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Smart Start!

School bells will soon ring once again. Whether that comes as music to your ears or a bittersweet reminder that the free-spirited summer days are over, check out these tips from the pros to help you and your child enjoy a smart, happy start to school.

1. Push the reset button. A week or two before school starts, ease back to regular bedtime and morning routines. Nudge kids back into the habit of daily reading if they’ve slacked off and play math games to review.

“Think about resetting structure at home and what changes need to happen so it’s not a total shock to everyone’s system,” says Christine Vohs, a second grade teacher.

“Anything that you can create that allows for structure and your child’s ownership for success is going to send them to me in a better frame of mind to learn for the day.”

Plan ahead for hectic mornings by gathering healthy, simple-to-prepare breakfast ideas packed with nutrients and protein. Wall calendars with activities color-coded for each family member and daily checklists for each child can help establish expectations and keep your family organized.

2. Build anticipation. Got a youngster who’s bummed to head back to school? Stay upbeat. Remind them of the subjects that spark their curiosity they’ll learn about in the coming year, whether that’s cursive writing, multiplication or a special grade-level project.

“Talk to your children about friends they haven’t seen all summer and about new kids joining their class,” says first grade teacher Megan Jasperson. “This is sure to get them excited for the school year to begin.”

3. Show support. “Avoid teasing your child by saying things like, ‘You have the meanest teacher in school!’ or acting as if you’re overjoyed to be sending your child back to school because this can make him wonder why you’re so eager to be away from him,” says Becky DeNoon, a third grade teacher.

Instead, offer encouragement and support. Remind your child that it’s normal to feel disappointed about summer break coming to a close, but you’re excited to see how much they’ll learn and grow during the coming months.

4. Be prepared. Peruse school supply lists carefully and read the handouts the school issues to ensure that your youngster has everything they need on the first day of school.

“Kids feel embarrassed on the first day when they aren’t prepared,” says Jasperson.

5. Reduce uncertainty. Often kids feel nervous about unknowns like transitioning to a teacher they don’t know, a new school or a different set of classroom rules. Take advantage of any back-to-school or orientation events that your school offers to help your apprehensive scholar familiarize themself with the classroom, meet classmates and connect with the teacher before school starts. Knowing what to expect and where to go on the first day will ease some of a child’s anxieties.

6. Seek out friendly faces. If you’ve recently moved to the community or switched schools, look for other families with children your child’s age to arrange a playdate or to meet for frozen yogurt.

Some schools also feature parent Facebook pages. Hop on and ask if anyone would like to get together at the park before school begins. Many parents love to help welcome new families. And these efforts will lessen first-day jitters when your youngster knows they’ll recognize a few familiar faces when they get there.

Have an adolescent heading into middle school? Encourage your child to join after-school clubs and activities. Their involvement will help them form connections with peers who share their interests, says Traci Keeler, a sixth grade math teacher and eighth grade volleyball and track coach.

7. Create a homework spot. Designate an area in your home that’s conducive to focusing and concentration, and where you can easily jump in to provide assistance when necessary. While purchasing school supplies, also stock a homework caddy or station with scratch paper, pens, pencils, erasers, markers, highlighters and anything else that your son or daughter will need to complete their homework.

8. Build partnerships. Maintaining open communication and partnering with your student’s teacher is key to a successful school year.

“You know your child best and your insights into your child are helpful to us,” says Vohs.

Introduce yourself to the teacher and tell the teacher the best ways they can contact you. In turn, remember that teachers care about their students’ best interests. Vohs speaks for many of her colleagues when she says, “I hope parents will trust me to make the best possible decisions for their child while he or she is with me.”

9. Get involved. Help your children start seeing school as an extension of their home life by volunteering periodically. Most kids get a kick out of seeing their parents during the school day, whether they volunteer in the cafeteria, library or the classroom. Unable to volunteer at school? Ask the teacher what you can do to help from home. 

Freelance journalist Christa always loved the back-to-school season as a child and still does. Her two boys don’t share her enthusiasm. Christa is the author of Happy, Healthy & Hyperconnected: Raise a Thoughtful Communicator in a Digital World.

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