Back to School: the phrase elicits groans from students and cheers from their parents. It can be very stress-inducing for kids to leave behind the carefree days of summer for the more structured routine of school. So what can parents do to help children prepare for the transition? We queried an experienced teacher, and her answers may surprise you.
“The best thing parents can do to prepare children for school is to demonstrate a positive attitude. If the parent conveys optimism and excitement about the new school year, the child is likely to share those feelings,” states Karen Barker, a twenty year classroom veteran. “This is especially important if the child’s previous year was difficult. A new school year is a brand new opportunity for success in the classroom. Our goal as teachers is to instill a love of learning, and we can’t do that effectively when the family has a negative outlook toward school.” She encourages parents to share fond memories of school with their kids, demonstrating that there is always something positive to be gained, even if they too experienced tough times. Resilience is an important life skill for parents to role model.
Barker says that creating healthy habits is also an effective method for helping both parents and students transition smoothly into the school year. “Two to three weeks before school begins, it’s time to start putting the bedtime routines back into place. I can’t emphasize this enough: one of the biggest obstacles that teachers face is students who haven’t had enough sleep. It doesn’t matter whether they’re in kindergarten or high school. Children need a good night’s sleep. That’s when their brains assimilate information and their bodies refresh, storing up energy for the next day. Sleepy students come into the classroom with one strike against them. They have difficulty remaining focused, even for short periods of time. This often leads to frustration, which in turn can initiate disruptive behaviors and acting out. And that’s a shame, because it’s so easy to prevent.”
Another valuable strategy to use with elementary age students is bedtime reading. “It continually surprises me that parents let go of reading during the summer months,” states Barker. “If you’ve let that practice go, or never started it in the first place, starting to read in the evening with your child a few weeks before school begins is helpful on so many levels.” She suggests taking turns reading aloud, or if the child is capable, allow them to do the majority of the reading. “But definitely take your turn at least one night each week. It’s a treat for kids to relax and listen, and it’s also important for learning, because they hear correct pronunciation, cadence and rhythm, word patterns, etc.”
A final piece of advice from this seasoned teacher: don’t overlook physical activity. “Homework shouldn’t be neglected because it’s important for reinforcing new skills, but make sure your child has a period of physical activity after school. They need a mental break before they begin focusing on homework. Provide a balanced snack, get them moving, and once they are feeling relaxed and refreshed, introduce homework time. Postpone TV, computer and electronic gaming until after the work is complete. Treat it as a reward, not a punishment.”
As another school year begins and you go forth to gather the requisite supplies, keep in mind the important tools that money can’t buy: a positive attitude, plenty of sleep, and the introduction of healthy habits, including reading together and physical activity. Implementing any one of these tools will provide your student with a positive experience; implementing as many as possible should give both parent and student a significant advantage.