Back to reality: The Midweek Wire offers a guide to help students just after summer vacation.

By Matt Schickling
Wire Staff Writer

Soon, days will get shorter, bells will ring and students will return to classrooms. For kids, it’s an adjustment, for parents it might be an overhaul, but for both it’s necessary.

Changes in time management, sleep schedules and daily routines can make the back-to-school transition rough. But, there are ways for parents to guide their children along the path of least resistance to recovery from a summer spent outside the classroom.

“It’s important for parents to say positive things so their children are looking forward to it rather than dreading it,” Kasey Black, school psychologist at Rolling Hills and Newtown elementary schools, said.

Instead of pointing out the negatives, it’s better to emphasize what’s exciting — a fresh start, perhaps a new school, seeing some classmates, etc. That positivity can go a long way, especially considering that children are up against a complete renovation of their routines.

For this, communication is key. Parents who are proactive and upfront about preparing for the school year are setting their children up for success. This also translates into positive interactions at school.

“I think it’s important for parents to have a conversation with their children about what the expectations are for school as far as paying attention and being mannerly,” Rudy Lamberth, supervisor of pupil services at Council Rock School District, said.

He also suggested that parents find out “who to go to for what,” like how to contact the guidance counselor or principal and for what reasons. This information can be found on individual school websites along with other information like school events or when club and athletic signups take place.

Parents of kids who were on a daily schedule during the summer, like summer camp or other organized activities, should be able to more easily facilitate the transition, but even if not, there’s still time to get them back on track.

“In the summer, you still have to shower, you still have to eat breakfast, there’s still a structure. Kids thrive on a structured schedule,” Black said. “It gives them a better understanding of time and how it affects them. It can help with transitions, too, just getting them used to the organization of the day.”

Black recommends creating a visual schedule to fill this need. For younger kids, who may not yet be reading independently, symbols and pictures work well, and older students can get along fine with writing on a calendar.

These schedules will change as school begins, especially regarding sleep and meal times. “If you’re going to sleep at 8, you can’t be eating dinner at 7:30,” Black said.

Kids also tend to stay up later during the summer, but gradually dialing forward their bedtime around a half-hour every few days could have them ready and well-rested during the typical hours that school will be in session, so “their body clocks will be in tune to when they have to get up and get the school bus,” Lamberth said.

Along with the classroom of tired eyes, teachers might notice that students have forgotten things from the previous year’s curriculum. If students neglect the books over the summer, it can slow their progress the following year. This phenomenon is nicknamed the “summer slump,” and it can be easily rectified with a little parental interference.

“The last two weeks of summer should really be used to catch up on your academics,” Sunil Dhavalikar, director at the Kumon Learning Centers in Newtown and Southampton, said. “The students really should get themselves prepared, and the parents should help. The ones who haven’t done anything might start falling behind.”

Dhavalikar advises students to order next year’s textbooks to get a head start and to reuse old textbooks for review. This advice is especially helpful for older students in middle school and high school, as they’re more susceptible to the slump.

“Younger students can catch up very quickly, but as they start getting older and older, memory loss is a problem,” he said. “The amount of knowledge given in middle school and high school is significantly higher, so there’s more to know, and most of the older kids tend not to push in the summer.”

At the very least, students should be reading, Dhavalikar said. Most schools have required summer reading across all grade levels, so focusing on that takes priority over leisure reading. “We tell people, to do even just a little bit, 10 or 15 minutes — whatever you can do,” Dhavalikar added. For young children, parents can assist with this or read to them.

“Start working on it now, don’t wait for the first report card,” Dhavalikar said. “Think of your brain as a sword — the sharper the better.”