Back to School: Tips for Parents and Caregivers
Making the transition from summer fun to the start of the school year is difficult for children and, often, for adults. Who wants to go from sleeping in late and playing all day to waking up early and dealing with school work and social pressures? Parents and caregivers must also get back into the routine of helping kids with homework at night, preparing bagged lunches and snacks and following their children’s progress in school.
There are ways, however, for parents and caregivers to ease the change in schedule and prepare themselves and their children for the challenges and, yes, even the fun of the school year. Dr. Andrea S. Libresco, a professor of Teaching, Literacy and Leadership at Hofstra University offers the following tips for parents and guardians:
Prepare yourself and your child AND the teacher. Reduce anxiety of the unknown.
*Spend time reading books about school, talking with your child about school, and what might happen on the first day before classes begin.
*Bring your child to school in advance. (Teach your middle schooler how to open a lock.)
*Let your child know it’s okay to feel nervous when starting school; let him know that teachers and other kids are nervous, too.
*Help your child establish a regular routine to get ready for school – involve her in choices about what to wear, what to bring for lunch, what school supplies to purchase (depending on teacher’s instructions).
*You and your child should get up early enough (and go to bed early enough) so that no one starts the day feeling rushed. (Ease into a back-to-school schedule over a period of at least a week.) And do leave a little time for the unexpected – a shoelace breaking, an extra bathroom visit – so there is no mad dash at the end.
*If there’s anything that the teacher needs to know about your child or family situation (recent loss, special needs, stressful financial situation), be proactive and communicate with the teacher and other school personnel prior to the start of school.
Be enthusiastic. Parents can set the tone of embracing exciting new changes.
*Focus on fun. If you escort your child to school, check out the playground before you go in. Meet the teacher together. Take a look around the new classroom for things you know she enjoys – fish tank, art supplies, etc.
*Don’t draw out the good-byes. Don’t let your separation anxieties become your child’s.
*If your child seems unenthusiastic about school, ask him what is wrong. It may be a very specific problem (“The big kids on the playground never get off the swings.”) that you and your child together can talk about with the teacher.
*And, if your child has ongoing trouble adjusting, do ask the school for help – teacher, guidance counselor, principal.
Be a partner in your child’s learning. Learning is ongoing – in & out of school
*Support your child’s reading – with reading aloud, shared reading from a variety of different types of sources. There is no age that is too old for read-alouds: picture books, chapter books, the funnies, a Metropolitan Diary story in the NY Times, sports page stats, a political cartoon, a compelling photograph.
*Encourage questions of all kinds by wondering aloud and noticing things as you read, hang out or travel with your child. “I wonder how much weight that bridge could hold, how many trucks and cars at one time…”
*Help your child become a problem-solver and independent learner by asking her to evaluate her work, versus your passing judgment on it.
*Get to know the teacher and what goes on in the classroom by going to school events, seeing the work on the walls. If you have a positive relationship with the teacher and the school, your child will feel safer and can put his energy into learning.
Be available. For your child and for her education.
*Chat with your child about her day, but not with the old “How was school today?,” which requires a summary (and often a vague) judgment. Instead, ask a few more specific questions (without grilling): “What was the most fun today?” “How did soccer go?” “Did you ask your teacher about that math homework?” “Hear about any great books that you’re dying to read today?”
*Let your child play and get exercise after school while it’s light outside; then support a particular work time and place where you can check in periodically.
*Support your child’s work, but don’t do your child’s work. Find out the best ways to do this from the teacher. For example, with respect to writing, your teacher may be okay with going over your child’s writing, as long as she can see what the child did first and how you helped edit.
*Over the first month, find out how you can support the teacher and the work that goes on in school. If the class is studying nature, take a walk with your child. If they’re studying Ancient Egypt, go to the Met.
Be an activist. Education matters, so educate yourself about education matters.
*Now that your child is in school, you have a vested interest in our education system. Work to get qualified teachers in every classroom, in buildings that are kept up, attended by children who are well-fed, whose families have books in their home, whose communities are safe.
*Be alert to the role that standardized testing plays in your child’s education. If you have concerns, find out about groups that are challenging the time and emphasis given to testing in schools.
*Get involved in passing school budgets. Work and vote for candidates who support good education for all children. As Teddy Roosevelt said, “This country will not be a good place for any of us to live in if it is not a reasonably good place for all of us to live in.”