Ch-ch-ch Changes: Surviving the School to Summer Transition
Some ideas for families to help make the transition to summer easier.
Posted June 18, 2013
Today, I have a guest blogger: a fellow mom and writer, Amy Yelin, who has written a great post about helping children ease their way into summer.
Amy Yelin is a writer and mom of two boys who works part-time for The Family Dinner Project, where a slightly different version of this blog first appeared. The Family Dinner Project is a grassroots movement promoting food, fun and conversation about things that matter.
As parents, when we think of the transition from school to summer, we often envision it as a time Ferris Bueller like celebration for our kids. But many children have a hard time with this transition. It’s easy to understand: they get used to seeing the same friends every day. They get used to a set classroom schedule. And then, suddenly, the sand shifts.
When my son Ethan finished school last year—kindergarten—he didn’t cry or anything. He didn’t really talk about what this ending felt like for him; or what he might miss. But his behavior insisted that something was up. You see, his teacher gave every student a massive packet of homework to do for the summer. It wasn’t required. Just if they wanted to, and in return for their efforts, they would get a super sparkle (a piece of paper with their name on it whoop whoop!) at the beginning of the school year when they turn it in.
Ethan wanted to work on his packet from the very moment I picked him up from school that last day. He asked me for a pen and did the first few sheets in the car on the way home from school. He worked at home that afternoon—even when I offered to let him watch Return of the Jedi with his brother (a special last day of school treat).
“No,” he said. “I want to do my work.”
And that’s exactly what he did. Quietly, sitting on the living room floor, pressing hard with his markers, his tongue hanging out.
I wondered what was behind this intensity. Was it a way of dealing with his grief, or his confusion, about the transition? Was it a way for him to still feel connected with his teacher? His classroom? His friends?
The pile of sheets continued to grow.
“This is probably the most homework I’ve ever had,” he said at one point.
“You have the whole summer to do it,” I reminded him.
But he kept going. Straightening the pile each time he added a new sheet. My serious six-year-old. My soon-to-be-first grader. I felt my own need to do something, anything, to distract myself from the rock that was forming in my throat.
About three days into this behavior, Ethan’s chutzpah for the homework finally petered out. The mourning period, I presumed, done. Now, as the end of this school year approaches (June 28th here to be precise), I keep recalling this brief but important moment in time. And I can’t help but wonder what this year’s transition will hold. In addition to Ethan finishing first grade, my younger son completes kindergarten this year. So to prepare, I recently sought out advice from friends and colleagues about what they recommend for easing this transition and here, I share:
- Begin talking with your kids about the end of the school year 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. Perhaps let your child choose his favorite dinner (one that you can make together, perhaps?), with some fun dessert of their choice and a movie afterwards. Perhaps create and present a homemade diploma? How creative you want to get it up to you. Possibly make this an annual tradition.
- Often, kids miss their classmates as a result of this transition. This is an easy fix. Why not invite their friends’ families over for a dinner or a barbecue occasionally during the summer so that the kids can see each other?
- It’s also important—for both kids and parents—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. Family dinners are one routine (or breakfast if that works better for you…they can be more fun and leisurely during the summer) is one routine we definitely recommend!
- I really like this idea someone shared: plant some seeds in your yard or in a flower pot and measure their growth throughout the summer. Take pictures and allow your child to build a scrapbook of her summer to take back to school in September. She can add anything else she wants about the summer, too. Help think about how she’s grown, too. (Alternately, making a scrapbook about the school year that’s just ended might also 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, if needed.
- And, lastly (this is my own recommendation) don’t forget about YOU. These transitions can be tough on us 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.