Jackie Gingrich Cushman

The ancient Romans coined the phrase “dog days” based on the period of time that the brightest star (Sirius, the Dog Star) rose and set in conjunction with the sun. The Romans believed that Sirius radiated heat to the Earth, causing the hottest part of the year as it traveled with the sun.

The “dog day” dates vary based on the source. The Old Farmer’s Almanac refers to the 40-day period that begins July 3 and ends August 11. The 1552 Book of Common Prayer refers to the period from July 6 to August 17. Many references extend the “dog day” period into September.

The dog days are popularly believed to be a time of agitation and unruly behavior. Anyone who has experienced this period of time in the South can understand why people might have been driven to madness and lethargy before the advent of air conditioning. Possibly this was why, on occasion, Southerners were termed lazy. After all, it is hard to work in heat that exceeds 100 degrees.

The dog days of summer are inevitably followed by fall. It is just a question of how fast the weather and people’s focus will change from vacation, playing and fun to work, school and seriousness.

For many people, the change in focus coincides with the beginning of the school year. This signals that the fun of summer is over and the seriousness of learning is beginning. Family vacations come to an end and routine sets in. For most schools, this start occurs between mid-August and mid-September.

For other people, the start of football season, budgeting season at work or baseball playoffs may signal the change. Each of these provides the signal that summer is over and fall is about to begin. And with fall comes some serious work until the Christmas holidays.

This past week, our family focus changed with the end of our summer trips and the start of our children’s school. It was an even greater transition for us as our youngest child started kindergarten.

Many teachers recommend the rapid-transition approach. Starting on day one, they enforce rules governing the behavior that they expect of their students. For instance, our daughter’s second-grade teacher has the children in her class sit in the hallway and read books from the time they arrive at school until 7:45 a.m., when classes begin. This activity began on the first day of school.

Our family is using this same rapid-transition strategy with our children’s homework habits. Our rules are simple, but firm: no TV during the week, and homework first. There has been a bit of pushback this week, but it diminishes each day.

Jackie Gingrich Cushman

Jackie Gingrich Cushman is a speaker, syndicated columnist, socialpreneur, and author of "The Essential American: 25 Documents and Speeches Every American Should Own," and co-author of “The 5 Principles for a Successful Life: From Our Family to Yours”.