Heading back to school can be a practical and emotional minefield. The long holidays are coming to an end and in the last few years they may have been less and less relaxing for reasons beyond any parent’s control. Whether you’re lucky enough to be enjoying the benefits of higher household savings and clearing credit card debt, or feeling the pinch of an economically catastrophic 18 months, getting ready to go back to school can be a rewarding time, and can bring out the superheroes in us all.
First of all, let’s look at tech (like Iron Man or Batman, depending on your preferred superhero universe). In 2020 we learned that you can do school through a smartphone if you really have to, and that TVs, tablets, keyboards (the linguistic and musical kinds), home video cameras and rubber pencils can all be corralled into the service of your child’s education. Whether you’re looking to upgrade your household’s hardware, invest in smoother software, borrow from family or recycle from friends, there are some basic tech steps that we can all take to make the journey back to school more pleasant:
- Back up (or write down) all your child’s log in details for school and other accounts
- Share important school-related bookmarks with another device or save them to a transferable account before switching devices
- Make sure all updates are installed on all devices. This is a free and fairly fast way to make sure your child is getting the most out of the tech they’ve got.
- Check that the relevant devices all still talk to each other – your printer still talks to their new tablet, and their computer can still operate the scanner. Don’t wait until the morning the first assignment is due to rebuild your home office!
Next up: uniform (like Captain Marvel or Superman). It can be a lot less intimidating for your little superheroes to sort out uniform requirements while there are still a few weeks left of holidays. Yes, they may still grow but you’ll be prepping for that in late January too. A good rule to follow when fitting school uniforms (at the shops, in the wardrobes of older siblings or when recycling the uniforms of friends) to make sure your child feels right in the clothes they wear the most is to make sure the item still fits the intended description. If a shirt is so big that it goes from being a short sleeved t-shirt to a long-sleeved jumper on your child, or a pair of shorts can only be described as baggy trousers on them, they’re too big for this year. Don’t forget all the extra uniform odds and bobs too – socks, hats, scrunchies, sport clothes, school bags, shoes and name tags are all important parts of this process. Some ways to involve your kids in this process so that they don’t feel punished or like they have no power include:
- Give them the choice of which item to sort out that day, or which order to do things in. There’s no getting out of uniform preparation but they can at least be in control of how it happens.
- Ask for their help in labelling things – if your child feels a sense of ownership over their school things maybe, just maybe, there will be less trips to lost property this year.
- Play dress ups – they put on their superhero school uniform, you put on your superhero work clothes and see what special skills you all discover! This can build positive emotions around getting ready for school (and possibly work too!).
Third, and perhaps the trickiest, is to Hulk out on purpose. The change from full-on home time with different routines, faces and food to being back at school with alarm clocks, work to do, complicated social situations and a lunchbox instead of a whole family fridge is huge and it comes with all sorts of emotions. One of the best ways to prep your child to go back to school is to build their emotional literacy and to treat it like a super power (just like the Hulk). Practice feeling happy by doing things that make your child happy and talking about it at the time. Where does happiness sit, what does it look like, taste like, smell like? Do this with less pleasant emotions and your child will be better able to tell you if they’re frustrated after losing at sport, angry at a playground injustice or tired after a lunchtime in the sun with too many friends. If you and your children can talk about their emotions they’re less likely to explode later and leave your child feeling out of control.
Finally, there are the supporting superheroes, who are all worthy of their own movies but who need a little less explanation:
- Hawkeye: catch up on optometrist appointments – no one wants to get in trouble for not paying attention when they might not be able to see what’s on the whiteboard. In the same category – annual hearing checks, the GP and the dentist.
- Captain America/Wonder Woman: Review the school rules. Swearing might be treated differently between home and school, the recycling system might be different, and there will likely be ongoing health rules in 2021 that might not match home. Kids don’t like being caught out misunderstanding the rules any more than adults do!
- Thor/Spiderman: Figure out your school transport plan. This could mean reviewing last year and any recurring road rage (maybe change timing or route), learning how to catch the train for those going to schools further afield, checking if the bus’s stopping pattern or timetable has changed, practising the walk in a mask or, if you’re really lucky, travelling by rainbow, flying hammer or spider web.
- Pepper Pots: Figure out your lunch plan. Have your kids’ tastes changed over summer? Have they discovered a liking or hatred for Vegemite? More seriously, have you or your child’s classmates discovered any allergies that will need to be managed? Is there any way your kids can help to make their own lunches (without it devolving into a box full of plastic-wrapped sugar)?
- Antman and StarLord: Pack your backpack and don’t forget the stationery (StarLord’s name is Peter Quill for those of us old enough to remember a time before e-pencils). Remember when sourcing your stationery that less is more – this might be a good time to revisit the War on Waste and to discuss family sharing as a way of trying out different stationery before buying new things that might not bring joy.
There are a lot more superhero analogies to draw in the mission of getting back to school. The most important things are to assemble all of your family’s superpowers, to be prepared for challenges and Hulk-days, and to involve your littlest superheroes as much as possible as leaders in their quest to face the new year with bravery, kindness and a sense of adventure.