Tips to get your kids through the end of the school year

It's almost the end of the year and the kids are getting restless. Here are tips to keep them (and you) happy through the home stretch.

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As the days get longer and the weather warmer, the last place your child wants to be is in the classroom. “Attention seems to drop as the thermometer rises,” says Kimberley Smith, a primary teacher in Dartmouth, NS, and mother of three. “The end of the school year is a tough time for everyone.”

While little Vivian or Dillon may not have the same enthusiasm for school when spring fever strikes, mid-May to mid-June is a crucial time for them to stay on track academically. “I used to tell my students it’s like the playoffs,” says Laura Mayne, a former elementary teacher and a co-author of Meet the Teacher: How to Help Your Child Navigate Elementary School. “This is when you really buckle down because your teacher is gathering marks for your final report cards and you want to do your best work.”

Even when tests are over and report cards are filed, students are still soaking up those last bits of curriculum they need before they advance to the next grade. They’re just doing it in a more relaxed environment.

Teachers must dig deep in their little bag of tricks to keep students from coasting – or bouncing off the walls – until the last bell rings, and parents do, too. But don’t sweat it. These tips will help get your little scholar through the home stretch with your sanity intact.

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Stick to routine
As tempting as it is to slip into summer-relaxed mode, don’t abandon the routines and structures you’ve relied on all year. Now that it’s light outside later, the kids may be clamouring for you to move back bedtime, but they still need to be tucked in at a reasonable hour. “I sometimes see parents out shopping with their kids at 9:30 on a school night,” says Smith. “They’re relieved that things are winding down and they think it doesn’t matter. But if my kindergarten-aged kids don’t get enough sleep, they cry, they’re cranky and they can’t do their work.” The same holds true for older kids—and exhausted parents.

Regular routines, including healthy snacks and lunches, also help kids cope with the excitement of movie days, field trips and other end-of-school treats and activities. “I’ve seen some kids who are just ‘Woo-hoo!’ out-of-control this time of year,” says Mayne. “It helps to reinforce that although things may be a little more free-form at school, your expectations and the teacher’s expectations for behaviour are still the same.”

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Take it outside 
Research shows that spending more time outdoors improves children’s concentration in school, lessens aggression and improves their ability to cooperate. It’s “a giant relief valve for everyone in the family,” writes outdoor lifestyle expert Rebecca Cohen in 15 Minutes Outside, a month-by-month collection of 365 easy and enjoyable ways to get out of the house and connect with your kids.

Try moving homework outside whenever possible—your kids will enjoy the novelty and be less likely to complain. Draw math equations in chalk on the driveway, act out a history lesson in the local park or curl up on the front porch to read aloud. “If you give kids lots of opportunities to be outside after school and in the early evening, they won’t be looking out the window as much during the school day thinking, ‘Oh, I wish I was out there,’” says Mayne. All that fresh air and the opportunity to let off steam also makes tackling any remaining after-dinner homework and bedtime easier.

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Plan ahead
Get a head start on preparing your child to make the transition from one grade to another, and from in-school learning to summer learning. If she’s struggling at school, schedule a meeting with the teacher and get some suggestions on enriching summer activities to help her improve her skills, advises Smith. If you’re planning a trip, pick up a few books about the places you’ll be visiting. Reading a child’s edition of Anne of Green Gables, for example, will fuel your child’s imagination about PEI, if that’s your destination. Tying your vacation to literatureor— literature to your vacation—is a great way to encourage reading in those last few weeks of school and into the summer.

Your child might also enjoy writing and illustrating a letter of introduction to next year’s teacher, or to a younger student who will be in her grade level the following year telling her what to expect and how to prepare. (It can be as simple as “Buy a good lunchbox, find out where the bathrooms are and have fun!”) Check in with her current teacher first, or suggest it as a class project.

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Acknowledge progress
Encourage your child to reflect back on her school year and think about what she’s learned, what was challenging, how she dealt with it and what she’s proud of. Mayne and her daughter would sit down together to sort through all the artwork, projects and writing that she collected over the year and choose a few pieces to keep as mementos. “There was a lot of, ‘Omigosh, look at what my printing used to look like,’” she laughs. “It’s a real motivator for kids when they look back at their work. It reinforces just how far they’ve come.”

As the kids count down (and you do, too!), start planning something special to mark the last day of class. It’s important to end the year on an upbeat note, says Smith, whether it’s a school’s-out scavenger hunt, a class picnic in the park or a backyard barbecue complete with cake and balloons. “School isn’t just about academics, it’s very much a social thing, too. Kids need a chance to celebrate the friendships and relationships they’ve made in the classroom all year.” And after a year of packing lunches, overseeing homework and getting little dawdlers out the door on time, parents deserve to join in the celebration, too.

A version of this article appeared in print in our May 2012 issue with the headline: “Sick of school” (p.60).

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