We’ve all seen the memes doing the rounds on social media about how tired parents are and how the kids dread September, but the parents will be waving them off gleefully. But I’m going to buck the trend here and say that I’m dreading it too – and not just because I’m heading back to the classroom myself!
Term time holds mixed feelings for us. With one child firmly on the autistic spectrum and another with a painful genetic condition, maintaining a busy routine during term term is not always a pleasant experience. We’ve learnt to put strategies in place to help everyone get through the weeks until the relative peace of the holidays returns. I’ve talked about some of those strategies below, and whilst they may not work for everyone, hopefully they will give someone some ideas from both a parent and a teacher perspective.
Maintain a Bedtime Routine
My teenagers really don’t thank me for this, and according to them I am the only parent on the planet that insists on a bedtime for a child over the age of 10. My Occupational Therapist, the ever lovely Jo Southall calls this ‘Sleep Hygiene’ and it has incredible impacts for both mental and physical health.
Now they’re older, we no longer have the bath and story type routine that they had as tiny people. Instead, their optimum sleep hygiene routine includes handing over phones & laptops to be charged in our room (no wriggle room on this), tidying up their sleeping area (I can dream!), and lights down with books. Of course this means that the eldest reads horrific horror books until late, but the brain activity caused by reading is very different to screen time.
But this doesn’t just apply to the kids. How exhausted do you feel as a parent with the school runs and juggling kids and work and a million other activities? Having a wind down routine to help you get the best rest is just as important.
Have Set Homework Time
Yes, I know, I mentioned the ‘H’ word. But there is method in my madness here. As their homework load increased, we implemented set times and days where homework would be done. Having a regular time each week acts a little bit scheduling in a meeting at work – if it’s in the diary, you avoid booking in other things and pushing it down the to do list.
Saturday mornings whilst I am tutoring, they address any outstanding homework for the next week. Two hours and no more is allocated. And they have three hours over the week in the evenings to get a head start on other things. With five hours set aside, that is enough. That’s not to say that it’s always enough time to complete everything to perfection, but we are also teaching them that work & life must balance and to achieve that you have to let go of some perfectionism. (of course we won’t let on that I haven’t mastered that whatsoever).
I fully subscribe to the ten minute rule. That is children should study at home for ten minutes in total for every year they have attended school. Using this calculation, our eldest who is entering UK year 9 this year will have been at school for ten years this year. 100 minutes should be just shy of two hours per week. Of course this doesn’t always work out, but allocating set time each weekend based on the ten minute rule has eased the stress of getting everything done.
If the back to school sale aisles are making you nervous, you’re not alone. I hate seeing my eldest flinch at the crowds and hours of walking will inevitably bring on a night of pain for the smallest. So instead, we have honed a routine of creating Amazon shopping lists to deliver the non-logo items that will make life easier at the start of term.
One of the banes of my life is buying suitable school bags. Last year, we bought two of these bags which served the additional purpose of having straps that were soft enough not to hurt the youngest one’s shoulders, and sturdy enough to last a full year at high school. They were particularly pleased with the phone charger ports!
Another lifesaver over the past few years has been my constant supply of pen grips. These are great for kids (and adults!) who find that they grip pens too hard when writing and end up causing themselves pain. With both the youngest and me having exceptionally hypermobile hands, these go on most pens we own. They also had a surprise benefit of also improving her handwriting.
A few years ago I would have balked at spending £15 on a lunchbox. And yet here I am, genuinely recommending this as the best thing since sliced bread… Our eldest has some interesting food habits – her palette is very adult (jalapenos & olives are favourites), but like a culinary Ghostbuster, the food mustn’t touch! Bento boxes were the perfect solution for this and had the added benefit of being Japanese for my little shinnichi.
Don’t Dither On Subject Changes
If your child has just made their subject choices for GCSE or A Level, you may end up having the dreaded conversation of wanting to switch. If this does happen, it’s important to make sure that this isn’t just September nerves, however keep in mind that many schools and colleges have a swift cut off date for changing courses. These cut off dates are usually early October, if not earlier.
The first port of call for subject changes is always your child’s form tutor who will advise them on the possibility of subject changes (their new chosen subject may be full, or may clash with their timetable).
Of course if you are considering supporting a subject with tuition, the same advice applies. The earlier a student receives support when they start to struggle, the more positive the outcome. There is very little a tutor can do if a student commences tuition in April. The best time to search for a tutor is July before the academic year starts – doing this will allow you the pick of the best times as many of their tutees will be sitting exams and their books will begin to clear. Failing that, August to October will still see many excellent tutors with spaces available. Look for recommendations from previous students and parents, and ensure that any private tutor is able to provide a full DBS check to ensure the safety of your child.
Keep In Contact With School
One of the biggest changes that I noticed when my children moved from primary school to high school was the contact. We went from a class teacher in a village school who knew them like their own, to a huge high school with teachers for every subject and no daily parent contact. If anything, it was more of a shock for us than it was for them.
One thing we did discover though was email contact was a surefire way to keep in touch. As parents who were new to the high school experience, we quite often dropped a short email to teachers if we had concerns. Replies were reassuring and quite often allowed us to share information that teachers were very grateful for. Often your email will provide context for something that they’ve noticed in class – if it’s big enough to notice at home, you can guarantee the teacher has a clue that something is wrong.
On average, most teachers will receive between 5 to 10 parental emails each day, so if you don’t get a reply straight away please don’t feel that you’re being ignored. It’s quite likely that your email is on a to do list for a teacher with 200+ students to wrangle.
Do you have any top tips for surviving September as a parent? Let me know below. I’d love to hear from you!
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I have linked to Jo Southall above without affiliation – she is a genuinely brilliant OT.