Start the School Year Right

Tips for Parents and Caregivers

Going back to school in September after summer vacation can be difficult for both children and parents, even when the child may be eager to return to school. Parents must change their routines for pre- and afterschool periods and children have to adapt to more structure, as well as greater levels of activity, demands for performance and pressures from interactions with new peers and teachers. Parents can help their children by anticipating and planning for what lies ahead. By being optimistic and fully engaged with their children, moms and dads can reinforce the importance of a successful start to the new school year. Here are a few tips for parents:

  • Be prepared. Review all of the school information: dates and times, paper requirements, sports and afterschool signups, required health records, bus transportation information, school supply lists and emergency forms. This ensures a more smooth and comfortable transition for you and your child. A bulletin board and calendar signals the importance of the start of the school year and also indicates to your child that a transition is happening soon. The rituals of buying school supplies, clothing and other necessities can be enjoyable anticipatory and bonding experiences for both parent and child. It makes the process positive and exciting.
  • Establish Space, Time and TV Routines. Begin early to re-establish bedtime, mealtime and other routines―particularly breakfast―that will change when school starts. Talk with your child about the benefits of these new routines in terms of not becoming overtired or overwhelmed by homework demands, household chores, and after school activities that might collide with each other. Listen to your child’s feelings about being tired of schoolwork right after school. This helps when establishing a proper and specific time for homework. Additionally, it is important locate a quiet and settled space where a child can do homework without becoming frustrated or diverted by distractions. Schedule limited TV time, but keep to the schedule and avoid TV watching before school in the morning― an activity that may leave the child too passive before going to school.
  • Visit the School. If you are engaged with your child’s school environment, his or her teacher and the various activities at school, your child is likely to be more engaged. This is particularly important if your child is just starting kindergarten or first grade; you can bring back information that will help ease their anxieties about starting school.. You will have better and more conversations about school with your child if you know more about what’s happening there. If your child knows that you will be having ongoing contact with his or her teacher, there will be less opportunity for miscommunications, evasions or planning snafus. Alert school staff about issues such as a bullying history last year or any special needs your child may have.
  • Be Flexible During the First Week. To assure the school year starts smoothly, be flexible and available. Start morning lunch making routines, set alarm clocks, check backpacks, get children to the bus and establish various check in activities. Review contingencies with your child about afterschool babysitters or activities that are planned if you will not be there. This is especially important for working parents. Take care to go over the child’s schoolbooks list, what should be in their backpacks daily and the subjects they will be learning during the coming year, showing your enthusiasm and knowledge of these topics. Become familiar with the school professionals and the resources they offer and let your child’s teacher know (via a backpack note or email) that you are interested in receiving regular reports and meeting with him or her. Select a few extracurricular activities that are fun, build confidence, teach new skills and can be easily managed by you and your child. Children are reassured by soothing routines and structures; they confirm adults are watching out for them and are smoothing the road ahead.
  • Create a Positive Learning Attitude. Since children tend to be nervous about starting school, it is important for parents to maintain an optimistic and confident attitude about school and learning. Support and praise your child’s strengths and their demonstrated ability to handle situations, even reminding them about how they dealt with a specific problem in the past. If they did have a problem in school last year, such as bullying, reassure them that you and the school staff are working to make sure this does not happen this year. Be sure to apprise school professionals about this concern. Start early to arrange play dates with other classmates who were not available over the summer. Arrange trips to museums, libraries and other fun learning sites that engage your child’s curiosity and provide learning opportunities for you both. Continually look out for “teachable moments,” occasions when you ask questions about what your child has observed, what new thing they tried what they changed today or ask their ideas about something that is happening in their lives. Such interactions are all-important is building strong brains, developing interest and confidence in learning and creating a limitless range of learning opportunities.

Paul Creelan, Ph.D, LICSW is Program Director of the Preschool Outreach Program at The Home for Little Wanderers.

The Home's Preschool Outreach Program (POP) is a prevention and early service program for young children ages birth to seven years and their families. The Program provides both direct services and training/consultation services. Direct services such as play therapy, social skills groups, and family therapy are provided for identified children and their families. Training and consultation services include parent skills training in neighborhoods throughout Boston, and training and consultation on social and emotional competence for providers of early child care and education in Boston. Community partnerships which sponsor the work of POP are: ABCD Head Start, ABCD Child Care Choices of Boston, independent child care and education centers of the 0-8 Coalition, the Boston Public Health Commission, and other independent family and center-based child care settings.



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