Back to School Signals Changes at Home
By Diane Molle, Carden Arbor View School
Parents and children alike are experiencing conflicting feelings of excitement and apprehension right now. This is how we know it’s the time of year when school begins.
Whether you are the parent of a 5-year-old entering his or her first year of kindergarten or an older child returning for another year of education, these reactions happen to all of us. We worry about how the school year will affect our child and we worry that they will be successful and happy. With a little advance preparation you can put everyone at ease.
Most households have allowed a more relaxed summer schedule to settle in over the past couple months. Everyone in the home can begin preparing for the start of school by gradually rolling back bedtime to a school schedule. At the same time, you should start waking your child earlier in the morning. Shift the schedule in 15-minute increments every day to ease the time change. This way, when the first day of school arrives, everyone will be more acclimated to the time frame that allows the best rest.
It is also valuable to practice the school routine prior to the first day of school. This is most important for younger children. Adjusting the sleep schedule is a start, but it is also a good plan to adjust children’s lunch schedules to the school’s lunch period. If you don’t know what time of day your child will have snack and lunch breaks at school, simply check the school website or contact the school office. Students are much better able to pay attention in class and enjoy themselves if they don’t have to worry about a grumbling tummy.
Spend time with your child experiencing some of the activities they will encounter in school. Again, this is most beneficial for the youngest students. New kindergarteners are expected to recognize their alphabet, numbers, colors and their own name. In addition, time reading together and discussing the story is great practice in critical thinking. Help your child gain practice sitting still at an activity for extended periods of time, whether playing a board game, doing a jigsaw puzzle or coloring and painting. Students in class are often asked to sit at a task for upwards of 40 minutes at a time and this can be challenging for young children.
Practice going to school, whether you walk with your child or travel by car. Make a dry run of the procedure. This will help them to become familiar with the landscape along the route. Once you arrive at the school, take a few moments to talk about how you will say goodbye on the first day. Even point out the playground equipment, encourage children to become excited about what they will do in school and the new friends they will make.
Give your child control over some decisions. This allows them ownership of the process. As you shop for new school supplies, allow them to pick out their backpack and lunchbox. If they are older and need binders, pencil pouches, or a flash drive, let them choose the styles and colors. When laying clothes out for the first day of school, give them the freedom to choose their outfits, either from a clothing you select ahead of time or within the school’s uniform code. Preparation on your part will eliminate the need to veto their choice.
Once school begins you will want to “keep the peace” within your home. This can be fostered by taking steps to reduce stress before and after school. Establish a household routine. Children thrive on routine and appreciate the predictability of knowing what is going to happen next in the day, the same way they appreciate knowing which television program is coming on next.
To create a calm atmosphere in the morning, plan ahead. Help your child decide the night before what he or she will be wearing in the morning. Even if it’s a uniform, there are still decisions to be made. Gather together all of the completed homework and supplies and assemble the backpack before bedtime. Also, allow your kids plenty of time to eat a healthy breakfast; rushing through a meal isn’t good for anyone’s digestion.
When children return home from a full day of school they will likely want time to relax and snack. Build time into your afternoon schedule for this to happen. There may be dance lessons or soccer practice, but children need a few minutes to “let go” of school and move into the next stage of their day, the same we adults do.
Then there’s homework. Nearly every student will return home with homework. Your child’s homework has a purpose and this may vary depending on the grade level. For the youngest students, this is an exercise in gaining responsibility and learning how to carry through with a task while changing environments from school to home. For older students, homework is a time to practice skills they have recently acquired in class or prepare for a lesson that will be presented the next day. Trust that your child’s teacher has assigned homework with the expectation that it will be valuable and beneficial to your child. Support your child’s teacher by guiding your child to learn that the homework is his or her responsibility. Another way you can help your child to be successful in completing their homework is by providing an environment that is conducive to work and study.
For middle school and high school students, the two most critical skills needed to be successful are organizational/study skills and communication/self-advocacy skills. These skills can be explained within a classroom, but they must be mastered through execution. When you talk to your child about their school day, take time to discuss the subject matter of their classes. Even if it is a subject you haven’t studied since you were in school, being part of the discussion helps them gain confidence in the material. A student is most knowledgeable about a topic when they can teach the topic to another, so if they are explaining the material to you, then they benefit.
Middle school is the time when students are expected to become self-advocating. Both teachers and parents should encourage students to reach out for assistance when they need it. This is the time when parents need to encourage their child to approach teachers without their intervention. Sit down and talk to your child, help them recognize what they need and identify the person they need to approach and what they should ask. Then let them do it on their own. Check in with them the next day to see if their efforts were successful so that you can celebrate their move toward independence or guide them toward another solution.
It may take a month or more for your household to settle into the groove of the new school year. That’s okay, because it’s an opportunity to practice patience – something that benefits all of us. School is a very exciting time for a child, so allow them the time they need to settle in comfortably and enjoy themselves.