Off To School

It’s hard to believe that it’s that time again. Setting the alarm clock, packing lunches, dealing with homework, and trying to figure out how to clone yourself in order to cover all the extra-curricular activities can only mean one thing: the new school year is here.

On the Right Foot!

By Julie Baumgardner, MS, CFLE

While some parents are doing the dance of joy, others are struggling with the fact that summer passed too quickly and that their little one is growing up. Regardless of which camp you fall into, you want to do everything you can to ensure that it is a great school year for your child.

“Parents are the key to starting the school year off on the right foot,” says Willeata Kendrick, elementary school supervisor for Exceptional Education, Hamilton County Schools. “I encourage parents to keep an open mind. Getting involved in your child’s education and establishing a constructive parent-teacher relationship at the beginning of the year are critical components of a successful school year for your child.”

Based on a survey sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education, 79 percent of parents report that they want to learn more about how to be involved in their children’s learning. According to Ms. Kendrick, “In order for parents to be involved in their child’s learning, they need to know what is happening in the classroom.” She says, “Don’t wait for a potential problem situation to arise to get involved. When a relationship already exists between the parent and teacher it is much easier to resolve challenges when they arise.”

A survey among teachers offered the following suggestions for parents to make the school year a positive experience for everyone involved.

Communicate.

Prior to the start of school, talk with your children about the new school year. For younger children, a trip to school is very important. What doesn’t seem scary to adults may be very scary to a young child. Be sensitive and take their feelings seriously. If your children go to an after-school program, make sure that they know where they are going and how they will get there. If your children will come home unsupervised, make sure expectations are clear as to what will occur between the time they arrive and when you return home from work.

Make decisions beforehand.

Decide how many extra-curricular activities will be allowed. Too many extra activities can cause stress and fatigue for your child, not to mention tension among parents.

Establish Routines and Rituals.

Children especially need routine. They need structure and consistency. When these elements are not present, there is a tendency to feel out of control, which can lead to acting out – ranging from temper tantrums to refusing to do homework to being disrespectful, withdrawn or anxious.

Establish a morning and evening routine. These times can be hurried and stressful, creating anxiety for parents as well as children. Evening activities such as setting out the clothes for the next day, putting all of the school gear in one place, and touching base as a family before going to bed can help the morning be a more pleasant experience.

Make rest a priority.

Making sure your child gets adequate rest is a must. It is not unusual for children young and older to need 10 hours of rest.

Discuss emergency plans.

What will you do in case of illness? Who will pick up the children in the event of a crisis? Review how you want your children to deal with strangers.

Be informed.

Attend parent/teacher/student conferences. Read information like newsletters sent home by your child’s teacher. Become familiar with school curriculum, policies and procedures. Be sure to consistently check the school website. If you have a forgetful child, you might want to make a habit of checking their backpack.

Be responsible.

Respond promptly to requests for your signature. Send lunch money, field trip money, and PTA dues in a timely manner.

Be a good role model.

Demonstrate the importance of following school rules and procedures. Make sure your child gets to school on time and is picked up on time. Look for opportunities to meet and greet all the adults your child will encounter at school.

Be supportive.

Join PTSA and attend meetings. Offer to volunteer. Even if you are unable to go on field trips or volunteer during the day, you may be able to help in other ways.

Be Reasonable.

If you need to meet with the teacher, send an email or note requesting a meeting. It is hard for teachers to have quick, unscheduled conferences in the hallway when they are trying to keep up with their class.

Encourage good homework habits.

Help your child understand the importance of completing homework assignments in a timely manner. Offer assistance and encouragement, but make sure the final product is a reflection of your child’s effort, not yours. Let children learn from mistakes as well as successes, it shows that you care.

Keep the teacher informed.

Send a note or talk to your child’s teacher about issues that may affect your child’s performance. If your child is dealing with grief, divorce, sibling rivalry, nervousness about an upcoming event, or excitement about a visit from out-of-town grandparents, it is good to share this information. Make sure the teacher knows about health issues such as asthma or allergies. Provide information on what procedures you follow in the event of an allergic reaction.

Encourage healthy habits.

Whether your child buys lunch or brings a lunch, keep the emphasis on good nutrition. Encourage your child to spend time being physically active through play or sports.

Read together.

Children benefit enormously when parents read with them. Make reading together a daily habit. Help your child acquire age-appropriate books about topics that interest him or her.

School should be a positive experience. Make an effort to get your children off to school on the right foot. If they see you taking their education seriously, they are more likely to be excited about learning. The time and effort invested will give your children the best chance for success and has the potential to reap huge dividends for your children and our community.

Julie Baumgardner is the executive director of First Things First, a research and advocacy organization dedicated to strengthening families through education, collaboration and mobilization. She can be reached at julieb@firstthings.org.