Back To School Tips
Grown-ups begin a new year on January 1st , but for kids the new year begins on the first day of school. Although kids love to "hate" school, many are truly eager to learn, to get back to their school, its social scene, and its reassuring routine. New kids in town, oldest children, kids transitioning from elementary to middle school or from middle school to high school, or kids with learning or behavioral challenges, may feel a little anxious when the new school year rolls around.
Our job as parents is to raise our children to be independent. One of parenting's greatest challenges is learning to distinguish when and how much we should help our children and when we should encourage them to solve problems themselves. The best way to help your children or teens prepare for school this year is to teach them by example and by posing questions that will help them think through their own problems and arrive at workable solutions.
Some helpful tips:
- If your child is new to town, the oldest, or transitioning from one school to another, make sure he or she has the opportunity to tour the school a few days before school begins. Encourage your child to ask questions of you and anyone he or she meets at the school. Be aware that younger children, preteens, and teens will all have different fears and concerns. And, older kids may be too insecure to ask questions for fear of appearing stupid or un-cool. For example: young children may worry about paying for lunch the first time and where the lavatories are located in relationship to their classroom. Preteens and teens may be more worried about their lockers, lock combinations, and what they're going to wear the first day of school.
- Before any "back to school" clothing is purchased, make sure you and your child or teen know the school dress code. That knowledge will ease family tension and save you a great deal of time and trouble.
- From kindergarten on, encourage your children to dress in a way that is compatible with his or her personality. Let them know that being true to themselves is "way" better than being trendy; in fact, the kids who create trends never copy anyone else. Peer pressure builds as kids get older and celebrating individuality through clothing style is a great way to show your kids that they do not need the approval of popular kids to survive, and thrive, in school.
- School textbooks are getting heavier and heavier. Make sure you child or preteen has a sturdy backpack that distributes the weight of books equally. You may want to invest in a roller backpack that has a luggage handle so that your child can pull his or her backpack instead of carrying it.
- If your children will be participating in any extracurricular sports, they will need a physical. Schedule it as soon as possible, even before school starts.
- If your kids had required reading over the summer, you may want to have an informal discussion with them about their reading right before school starts. Ask them to remind you what books they read and why they liked or disliked them. Don't be satisfied with simplistic explanations; ask for details about characters, place, and plot. Ask them if and why they would recommend the book to other kids. Your informal book chat will jog their memories and help them if they are assigned a report on their summer reading.
- Share your own feelings and memories about your first day of school experiences: being the new kid in town; the first one in the family to ride a bus to school; or the forgetting your locker combination running between classes in middle school. When your kids share their worries or concerns, don't dismiss or trivialize them. Validate their concerns. Ask them if they have ideas on what they can do to alleviate their apprehensions. If they do not have ideas, brainstorm with them to come up with viable solutions and actions.
- In this era of "kidnap fears" it is hard not to be too overprotective of your children, but try. In most of America, kids can walk to school safely. They can ride the bus safely, too. Human skin is waterproof, and dressed for the occasion, kids can walk in the rain and snow unharmed. The classroom is not the only place where learning occurs. The journey to and from school provides your kids with another situation in which to learn. If your area is "traffic safe," adequately prepare your kids with safety tips and, at an age appropriate time, stop driving them to school door and let them explore. Their self-esteem will swell with their responsible independence.
- Make sure your child has a library card, knows his or her way around the library, and knows how to find the books he or she will need to complete assignments and read for pleasure during the school year.
- Get into the habit of going to the library once a week or once every two weeks, regardless of whether or not your child's school assignments require it. The best way you can help your children achieve in school is to encourage them to read and become life-long readers. The best place to get free books, magazines, computer access, entertaining stories, and important information is your neighborhood library.
- No matter how old or young your children, read through the school student handbook with them at the beginning of every year. You both need to know the school's goals, expectations, opportunities, and rules.
- Fill out any medical and emergency forms and return them to the school immediately. If your child has any special health or physical needs make sure you put those needs in writing and that the principal, your child's teacher, and the school nurse all have copies.
- Establish a safe place in the house where all school forms and notices can be deposited every day. Get your kids in the habit of taking all forms and notices out of their backpacks and putting them in that safe place as soon as they walk through your door. They need to learn from kindergarten on that they are responsible for making sure you receive all communications from their school. It may help to give each of your children, including your teens, a sturdy plastic folder that they can keep in their backpack to carry notices home safely.
- Rusty Browder, the librarian at Amos A. Lawrence School in Brookline, Mass., recommends that kids of all ages acquire great "backpack habits." She suggest that kids go through their backpacks everyday, organize papers and notebooks, give parents important notices and work, and throw out garbage of any kind! Older kids who have locker breaks between classes may want to organize their heavy textbooks in groups of morning and afternoon classes so that one group of books can be left in their lockers until needed.
- Read aloud to your children from their favorite books, every night if possible, if only for ten or fifteen minutes. And don't assume that once your child has become an independent reader that he or she no longer wants, or needs, to be read aloud to. Kids of all ages, and adults, love to hear a great story. And reading aloud increases your children's vocabulary, makes them laugh, expands their universe, and helps them to learn about human understanding and compassion. Besides- it's great fun!
- Try to find a special time each day to talk with your children about their day at school. Sometimes that moment takes place in the car driving between after-school activities. Sometimes it takes place on the phone from home to your work place. Sometimes it takes place at the table over dinner. Wherever and whenever it takes place, don't ask the question, "How was school today?" -- it is a certainty that you will get a one word answer. Ask: what was served in the cafeteria; did you have gym outside; how did your history presentation go? -- anything to initiate a conversation. Never underestimate your impact or importance to your kids. Your taking the time to take an interest in them and their day is not only important to their education, it is something they will remember and cherish the rest of their lives.
Happy School Year!!
© 2004 Mary Brigid Barrett