It’s Back-to-School month! Which means your kids have either recently started back at school, or they are headed there soon.
This month of “fresh starts” is our kids’ own version of “Happy New Year!” You see, on December 31, adults look to the new calendar year with fresh goals, new excitement, and a renewed resolve to get “on track.” But when your kids are school aged, their “new year” starts each fall. In fact, trying to get them to have a “start fresh” on January 1 usually ends up feeling more like an interruption than a help!With this in mind, I want to share with you our Annual Kids Back to School traditions that we set in place when our oldest child started kindergarten. It has been a great way to capture the passion and excitement that comes with a new year – and keeps us leaning into following Jesus in each area of our lives and in each stage of our growth.
Sometime around the start of each school year, we take our school-aged kids out to dinner and we present them with their schedules for the year. No, not their class schedule – their daily schedule.
Each school year comes with new classes, new teachers, a new homework load, a new sports season, and more… And yet, it also only comes with the exact same amount of hours in the day as the year before!
Instead of us just hoping the kids will have enough time to do homework and practice piano and go to youth group and participate in soccer and read their Bible and – (insert the long list of whatever fills your days) – we actually schedule all of those things into their days.
So, we map out what time they will wake up, when they will spend time in the Word, what time they will get home, have their snack, work on their homework, spend time playing, practice the piano, etc. It all gets a spot on the schedule.You can see from the example in the picture, it is VERY basic, but teaches even at a young age how to manage time and map out what needs to be done in your week. You can do yours in 30-minute increments, hour-increments, or whatever works for you! We include all of their sports and music lessons, youth group, and weekly activities. We even schedule their practice times, so when they come home from school, they can look at their schedule and know exactly what they need to do and when to do it.
With the schedule, they can see there’s time for everything. This helps eliminate the weight of feeling overwhelmed by all that has to get done. “No need to stress honey – it all has a time slot.” It also helps keep the kids on track when they get home from school. “No, you can’t watch TV right now; it’s 4:30 p.m. – time to practice guitar!”The schedule is something we all commit to following, to the best of our ability, but it is also something that can change and morph as things come and go out of our routine, such as when one activity ends or another begins.
When our kids are in elementary school, my husband and I map everything out ahead of time and the kid’s schedule gets presented to them at dinner. However, once they hit junior high, we arrive at dinner with a blank schedule. The days and times are there, but the kids now get to speak into the timing of things. What are their values? When do they prefer to do things – first thing in the morning or after school? It helps them take more ownership of their time.
After the schedules are completed and talked through, we then read through the “Got Free Time?” sheet. This is a sheet that we hang in a public space (such as on the fridge or in the hallway by their bedrooms) that you can adjust each year, based on their ages.
If there is no homework one day, or they finish something early, that’s awesome! But instead of immediately jumping to watch TV or if they’re complaining about being bored, this list of ideas provides something that the kids can do with their free time. They don’t have to do something on the list, but it helps mom or dad not to have to come up with suggestions in the moment.Items on the FREE TIME sheet might include such activities as:
- Write a letter to a friend, cousin or grandparent
- Read a book
- Use the “I Did It Because I Love You” pillow*
- Write someone a thank you note
- Read to your siblings
- Do a craft
- Organize one drawer
- Play a game
- Make a music video
*The pillow suggestion is basically a way for siblings to serve one another. We have a small pillow that says, “I Did It Because I Love You,” and when you serve someone, you leave the pillow there for them.
For example, if you make your sister’s bed, you leave the pillow on her made bed. If you organize your brother’s shoes, you leave the pillow next to his shoes. My amazing mom started this when I was little and it’s one of my favorite traditions to carry on.
After The Schedule has been handed out and talked through, and the “Got Free Time?” sheet has been discussed, we then close out the night setting our goals for the year.
These goals are typically handwritten and include what most adults would do on January 1. We give each person a white sheet of paper and we typically start with dividing the paper into four quadrants, but we have occasionally had five to six categories, depending on the year. The sections can vary based on your values. This year, we stuck to these areas for our goals: Spiritual, Relational, Physical, Family; but other years we have also done Academic, Personal, Service, etc.
So, for example, in the Spiritual category, one might write down a desire to memorize scripture, read their Bible daily, write in a prayer journal regularly, etc. For Relational, one might talk about developing deeper friendships through play dates or maybe wanting to have a game night with a different family each month. For Physical, one might say they want to exercise three days a week or drink more water. For Family, maybe they’d like one-on-one time with each parent, or more family movie nights.I think it’s important that this is done as an ALL PLAY. Meaning, dad and mom do it too. We’re in it together. It brings unity, clarity and excitement, and shows that we ALL want to continue to grow!
At the end of the night, we hold hands and pray over our schedules, our free time, and our goals. We give it all to the Lord and ask for His blessing over the new year. He is so good and desires to walk with us every moment of every day! Invite Him into the journey – He is so faithful!
Friends, may these tools of intentionality help bring life and freedom from the weight, pressure and sometimes chaos we feel in this season.
To the parents – Happy Fall! And to the kids – Happy New Year! May it be your best one yet!
By Deanna Ramsay