Ideas to Welcome Students Back to School
Well, it’s that time of year again, at least here in Michigan, where most schools start the day after Labor Day. There are many ways to make someone feel welcome and just as many ways to make students feel welcome when they return to school. As a parent, my ideas would probably vary compared to what a teacher or administrator would do to make kids feel welcome in returning to the hectic school year.
For example, a mom of an incoming high school freshman with an IEP (individualized education plan) might consider the following when getting her child ready to go back to school, and feel good about it instead of dreading it. Here are a few things we do ahead of time:
- Register for the current school year (e.g., back-to-school process/admissions)
- Clean out closets and dressers
- Organize clothes in two piles; keep and donate
- Sign up for an after-school program
- Set up transportation (i.e., busing, carpooling, rideshare, etc.)
- Clean out backpack from the previous year (check for molding mini muffins!)
- Buy school supplies
- Go school clothes shopping
- Create a meal plan for the first couple weeks of school
- Organize snack cupboard
- Get back on a regular sleep schedule (sorry, kids!)
- Decorate the front door for the new school year
- Take “first day of school” photo
- Plan nothing for after school for the first week of classes
On the other hand, teachers might need a completely different list of ideas for welcoming students back to school. Some might look like the following:
- Decorate the class door with a fun theme
- Decorate the hallways
- Have a pep rally in the gym
- Greet students when they arrive and, in the hallways
- Host an open house for families
- Have a special back-to-school breakfast
- Play “getting to know you” games
- Do a fun writing prompt
- Get outside! Let them get the “wiggles” out
- Team building activities
Okay, so we have found ways to make the kids feel welcome. What about the parents and all the stress that precedes the back-to-school frenzy? Let’s look at how back-to-school stress affects moms (and dads, too!)
Back to school stress on moms
One of the things that I love about this time of year is seeing all of my son’s friends in their back-to-school outfits. All dressed up with somewhere to go, but really not going far. It’s always a bittersweet day for me because while I love seeing them looking so cute and excited, I also know what comes next.
When school starts back up, it becomes that crazy time of year when we’re suddenly in the thick of sports and activities after a short summer break. As a working mom for most of my son’s life, I’ve certainly had my fair share of carpooling all over town and trying to get my kid out the door with lunch, homework, and everything else he needs while I’m trying to get myself out there for my own day. Checking bags and ensuring he has everything he needs to survive the day can be a bit of a challenge, especially in the mornings when, half the time, I don’t even know where my keys are.
For many of us parents, a big part of our stress stems from worrying about the experience our kids will have when they begin school and the anxiety they may feel in an unfamiliar place. However, experts say it’s essential for parents to remember they can’t “control” that experience for their kids, which is a foreign feeling for a parent, especially if the kids are still young.
Here’s a list of ways to minimize some back-to-school stress:
- Ease stress and establish routines
- Stay positive and try to show enthusiasm
- Establish fun traditions
- Get back on schedule (ideally, before the new school year begins!)
- Avoid over-scheduling the kids and the family
- Set goals and expectations (but do not plan a “perfect outcome”)
- Make it memorable, especially for younger kids in k-5
- Stay involved and maintain regular communication with educators
- Stay on top of how your child is doing academically, socially, and behaviorally
- Stay organized, keep a family calendar, and have the kids make sure their bags, supplies, and lunches are out and planned the night before
- Establish a homework routine (where and when it will be done)
Thankfully, as my kids move up in the grades, my stress as a parent seems to lessen as my responsibilities are less. However, this is when the student takes on more responsibilities for themselves. For example, my youngest son is old enough to take the bus home and let himself in the house with his key. But, I am concerned about him having too much unsupervised free time.
So, I am looking into an after-school program for this year. When thinking about extracurricular activities and after-school programs, finding a community-minded program is crucial. Let’s take a deeper look…
Successful after-school program models
The best model for an effective after-school program is a youth development framework rather than a deficit-based or risk-behavior model. Like most youth, children and teens respond best to positive reinforcement and being told what they can do better than they react to being told what not to do. Thanks for the reminder. It’s hard when you’re amid teen “crud” to stop, pause, and remember they are only going through another growth stage. Just like the terrible twos!
A good program will focus on providing supportive relationships, a safe and structured environment, opportunities for skill building, and connection to community resources.
The key to a successful after-school program is having caring and trained staff committed to helping them reach their full potential. The ratio of adults to children should be low enough to ensure that each child has a chance to form a relationship with a caring adult.
Ideas to welcome students back to school
In conclusion, many ways exist to make students feel welcome and reduce back-to-school stress for parents and students. From organizing routines and setting goals to creating a positive and supportive environment, it is vital to prioritize the well-being and success of students. With the right approach, the back-to-school season can be a smooth and exciting transition for everyone involved.