As parents, when we think of the transition from school to summer, we often imagine it as a time of anticipated freedom and celebration for our kids. But many children have a hard time with this transition. They get used to seeing the same friends every day. They get used to a set classroom schedule. And then, suddenly, the sand beneath them shifts.
Last June I knew something was up with my six year old when he couldn’t wait to do the enormous summer “homework” package his kindergarten teacher had given her students. Even though he had the whole summer to complete it (in exchange for a “super sparkle” the following fall…a piece of paper with his name on it), he felt the need to begin right away. When I picked him up from school on that last day, he quietly climbed into the back seat and asked for a pen. In the rearview mirror, I could see him writing away with intense concentration.
At home that afternoon, he continued to plow through those pages. And the next day, too. I tried to slow him down. To remind him he had the whole summer to do it. I also tried to coax him to talk about what he might be feeling. But he didn’t want to talk. He wanted to work. So I let it go.
About three days into this behavior, his chutzpah for the homework petered out. The mourning period was over, I suppose. Now, as the end of this school year approaches (June 28th to be precise; it’s a late one thanks to the snow days), I wanted to get a head start and prepare for the possible reactions to come. I recently sought out advice from friends and colleagues about managing this transition, and I thought I’d share:
- Start talking with your kids about the last day of school and summer activities at least a couple of weeks before school ends. Invite them to share their reflections about the school year, or to talk about any concerns they might have about the year ending, moving up to the next grade, or transitioning to a new school (such as those moving up from elementary to middle school). Perhaps talk about what these transitions were like for you growing up.
- Once school ends, you might want to dream up a ceremonial marking of the event to make it special. For example, let your child choose his favorite dinner (one that you can make together, perhaps?), with some fun dessert and a movie afterwards. Or create and present a homemade diploma. How creative you want to get is up to you. Then, make this an annual tradition!
- Often, kids miss their classmates as a result of this transition. Why not invite their friends’ families over for a family dinner or a barbecue occasionally during the summer so that the kids can see each other?
- It’s also important to have some routines in place. This is what teachers know so well: routine and structure (which can be harder to keep in place during the summer) really can make life easier for everyone, and give your kids a sense of safety. For example, if your kids are home during the day, have a set time for projects and activities like art, outdoor play, and quiet time so they know what to expect. Family dinner is of course one scheduled activity (or breakfast if that works better for you; mornings can be more fun and leisurely during the summer) we definitely recommend including!
- I really like this idea someone shared: Plant some seeds in your yard or in a flowerpot and measure their growth throughout the summer. Take pictures and then help your child build a scrapbook of her summer to take back to school in September. She can add anything else she wants about the summer, too. Maybe encourage her to think about how she’s grown over the past few months as well. (Alternately, making a scrapbook about the school year that’s just ended could be fun for your child and serve as a healthy outlet for easing the end-of-school year blues).
- Here’s one you already know but always a good reminder: lots of extra hugs and time together. Repeat As Needed.
- And, lastly (this is my own recommendation): don’t forget about YOU. These transitions are often tough on parents, too. With the end of each school year, I always feel a little sad (and just forget it if I hear the Pomp and Circumstance song…then I’m a blubbering mess). Never am I more aware that my kids are growing up, a bittersweet feeling. So take time to process how you are feeling, and be kind to yourself.