When it comes to starting a new school year, a big focus for parents and educators is to maximize childrens’ attitude, confidence, and performance in the classroom. This applies to both the social and academic aspects of school. The transition in August (and into September) can be difficult for everyone. Even the students excited to return to class have to adjust to greater levels of structure, activity, and pressures of school expectations. So first: take a deep breath and know that your child is NOT alone! The degree to which a child needs to make adjustments varies from student to student, but there are ways that parents/guardians can do to help their children (as well as the whole family) manage the change by planning ahead, being realistic, and maintaining a positive attitude.
The following suggestions can help ease the transition and promote a successful school experience:
Check that your children are in good physical and mental health. Schedule doctor and dental checkups early. Discuss with your pediatrician any concerns you have over your children' s emotional or psychological development. Your doctor can help determine if your concerns are normal, age-appropriate issues or require further assessment. Your children will benefit if you can identify and begin addressing potential problems before school starts.
Review the material sent by the school as soon as it arrives. These packets include important information about your children’s teachers, assigned classrooms, school supply requirements, sign-ups for after-school sports and activities, school calendar dates, bus transportation, health and emergency forms, and volunteer opportunities.
Mark your calendar. Make a note of significant dates, especially back-to-school nights. This is especially important if you have children in more than one school and need to juggle obligations. Arrange for a baby-sitter well in advance of the visit with your child’s teachers, as other parents will be seeking baby-sitting services for the same night.
Make multiple copies of all your child's health and emergency information for reference. Health forms are typically good for more than a year and can be used again for camps, extracurricular activities, and the following school year.
Buy school supplies early. Organize supplies and backpacks a week or two before school starts. Older children can help do this, but make sure they use a checklist that you can review. Some teachers require specific supplies, so save receipts for items that you may need to return later.
Reestablish bedtime and mealtime routines (especially breakfast) at least 1 week before school starts. Prepare your children for this change by talking about the benefits of school routines in terms of not becoming overtired or overwhelmed by schoolwork and activities. Help them to understand the reasons for these schedule adjustments so they do not view the changes as a punishment. Include pre-bedtime reading and household chores if these were suspended during the summer.
Turn off the TV. Encourage your children to play quiet games, do puzzles, review flash cards, color, or read as early morning activities instead of watching television. This will help ease them into the learning process and school routine. If possible, maintain this practice throughout the school year. Television is distracting for many children, and they will arrive at school better prepared to learn each morning if they have engaged in less passive activities.
Visit school with your children. If your children are young or in new schools, schedule a school visit before classes begin. M eating teachers and locating classrooms, locker, lunchroom, and so on will help ease anxieties and also allow your children to ask questions about the new environment. Call ahead to make sure the teachers will be available to introduce themselves. Minimize clothes shopping woes. Buy only the essentials. Summer clothes are usually fine during the early fall, but be sure each child has at least one pair of sturdy shoes. Check with your school to confirm dress code guidelines.
Designate a study/work area for homework. Older children should have the option of studying in their room or a quiet area of the house. Younger children usually need an area set aside in the family room or kitchen to facilitate adult monitoring, supervision, and encouragement.
Select a spot to keep backpacks and lunch boxes. Designate a place for your children to put their school belongings and a place to put important notices and information sent home for you to see. Explain that emptying their backpack each evening is their responsibility, even for young children.
Freeze a few easy dinners. It will be much easier on you if you have dinner prepared so that meal preparation will not add to household tensions during the first week of school.
THE FIRST WEEK
Some helpful suggestions for the first week of school include the following: Clear your own schedule. To the extent possible, postpone business trips, volunteer meetings, and extra projects. You want to be free to help your children acclimate to the school routine and overcome the confusion or anxiety that many children experience at the start of a new school year. Providing calming, reassuring messages to your children may help them keep the stress manageable.
Make lunches the night before school. Older children should help or make their own. Give them the option to buy lunch in school if they prefer and finances permit.
Set alarm clocks. Have school-age children set their own alarm clocks. Praise them for paying attention to morning schedules and being ready for bus pickups.
Leave plenty of extra time. Make sure your children have plenty of time to get up, eat breakfast, and get to school. For very young children taking the bus, pin to their shirt or backpack an index card with pertinent information, including their teacher's name and bus number, as well as your daytime contact information.
Prepare for after school. Review with your children what to do if they get home after school and you are not there. Be very specific, particularly with young children. Put a note card in their backpacks with the name(s) and number(s) of a neighbor who is home during the day as well as a number where you can be reached. If you have not already done so, have your children meet neighbor contacts to reaffirm the backup support in person.
Review your children's schoolbooks. Talk about what your children will be learning during the year. Share your enthusiasm for the subjects and your confidence in your children's ability to master the content. Learning skills take time and repetition. Encourage your children to be patient, attentive, and positive.
Send a brief note to your children's teachers. Let the teachers know that you are interested in getting regular feedback on how and what your children are doing in school. Be sure to attend back-to-school night and introduce yourself to the teachers. Find out how they like to communicate with parents (e.g., through notes, e-mail, or phone calls). Convey a sincere desire to be a partner with your children’s teachers to enhance their learning experience.
Familiarize yourself with the other school professionals. Learn their roles and how best to access their help if you need them. This can include the principal and front office personnel; school psychologist, counselor, and social worker; reading specialist, speech therapist, and school nurse; and after-school activities coordinator.