The monarch butterfly is one example of a species that practices return migration. This process of revisiting a place that one has lived in before is also called homing, according to a Scholastic Science Exploration article. These animals use navigation strategies and prepare for their journey months in advance. Scientists are awed by the skill that these animals display in order to return to exactly the same location year after year.
As a parent and educator, I am similarly fascinated by the return of our children to school each year. For some, it is an easy seasonal trip. However, many children, particularly those with special needs, do need to prepare for this yearly migration by implementing specific navigation methods a few weeks before school begins. Whether or not your child has special needs, the recommendations below may facilitate this homing process for your family.
Establish a countdown calendar so that the advent of school does not take you or your child by surprise. Most kids, but particularly those for whom school is anything but easy, do not appreciate being told that tomorrow is the first day of school. They desperately need time to assimilate this event into their forward trajectory. To make it concrete, cross off/color in each passing day on the calendar and count the number of days remaining to the start of school. Use a 12-month calendar for older children and pencil in the vacation days and holidays that each month brings, so that the school calendar has a more positive appeal.
Camp time schedules, hazy-lazy weekdays and hanging out with friends and family lull us into a more relaxed summertime schedule. Sleeping and eating routines, usually more unyielding during the school year, bend and wave in the sunshiny breeze. As we prepare to head back to school, we must gradually re-establish our routines and reclaim the living patterns that we are accustomed to for 10 months out of the year. Begin to impose structure at home with regard to dinnertime and bedtime. Lay out clothing the night before, pack camp lunch bags before going to bed and set the alarm clock for an earlier wake-up time. By loosely mimicking a school schedule, you will help your child practice the less compromised routine that he/she will be embarking on shortly. Encourage older children to wear a watch in these couple of weeks before the start of school. Keeping track of time on an hour-by-hour basis will help them become reacquainted with structured daily routines and will help them shift from summer haze to school days.
Designate a “knapsack zone” that your kids can use when they come home from camp in the summer and from school during the year. By keeping the backpacks in the same place year round and emptying them on a daily basis, your child will be well on his or her way to a more organized knapsack routine.
The National Association of School Psychologists recommends swapping out video and TV viewing time in favor of less passive activities such as quiet games, coloring and puzzles of all sorts. Reinforcing their thinking processes, extending their attention spans and engaging them in conversation now will help them morph back into the active learners that they need to be in order to aspire to success in the school setting.
Compile a list and shop for school supplies, uniforms/dress-code clothing items and snack/lunch foods together. Create an attitude of “a new year, a new start” that will generate positive anticipation of the new school year. Initially, you may want to take an inventory of school supplies and clothing that can be used again and demonstrate your commitment to environmental recycling and financial savings. Allow each child to choose a special “back-to-school lunch/treat” in honor of the first day back. While considering lunch and snack options, seize the moment and discuss how the beginning of the new academic year is an auspicious time for improvements in healthy eating habits.
While you may have used many strategies to ensure that your children get off to school in September on the proverbial right foot, understand and acknowledge that this is still a very difficult transition for them. Validate their feelings and allay their fears about things they are concerned about such as making and keeping friends, having new teachers and settling into new routines. Our sages wisely advise us to accept the premise that “all beginnings are difficult.” Our own attitudes and words will set the tone for the post-Labor Day migration from white sand to whiteboards. Even if you are dreading the return to a school schedule, extol the virtues of returning to school rather than bemoaning the loss of summer. By osmosis, your children will absorb your optimistic perspective.
The monarch butterfly glides through the homing process gracefully and reaches its destination with seeming ease. It is my fervent hope that all of our children will do the same as they migrate back to school and spread their beautiful wings.
Dena Mayerfeld is a learning disabilities teacher consultant, and a Middle School teacher at SINAI Elementary at Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey, including the Riva Blatt Weinstein Judaic Studies Program. SINAI operates several inclusive special education schools throughout northern New Jersey for Jewish children grades 1–12, as well as services for adults with developmental disabilities.
This article was originally published in The Jewish Link, click here to read.
Photo courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife Community Photos, Misty McNally