6 tips to prepare kids’ mental readiness for back to school

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Originally printed in the pages of Simply Family Magazine’s August 2017 issue. Never miss an issue, check out SFM’s digital editions, here

article by TJ Wierenga

Summer sure does seem to get shorter every year, and the end of August seems to be racing towards us faster than the pool at the end of the big slide at the Oasis! With the onset of Back to School season, comes the realization that our kids might need to be eased into the process of being mentally engaged! Here are a few ideas to help make the splash down to school desks a little bit less painful.

6 Tips for Getting Kids Mentally Ready for Back to School

#1 Read, Read, Read! Take the kids to the library, or better yet, take them to the bookstore and let them pick out two or three books by their favorite authors (or just something that looks good!). The number one method to get someone thinking is to get them reading. Unlike screen time of any variety (even educational shows, games, or apps), which primarily engages the prefrontal cortex (think “fight or flight”), reading stimulates the temporal lobe, the frontal lobe, the angular and supramarginal gyrus… in other words, reading involves the major portions of your brain and forms connections and neural pathways that nothing else can achieve. It improves our concentration and critical analytical skills, increases vocabulary, and opens entire new worlds to our imaginations.

#2 Read TO your kids. Take an hour (start with half an hour or even 15 minutes!) each evening and read from a good book to your kids. Turn off the TV and devices, pile on the sofa or on a parent’s big bed, and just get lost in the story with your kids. Don’t think that you have to sound like a professional actress or actor, either… the words paint pictures in your kids’ minds, and they stop listening to YOU and start listening to the STORY. You can handle a book that might be above their own reading comprehension level, and the kids will pick up amazing amounts of vocabulary, grammar, and imagination by listening. Check out the book lists at https://amongstlovelythings.com/booklist/.

#3 Board Games and Puzzles. A rousing game of Scrabble is a great way to build family memories while increasing skills in spelling, math, and logic/strategy, and it might just throw in some dictionary skills as well. Other great board games include Risk, dominoes or triominoes, Settlers of Catan, Life, or even just good old fashioned checkers and chess! Puzzles are inexpensive and fun to work on together, with a tangible result.

Colton Wierenga showing off a nice rainbow
Colton Wierenga showing off a nice rainbow

#4 Turn off the screen time and spend a lot of time outdoors. Montana is an incredibly beautiful state and we have a wide abundance of natural activities. With multiple parks in the area, walking and biking trails, the incredible views from the Rimrocks, dog parks available to take the family pet for a playdate, several fishing ponds, the Montana Audubon Center, water parks, playgrounds, sports complexes, and any one of several mountain ranges within a short drive; it’s pretty easy for us to be intentional about being outdoors. Yes, camping can increase your child’s readiness to handle Algebra! Or let them take hunter’s safety classes, learn to shoot a bow, or take your child and a few of their friends down to Riverfront Park for an impromptu Fishing Derby. Your child’s brain needs a break from the usual grind, and memories and family relationships are strengthened by time spent out-of-doors, connected not to our devices and our phones, but to each other.

#5 Get involved in Science. Grab a book of (age appropriate) science experiments while you’re at the library, bookstore, or even boxed experiments from a hobby store, and try an experiment or two a week. What kid does not love baking soda volcanoes? This is a great time of year to do experiments outside! The beauty of scientific experiments is that it takes your child from a consumer/passive mindset to that of an active participant, creator, and maybe even budding scientist. If they can create, control, and effect outcomes, then their interest in the subject goes higher than a soda bottle rocket!

#6 Arts and crafts. Nothing beats DOING. Take a trip to Hobby Lobby or Michaels with your kids and find something to try together. Whether it’s making homemade soap (which is amazingly easy) or learning how to knit, building a model car or airplane, or learning how to draw cartoon characters, there are hundreds of ideas for crafts and skills. The best part is that your kids will see YOU learning, and enjoying the process!

about the author…TJ Wierenga is a Billings homeschool mom of two middle schoolers, and is learning to embrace the whole messy process! Psalm 113:9

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