by Kids First Center
Separation and divorce bring with it many unique challenges for children, and one of the biggest is how to manage school while moving back and forth between households. Just when you and your kids think you have a good routine going, the seasons change and you’re suddenly faced with the need for a new plan. Even in the most organized of households, back to school time is a challenge. When your kids call more than one place home, what can you do to help keep things as sane as possible for everyone?
Consider establishing headquarters
Even if your child spends roughly the same amount of time at each parent’s home, you may find it helpful to designate one home as the “papers central” location, with the agreement that all pertinent information is shared appropriately between parents. School notices, forms to fill out, fundraising requests…you know the pile. That doesn’t mean one parent is in charge of filling it all out, just organizing it! And homework is a different matter.
Set up a Homework Station
Kids need to have a designated school-related work area in each home to help them concentrate and get down to work no matter where they are. That station could be a desk in their bedroom or a spot at the kitchen counter – it doesn’t matter, as long as it’s theirs (and reasonably free of distractions). Let them help choose the area and arrange it as much as possible. Having a dedicated spot in each home helps kids to settle and know what to do when homework rolls in.
Equip the Backpack
Since kids have their backpacks with them every day, no matter which home they’re staying at, it seems like the most obvious spot to keep the things they can’t do without. Sometimes this means more than homework-related items that they’ll need at both homes; on transition days, it may include the clothes and security items needed to move from one home to another. Be sensitive not to overload them on these days – keep it to the essentials!
Value of Predictability in the Schedule
As much as it’s possible, it is beneficial to the kids when certain routines are consistent between households. For example, if the rule at dad’s house is that you do your homework before you go out to play or have screen time, it’s nice if the rule at mom’s house is the same and will help kids acclimate to the school transition after summer break. However, parenting styles vary and even when rules at one home are different from rules at the other home, kids adjust as long as parents are consistent within their own home. Predictability in a child’s routine frees them from the constant anxiety that can result from not knowing what is happening next or what is expected of them.
Here’s the most important one. The school year for your children will be infinitely more successful if their parents are able to respectfully communicate with one another. Civility in exchanging school items, clothes, toys, and other essentials is paramount, as is being upbeat, on time, and cordial during pick-ups and drop-offs. Frequent updates between parents about what’s going on at school are essential in terms of keeping both mom and dad feeling empowered and involved. Make sure your children’s teachers know that you live separately but are both interested in knowing what goes on in the classroom. Explain whether you need announcements mailed to each of you or if you have one designated receiver-of-information. Consider using an online organizer such as www.OurFamilyWizard.com to help centralize information that you both need access to, and minimize the potential for miscommunications.
In the end, the goal is simply for your children to enjoy school and apply themselves to learning and having fun, not worrying about whether or not they forgot something and who is picking them up after school. The more parents can do to eliminate the potential for these anxieties, the better off the whole family will be.