I want to congratulate all of the wonderful parents and carers out examples of evaluation essays there who have managed to get their children back off to school this week, especially our special little friends who have started school for the first time or moved to a new school. It’s not an easy time as children get into the swing of things; getting used to new teachers and their unique teaching methods and expectations, meeting new friends, finding their place, learning new academic skills…so many things to take into consideration, and that’s just from the child’s point of view!
After contending with the hectic morning rush to get the kids off to school complete with full stomachs, clean uniforms, packed lunchboxes, show and tell items, signed communication slips, hats and completed homework, the next thing that parents can do to help support their children’s education is to provide an after-school routine.
With all of the changes that come with starting or going back to school, having a predictable routine before and after school can help children feel safe, in control and ready to take on new challenges. This is especially true for children on the Autism Spectrum, who often thrive on structured, predictable routines, which also help to reduce their anxiety, one of the greatest limiting factors for children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Having a routine helps to empower children: as they learn the routine, they can begin completing it independently. Parents have to do less directing, or ‘bossing around’ and children will (ideally!) make fewer irrational requests because they know what needs to happen and what’s going to happen next.
Each after-school routine will look different in every household, but here’s some ideas that you may wish to consider when you are setting your routine:
- School bags are emptied (so there’s no old lunches or unread notes from teachers left in there) and put away in a designated place. If it’s unrealistic that their bags will ever make it back into their bedrooms, create a ‘drop zone’ closer to the front door where you can store shoes and bags.
- Change out of school clothes. This helps to really signify the transition between school and home.
- Snack time, because school all day is hunger-creating stuff! It’s been over a decade since I finished school, and yet I still head for the fridge or pantry as one of the first things I do when I get home at the end of the day! For older children, have a shelf at their height in the fridge and/or pantry that is full of suitable snack options so they can make their own choices. This is also a great opportunity for parents to spend time with their children and learn about their day at school.
- Engine work. I’m talking about the physical activity that will help children to self-regulate their levels of arousal and attention. For the children who come home bouncing off the walls, this work will help blow off some of that excess energy and settle enough to get some homework done and for children who come home floppy and daydreamy, this engine work may help to raise their levels of alertness. Engine work is a topic that deserves a whole blog of its own, but some classic examples include jumping on a trampoline, riding, swinging, playing some backyard ball sports, walking the dog or heading to the local playground. Some indoor options include playing Simon Says, building indoor obstacle courses, bean bag toss (see last weeks blog!) or hallway bowling.
- Homework: Just like the designated ‘drop zone’ for shoes and school bags, there needs to be a designated area for homework to be done. If you don’t have a desk in a room, then a cleared area on the kitchen table is fine, so long as there is NO TELEVISION or other distractions around. For children that struggle with completing homework in one sitting, break it up into smaller steps and incorporate short movement breaks in between.
- Household chores: Set some realistic responsibilities for your children. You wouldn’t expect a 5 year old to mow the lawn, nor would you ask your teenager to wipe the kitchen table and expect that they’ve sufficiently contributed towards the household for the week. You could have a list of suitable chores that your child can choose to complete one per night. Having chores helps to increase independence and responsibility, and provides children with a sense of achievement and contribution. Chores can also include preparation for the next day, such as laying out clothes or re-filling drink bottles.
- Downtime. This time can be used as the reward time for children who have completed their previous tasks. If screen time (television or computer) is to be included in this time, make sure there is a limit. This is also a great time for ‘family time’ (Even Obama has family time!)
- For younger children especially, the pre-bed routine should start directly after dinner. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they need to be getting ready for bed after dinner. At least, they need to be starting the wind-down. Having a structured after-school routine will greatly help children improve their sleep routine. There should be no screen time in the 90 minutes leading up to bed. A recent article in The Star reported on the impact of bright screens and short ‘flicky’ screen shots (especially on cartoons) on children’s ability to fall asleep. Having a consistent bedtime routine can help to set children’s body clocks.
Having routines allows you to incorporate healthy habits into the family lifestyle. Not only do they support the child but they can also strengthen the relationship between parents and their children. And as a final point, there are always exceptions to the rules: routines can be occasionally be bended to fit in some special family activities!!