin guards, water bottle
play practice – script, snack, water bottle
When you encourage your child to “check your list,” you are supporting independence and showing them that having systems in place, such as using calendars and checklists, helps both children and adults to function more efficiently and effectively.
A couple of additional practical strategies to set up your family for success this school year:
Give some thought to sleep. My newsletter from last August about supporting healthy sleep habits addresses this issue in detail.
The end of August is also a good time to reassess your family’s screen policies (see my newsletter from last September) and make sure they continue to be aligned with your child’s current developmental stage and with your parenting goals and values.