How to Make Transitions From Summer to School a Breeze

How to Make Transitions From Summer to School a Breeze

It’s that time of year. Time to put away the sunscreen and take out the backpacks. Time to shift gears from the lazy days of summer, to all the wonder that awaits your child in school.

Before we dive into how you can help your child ease into the school year, let’s pause. Take a breath. It’s important to put yourself in your child’s place at this very moment so you can embrace all they may be thinking and feeling.

Start by thinking of times in your life when you needed to shift gears. Maybe it was shifting your attention from sending off a text message to answering a “quick” question from your child. Or maybe it was shifting your expectations when your favorite restaurant ran out of your favorite dish. Yes, the one you were looking forward to all day. Maybe it was a bigger shift like being out of your daily routine for two weeks while you visited friends and family who live out of state.

As you think about these shifts (big and small), how did you react? For example, what was your response to your child’s 100th interruption of the day? Did you shift from your phone to giving them your undivided attention with kindness and patience, or were you a bit rushed in your answer? When the server said they were all out of your favorite meal, did you walk out, or did you easily choose something else on the menu? And how about during a big shift in your daily routine this summer? Did you easily find yourself wishing the stay could be longer, or did you run for the car dreaming about sleeping in your own bed?

Now, imagine your child. How likely are they to be able to “go with the flow” during the upcoming transition from summer to school? Or, is it more likely they are going to ‘flip their lid”?

All young children struggle with transitions (big and small), and here are a few reasons why:

  • They are young. There are roughly 2,000 days between birth and kindergarten. Wow! This means your child is still learning how to follow directions, complete routines, and to stop, think, and then act. Things many adults are still learning!
  • Time is complicated. It’s perfectly normal for your child to need more time to process something than you may have to give them. For example, young children can’t yet grasp the concept of leaving the house in five minutes. And they may struggle to understand your expectations of time. Simply put, they don’t yet have a clear concept of time at this stage in their development.
  • They need support. As children learn to shift their attention, change their expectations, and/or learn how to participate in different daily routines, they need your ongoing support. It’s perfectly normal for your child to experience strong emotions “all the time,” because they are still learning how to describe their feelings and figure out how to deal with them. They need you to model how to shift gears with ease and grace, and they need support when they struggle.

So how can you support your child through transitions, particularly big ones like going from summer to school?

Here’s a road map with three practical pitstops for making the transition from summer to school a breeze:

  1. Practice, Practice, Practice. Children need three types of practice when it comes to making successful transitions.
    • First, they need to practice the basic skills needed for where they are headed. Things like like zipping their own coat, “reading” a book for a few minutes, and waiting for their turn.
    • Second, because your child is likely to experience strong emotions such as fear, disappointment, excitement, and joy, they need to practice how to describe them before they can be expected to respond well to them. As the saying goes, they need to learn how to “name it to tame it.”
    • Lastly, children need to practice problem-solving skills, which include being able to recognize there is a problem in the first place, think of possible solutions, and then plan and carry out the solutions. No matter how big or small these seem, children need practice opportunities where you model, give feedback, and support them as they practice new skills without pressure.
  2. Provide Processing Time. When transitioning from summer to school, children need time to process a ton of new sensory inputs. From how it feels to get up early, to how “school clothes” feel on their skin. From how they feel riding the bus, to how it feels riding in a car seat first thing in the morning. The bottom line is, children need time and guidance as they gain an awareness of how they feel regarding new or intense inputs. Children also need processing time to notice what they are feeling, and to work through their feelings using coping strategies with you as their guide. Lastly, your child is still learning about the concept of time. They may not understand what it means that school starts in three weeks, three days, or even three hours. Perhaps start a countdown calendar with your child that leads to the first day of school. And while we need to help prepare children in advance of transitions (big or small), don’t be surprised when they aren’t ready to move at a pace that is in synch with your schedule.
  3. Prepare to Coach. In life, having a good coach is key to developing and mastering new skills. And when transitioning from summer to school, children will look to you as their coach. They will look to you to know they are safe, supported, and that you are there to help them, particularly when they struggle. In fact, they need their coach the most when they struggle with transitions. You’ll know you are being called upon to coach when instead of getting dressed or putting their book bag in their cubby, your child is on the floor crying, hiding in their closet, or running up and down the hallway. It is in these moments that your child is sending you a message. A message that they are excited or confused, that they need to move, or that they need more of your attention. It is in these moments of difficult transitions that you as the coach need to slow down, connect and help guide your child. Bottom line? Effective support comes by talking less, showing more, and giving your child time to process and then take action. Oh, and lots of love and hugs along the way help, too!

By Dr. Kristie Pretti-Frontczak, an Ohio-based author, consultant, and educator’s educator who spent 16 years as a tenured professor at Kent State University before leaving to lead a {r}evolution in early care and education. Through comprehensive classes, thought-provoking keynotes, and practical resources, she’s guiding educational professionals toward developing their emotional intelligence, reclaiming children’s right to learn through play, and reimagining more inclusive classrooms. Learn more at

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