It’s the time of year when kids cringe and parents jump for joy. Gone are the days of going to bed late and waking up around noon. No more video games for 4 hours straight, knocking on friends’ doors all day long to see if they can play, and seeing if it actually is possible that pajamas will stick to their skin if they wear them for a week without changing. It’s when your child, who has been looking at you for months through shaggy uncombed locks, suddenly looks like a shiny new kid with a haircut and unwrinkled clothing, a new backpack slung over their shoulder…and a scowl on their face.
I can’t promise you that the scowl will disappear completely. But I can guarantee that, in most cases, it does get better. And, with the help of some local moms and teachers, I have compiled a list of some definite DO’s to help get your child on track in the transition from the lazy days of summer to the busy days of school.
The first, and most important, is to set a bedtime and stick with it. Caren McLerran, a kindergarten teacher at R. L. Stevens Elementary, suggests that routine is vital when it comes to bedtime. “Begin early enough to get ready and have a settle down time to read a story. It should be consistent every school night. Children thrive on routine.”
On that note, reading to your elementary kids is an extremely vital part of a kids’ development. I admit it, I have gotten out of practice when it comes to reading to my kids now that they are at an age where they can read by themselves. Problem is, kids don’t always read on their own time. But there are reasons why kids need to be read to. It helps them to be able to hear more carefully the emotions involved in reading so that they can read the same way on their own. And Caren gave a point that I had never thought of, to use reading as an opportunity to “discuss the story and ask them to make predictions. Talk about the plot, the characters, the setting, and the problem and resolution. Ask what they liked or disliked and why. It’s important to stretch those summer-mode attention spans and re-spark those higher order thinking skills.”
Timeliness is another important factor, and it sets the tone for the day. It’s those extra few moments spent at home that can determine whether your child will be there on time, or if they will have to get a tardy slip. And being tardy not only reflects on your child’s school performance, it is incredibly disruptive to the class. The teacher must catch the tardy student up to speed while the rest of the class must wait. Santa Rosa mom, Kari Cagle, came up with a simple solution. She has her daughter, Kassidy, “put her outfit out the night before and pack up her backpack and homework the night before as well.” You can even go one step further and have the kids plan out their lunches, and pack as much as they can the night before. This way they aren’t wasting time standing in front of the refrigerator trying to decide what to eat. It also helps to have a lunch meal plan for the week, easily accessible on the refrigerator so that there is no guesswork involved.
Ask any teacher what their number one hope for every student is, and organization will be at the top of the list. Kari told me, “One thing we always do is restock her home supplies as well as her school supplies. It’s always a good idea to get them excited about homework. New fun things like new pens, pencils, color pencils, crayons, erasers and other supplies seems to get my girl in the mood to do homework. There’s nothing like breaking in a new crayon!” Another important tip is to “make up a homework kit,” Caren McLerran offered. “Have all of the pencils, erasers, crayons, scissors, glue, paper and folders that they will need for the year. Get a container to put the supplies in and figure out a quiet spot that will be designated as the “homework spot”. This way when they actually start getting homework they’ll be ready to hit the ground running. Homework should be done early and not right before bed when our brains are sleepy.”
High school teacher, Jessica Dennis, gave a different view, “Since I’m a high school teacher, it’s a little different, I suppose, because we treat students like mini-adults. You know, school is their “job” so once summer is over, they’re back on the clock, so to speak, and we simply expect them to start being responsible. Organization is obviously important, so it’s vital to have all the school supplies ready to go early on….but with high schoolers, they need to do it themselves, so parents shouldn’t dictate an organization system, but rather work with kids to develop one that works for them individually. Not all students can have immaculate binders, and not all kids can use a daily planner.”
In my family, the one item we cannot do without is our dry erase calendar. Listed on that calendar is every single thing we are doing each month. The kids know where we need to be at any given time, and that takes the surprise out of it. It helps them to prepare for the day, and to know what’s going on for tomorrow. If they have soccer practice the next day, they know that they are going to need a clean uniform and will have to locate their gear. If they have a book report or a project due, it is listed on the calendar so they can be aware of the date every day, and work towards being done by the due date.
Perhaps one of the most important tips is YOUR involvement in your child’s school life. Parents, even junior high and high school parents, need to keep involved at the school. It is important to meet and keep in contact with your child’s teachers, go to the PTA meetings, and attend Open House and Back to School night. To better understand your child’s workload, check your student’s planner and homework lists every night, and look at their homework. There will come a time when the work they are doing will surpass even your knowledge, but you can at least be familiar with what they are expected to learn. “The advice I’d have for my parents is to be excited for school to start, and to share that excitement with the kids,” Jessica Dennis said. “Talk about what this year is going to hold, and discuss ways your kids can get involved in the school community, whether through sports or clubs or other activities. A student who is “plugged in” will always be more successful than one who feels like they’re just going through the motions.”
It’s not like school is a kid’s favorite place to be. And no wonder when they have to break free from waking up in the afternoon and beating their high score on Guitar Hero. But with a little prompting and a lot of organization, school won’t be faced with feelings of dread. And this school year could be your child’s best year ever.
(See a version of this article in today’s Sonoma Living section of the Press Democrat)
Have more tips on getting back into the school routine? Share them here, or on the forums at SantaRosaMom.com.