As announcements for back-to-school sales bombard us in every direction, it is time to get ready to leave the lazy days of summer and begin a new school year. While we think of school primarily for the academic purposes it serves, it is also where your child develops as a person and socially. To that end, it’s important to set your child up for maximum growth and success by removing as much stress and anxiety as possible. Transitioning from summer vacation can be difficult; it might take a few days or weeks for some students and families. No worries. As your family begins the educational journey for the year, here are some simple steps to make the transition a little smoother.
Set some goals.
Students and families, in general, can use the start of the school year to set some personal goals. Much like setting New Year’s resolutions in January, the start of a school year represents the opportunity to work toward new goals. Goals can also be more than just academic — encourage your kids to think about how they will grow as a person. (You can do the same.) This doesn’t have to be a very formal process. Try asking your kids, “How do you want to grow this year?” or “What do you hope to be better at by the last day of school?” For fun, you can record them saying their goals or have them write a letter to themselves to share with them on the last day of school. (Just set a reminder on your calendar so you don’t forget where you put the letter!)
Start the new year free and clear. Leave all old baggage behind.
If you have any residual tension or stress from the last school year, let it go and use the start of a new year as a truly fresh start. This is especially important for students, some of whom may have the memory of a bad grade or a friendship that went awry. Help them to approach the year with a positive attitude and the belief that they have the opportunity to make this year better than the last.
Buy your school supplies ahead of time.
The school supply lists can be overwhelming and you may wonder how the class is going to use allof these things and put off buying them. Most teachers will have a plan to collect and store the supplies on the first day so that they are set for the year. It’s also fun for kids to see their fresh school supplies; it makes starting the new year real and exciting. Waiting until the last minute to buy them — or worse, sending your child to school without them on the first day — can add unnecessary stress to what should be a fun day. And if you’re able, send some extra supplies in case something runs out.
Get back into your routine a few days ahead of time.
Many families have a more relaxed approach during the summer — kids may sleep in, have breakfast for lunch and wear the same comfy t-shirt multiple days in a row. Adults also get used to having the shower all to themselves and not having to worry about making lunch or packing backpacks. As the school year approaches, you can reduce everyone’s stress levels by getting back on your school routine a few days in advance of the actual first day. This gives kids time for their bodies to adjust and get used to a new sleeping and eating schedule. Going back to school is hard enough; being tired only makes it harder.
Designate a “work space” for your child and allow them to help set it up.
Kids are often more motivated to independently study and do their homework if they have a designated space to use and are able to personalize it. My 4-year-old daughter, for example, has a small table with several boxes of crayons, markers, stickers and glue sticks where she does homework or reads. Even if the area is a common space like the kitchen table, you can let your child have a drawer or a small pouch to keep supplies like pencils and paper that make it “their” space for the time that they’re doing work. Giving kids their own space also allows them to learn to take responsibility for getting their own work done and helps them learn to separate work from play.
Review the school calendar ahead of time and look for any potential conflicts or extra busy periods of time.
This is especially important if you have children in multiple schools and there are events that conflict. Kids want their parents to attend everything at school (even if they tell you otherwise) and it is disappointing to them when you cannot go. Knowing ahead of time allows you to communicate with your children about how you’ll manage any conflicts. You will also learn when your presence is important to them through those conversations. Planning ahead also gives you time to ask someone else, say, a grandparent or friend, to attend the event and help your child feel supported. For high school kids, especially those who are preparing for the SAT or completing college applications, look for any times that you think your child might be under additional stress and make sure to provide extra support during those times. Support can be as simple as just being home more or making a favorite meal on those days to keep them happy and reduce stress.
Learn about the school’s priorities for the year and about any new initiatives at the school or district level.
With every school year comes a fair amount of change consistent with new goals or mandates, all of which can greatly impact your child’s day-to-day experiences. As a parent, you can help support these new initiatives by knowing what they are. One way to learn this information is to ask the teacher or principal about the priorities for the year. You can also ask what kind of professional development teachers will be working on. Knowing this information will help you support your child and will help to shape your expectations for the year.
Start to build a relationship with your child’s teacher(s) in an informal and friendly way.
The first day of school is very busy and while you may get to say hello to a teacher or two, you likely won’t have the chance to spend much time with them. Most schools have teachers’ contact information on their websites. If you’d like, send a quick note via email to say hello and that you’re looking forward to being a partner in your child’s education. Use the initial email as a means of demonstrating your desire to have a positive, productive relationship. You can always share information about your child or ask for a short, more personal meeting with the teachers after the first month of school. Curriculum night is another great opportunity to learn more about a teacher. It’s nota time to ask for information about your child, but it can be a good time to learn more about the teacher’s style and communication, so that you can continue to build a relationship.
Ensure that your kids go to school consistently.
Chronic absenteeism is a major problem in schools. If we did nothing else differently but were able to get students to attend school more consistently, I suspect we would see a rapid rise in performance. Recognize that missing even two days per month (that’s one long weekend and a sick day) amounts to missing 18–20 days — almost entire month of school — over the course of a year. This type of absence has profound impact on a student’s ability to learn and if there are several students in a given class who miss a lot of school, it slows down the progress of the whole class.
The start of a new school year should inspire excitement and hope. It should also feel like a chance to grow and learn new things. By starting the school year off on the right foot and with a positive attitude, you can set your family up for success.
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