Forgive me now for the bit of rambling this article is going to be. I’m missing Alaska. I sort of feel like I’ve been away for the summer and now school is starting and it’s time to be back. Only, I’m not headed North – not yet. Facebook was flooded with first day of school photos the beginning of September, but my kids were still at home. No, we actually are not planning to homeschool this year. Though I’d never say “never”. I have quite a few friends who do it, and do it very successfully. In fact Juneau has a growing number of homeschool families and has built an incredible community network for homeschool participation and support. I may have to ask one of the homeschool mother’s I know to write a guest article about how it all works. My children were still home because we switched school districts when we moved again mid-July. At the very last minute, places for them opened up on the coveted waiting list at the nearby Montessori school. They start classes after Labor Day. However, we have had a whole week of transitionary visits and planned events to ease the girls into their soon to be new environment. For my oldest it is a long awaited return to the Montessori method. She had a great year at the public school last year, but she had started at age 3 and finished Kindergarten at Juneau Montessori School on South Douglas. She thrived there and had been asking when she would get to go back to Montessori. Though to be honest, I think she missed the “Juneau” Montessori specifically and perhaps most honestly she missed her friends at Juneau Montessori. Many of those friends have dispersed across different schools throughout Juneau, so her classroom would never have been made up of exactly those same friends even if we had stayed in Juneau. Montessori has a teaching style that incorporates children spanning three ages or grades into one classroom where they function much as a family. The eldest are leaders in the class, the middle group are being mentored into leadership and the youngest are quickly taken into the fold and nurtured, guided and instructed. The Montessori method fosters deep connection with peers that is not easily forgotten. Just the other night at dinner, our oldest was trying to catch her Dad with trick questions and he was trying to prove he knows everything. This test ended with her question – “Ya, well do you know what my BEST friend’s name is?”… “Yes!”, he answered. “Maggie”…. She was silent; obviously shocked. She assumed he’d rattle of any number of new dear friends she’s made here in Washington. But, he was right. Maggie was Jaya’s soul mate at Juneau Montessori. I think “Maggie” may be the answer to that question forever. Some friendships are just that way, no matter how many miles or how much time passes between. I too have those deep rooted, never ending, lifelong friendships from having grown up together in Whitestone Logging Camp out near Hoonah. A handful of those lifelong friends showed up as a surprise for my 40th birthday in July. Maybe it’s as much Alaska, and the smaller communities especially, that create opportunity for this sort of closeness because of reduced class sizes that sometimes still group ages out of necessity more so than philosophy. That all aside, transitioning into a new school is still going to be a huge adjustment. As adults, we tend to look at children as resilient and adaptive and I often hear people echo the same sentiment with “They’ll be fine!” They probably will be. However if you carefully listen to how children articulate the smallest of events in their lives, you’ll begin to notice that what we as adults glaze over, children become fixated on. These events can dominate their whole day and dictate their attitudes and happiness. There are some things we as parents can do at home to make these transitions easier. Here’s my top suggestions:
1. Be organized. Creating a space for those things that have to come and go back and forth to school with your child every day will ensure that you are not scrambling in the morning to pull it all together. Having a checklist your child can use may foster independence and build responsibility as well as give you a break from being solely responsible for everyone else in addition to yourself.
2.Have a routine. Children especially function well with a set structure and if you foster the creation of good habits now while they are young, it will serve them well into adulthood. That’s why author Stephen Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People continues to be a classic read for those who want to be successful in life. Because habits, good or bad, determine to what degree a person is able to achieve both their personal and public goals. Make sure you as the parent are allowing enough time in your schedule to accommodate that children get distracted and move off task. Some things may be much faster for you to do yourself, but if you allow the time now for them to learn to do those tasks, it frees up your time and responsibility down the road. It is an investment in the future to make the extra time now.
3. Eat well. No one is at their best if their blood sugar is not well managed or they are hungry. Plan ahead so there is food available as well as the time needed to prepare and eat it before your child heads out the door. Make sure they eat enough and that the food choices are not highly refined and processed foods. These often contain too much sugar, are too high in carbohydrate which converts to sugar almost immediately, or have other additives that negatively influence your child’s attitude, attention span, ability to focus and more. Make sure they are getting some good fiber, fats, and proteins with limited carbs.
4. Sleep well. Have a bed time routine that gets your child in bed and sleeping early. I’ve been researching this area some, and the experts in this field are in agreement. Kids need more sleep. If you have a child who does not sleep well, try adjusting quality, quantity and timing of food ( this actually has a profound impact on sleep), create good bed time rituals and implement sleep hygiene techniques. If that doesn’t work there may be an underlying medical cause that should be addressed.
5. Exercise. Make sure your kids are getting outside to actively play every day. I know it rains 368 days a year – I was born in Southeast Alaska and have lived there most my life. We played in the rain when I was a kid. Half the time we were barefoot and didn’t have rain coats. I’m not advocating that, just pointing out that your child can not only survive playing in the rain, but will probably learn to love it if you start them young. They will reap lifelong health benefits from creating a habit of fun physical play. If you just can’t get outside, then they still need to be actively moving or participating in some sort of indoor physical activity. Limit all forms of screen time…. That’s a whole article on its’ own. Just trust me – screen time is re-shaping your child’s brain in not so healthy ways.
6. Relax. Making time to simply be together as family is important for both your and your children’s emotional, spiritual, and psychological well-being. Families need connection. As a working parent I know how hard that is, but again, you are making the time while they are young as an investment in your shared future. Cultivate relationship now. Grasp the present while planning for the future.
I know you all already know the list above is important – what I’ve shared is nothing new; you’ve heard it before. I know it can feel overwhelming to do it all. So let me leave you with a truth that I’m constantly trying to embrace myself. “Just start.” I often neglect to take action because I’m afraid I don’t have the time, resources or understanding to do it all or do it right. You don’t have to do it all at once. It doesn’t have to be perfect. You can make changes later and add to the process as possible. The key is simply to start. I promise, momentum takes over and it gets easier. Just start.
Dr. Summer Beattie,ND was born and grew up in Southeawst Alaska – it will always be home. A 2004 graduate of Bastyr University, she served two terms on the board of directors for the Washington Association of Naturopathic Physicians, and has worked in a variety of primary and specialty care settings. This has given her a broad wealth of experience that she now uses in a unique clinical practice with a focus on rejuvenative physical and aesthetic medicine. Dr. Beattie,ND offers comprehensive care as it relates to physical rehabilitation from a Naturopathic Orthopedic perspective. You can find her and on-line patient programs at www.onehealingmedical.com