Summer is almost over and the first day of school is around the corner! Little and big kids will be donning shiny new backpacks and the latest lunch boxes to head into our city’s noble institutions of learning. Of course, perhaps your child doesn’t see it as a noble institution. Perhaps she is laying under a clothing rack at JC Penny’s crying that she doesn’t want to buy new school clothes, to make new friends, or to go to school (to the harried mother- you handled this well. While yes, I might have been staring, I wasn’t judging). Or maybe your child’s feelings are more mixed and he is eager to leave the boredom of summer behind but dreading the drudgery of school work ahead. If so, as a teacher, I can identify. While I am not causing scenes at department stores, there is a small part of me that nodded along with each little howl I heard emitted from beneath that clearance rack. The transition from the freedom and flexibility of summer schedules to the structure necessary during the school year is a dramatic one that can be hard on us all. Here are some ways parents can make it a little easier.
- Set routines early and stick out the rough “start-up” patch. As the parent, you get to decide-will homework come before or after dinner? Will bed time be 8 or 9 o’clock? Whatever you decide, make those decisions before school starts and stick to them. Reinforcing behaviors is much easier than correcting behaviors. Talk to your children and prepare them for the change in schedule that is about to happen. Begin making the transition between summer bed times and school bed times before the first week of school. If your child is tired and leaving a puddle of drool on his desk in class every morning, he’s probably not getting the most out of his education (not to mention the snoring can be very distracting).
- Get organized. Where will book bags be stored when children walk through the door? How will your child keep up with projects and assignments? Where will your child complete his homework? Will you use a family-wide calendar? How will your child know what is expected of him or her each day? Will you post a checklist? Thinking through these procedures before school starts will make the transition much easier, even if you have to adapt them as the school year progresses.
- Check your child’s backpack daily. This is such a simple task, but one a lot of parents miss. Is your child bringing papers home that need to be signed? Is her work being graded and returned? Even middle schoolers need a parent to hold them accountable and act as a liaison. Is she recording her homework in her agenda? Is he completing projects? Staying on top of a child’s assignments and monitoring them as they are returned will mean there are no surprises when report cards come home.
- Write your child’s name on everything-and I do mean everything. This is another strategy frequently overlooked, but every year we take multiple loads of abandoned, nameless clothing to the local Goodwill. Most students don’t even know they’ve lost these items, usually coats and sweatshirts-but occasionally include the miscellaneous pair of underwear or shoes. Unfortunately, these items find their way out of your home and into new ones.
- Meet your child’s teacher. Of the thousands of kids I have taught, I have only met a small fraction of their parents. If you asked me, I would tell you that parental involvement is essential for a child to get the most out of his or her education. What I won’t tell you, is that when you show interest in your child’s learning and I know we’re partnering together, I’m going to go the extra mile for your child. When I know we’re both working to help your child learn discipline and excellence, I’m going to be routing for her to succeed.
- Be positive. No one likes homework: not the students, not the teachers who have to grade it. No one likes getting up early: not the students waiting in the cold for the bus, not the teachers guzzling coffee as buses arrive. It’s sometimes hard to get excited about education because, let’s face it, it’s a daily sacrifice. But it’s also an investment that will pay off in the future when you see your child walk across the stage, diploma in hand.
So put on your game face, because change is coming! A few thoughtful steps can help make that change easier to handle though, and that summer-to-school transition a little smoother, so that when the first day arrives, your child is happily wearing a new outfit, ready to make some new friends, and excited about a new school year (assuming of course you can get her out from under the clothing rack)!