By Robert Myers, PhD / / Child Development , Child Psychology , Communication , Family Building , Home , Parenting , School , Well-Balanced Family

It’s that time of year when school has already started for some kids and will be starting soon for others. Back to school is a great time to work together as a family to make the school routine go smoothly. Families should take a moment to start the year off with some routines that can benefit the whole family.

In my book, The Well-Balanced Family, I cover four key elements that help create a supportive family environment. I also provide tips on how to reduce screen time. The four key elements are Connectedness, Open Communication, Fitness, and Organization.

In this article, I will provide suggestions that will get your school year off to a great start. Implementing these tips will also replace excessive screen time with more beneficial activities .

Organization is essential to making family life run smoothly.

I recommend regular family meetings as the best way to get and keep everyone on the same page. If you are not currently holding family meetings in your home, this is a great time to start. You can use the first meeting to discuss ideas about routines for school days covering mornings, afternoons, homework, and how to spend free time during the week and even on the weekends.

Once your family has agreed to some routines, you should set up a command center in your home that helps everyone stay on track. A command center is an area of your home where you post calendars, lists (chores, school assignments, etc.) and schedules. It could be a bulletin board in a central location, the side of your refrigerator or whatever works for you.

You may want to have a routine list for each child, so they can check off each item as they complete them. Another way to help keep everyone on schedule is to use colored tabs to mark times on a wall clock. Place the tabs to indicate the time for homework, dinner, chores, free time, and bedtime.

To keep communication open, make sure everyone has input on the routines and the schedule.

If there are second thoughts, suggest that you try it for a week or so and then have another family meeting to review and revise based on everyone’s input. Another way to promote open communication along with connectedness is to have set family mealtimes where all family members are expected to be present. Use the time to let each member share how their day went.

Another way for the whole family to stay connected is to schedule family time. These usually are evenings where everyone gets together regularly to play games, watch a movie together, or engage in a hobby activity. I also suggest that parents try to spend at least 15 minutes a day in one on one time with each child. Reading together not only fosters connectedness but open communication as well. Playtime is great for younger children while holding a conversation may work well with older children.

Children should also be encouraged to spend at least 30 minutes per day engaged in physical activity. This might take place individually , with a parent or as a group. When possible, encourage them to participate in the activity outside. This promotes fitness as well as a positive alternative to screen time. Research shows that most children are not getting enough exercise as well as exposure to sunlight, which results in problems related to both physical and mental health.

Setting firm bedtimes during the school week is extremely important.

Many if not most children are not getting enough sleep, which not only negatively impacts health but academic achievement as well. Check with your child’s doctor for recommendations based on age. Also, important is to be sure bedrooms are free of any kind of digital device. Also, children and adults should not be exposed to any form of screen time for at least 30 minutes to one hour before bedtime.

Finally, I encourage you to decide on fun family time activities for at least two weeks out of the month. These should encourage everyone to get out of the house. Physical activities such as a walk in the park, hiking, biking, or skating. Make a trip to your local library to select some books. Visit a museum; go on a picnic, go to a movie, play or concert together; volunteer together for a community project.

By working together as a family on the four key elements, you can improve how you interact with each other. You will also find you are having more fun and enjoying family life while encouraging a healthier lifestyle for all members of the family.