Tools for Back to School

It seems that as school supplies begin to line the shelves of our local stores, and Back To School advertisements begin, the “back to school jitters” often invite themselves into our homes.  Although the start of a brand new school year can be exciting, this time of year can also bring some not-so-welcome changes to lives of students and parents alike. In general, there are several things that parents can implement into their daily routine to help ensure a successful school year for their children.

Communication: Even in this age of technology, it is important to balance communication with your child as well as your child’s teachers and school staff. The younger the student, the more interaction a parent will have with their children’s teachers.  It is a good rule of thumb that as a child gets older, he or she will find more success in using their parents’ guidance while approaching teachers on their own.  Parents can model effective communication for their child and also follow up to be sure that the desired result was achieved.  Important things to help students consider are appropriate communication styles as well as etiquette for phone, email and other technology based interaction.
Organization and Preparation: Assisting and teaching children to organize and prepare themselves for school and other activities will help them feel ready and less anxious.  Teaching a child to prepare for school the night before by setting clothes out, surveying their backpack for completed homework and signed papers, as well as making a plan for lunch, will save time the next morning and help a child to feel most prepared as they lay their head on their pillow each night.  At least a couple of chaotic mornings each school year are inevitable, but having a place for and knowing where each school item can be found, can help for a smooth transition each day.
Routine and Schedule: Putting in place a set routine and schedule will help create calm evenings and may even multiply a family’s time. Children and adults alike, benefit from knowing what is coming up each day and what the basic overview of the week looks like. Creating a family calendar that can be put in a common area for all to see is a tool that works for many families. All of the recurring events like school and weekly extra-curricular activities are the staples on the calendar, but added to each week are the special occasions or scheduled tests and appointments. Be sure to schedule a time to go over this calendar as a family at the beginning of each week. 
Monitor sleeping and eating habits:  Children are sure to be set up for success when they are sent to school with enough sleep and good fuel in their bodies. In this age of busy schedules, it is often easier to gain precious time by turning to convenience foods and delaying bedtime by an hour or two, or more. Although, it is important for children to learn flexibility and that schedules change from time to time, establishing a bedtime as well as planning a family menu as a part of the weekly schedule will help students get to school on the right foot and ready to learn.  Another culprit to delayed bedtimes and difficulty in sleeping are those electronic devices.  Many parents consider setting a “bedtime” for electronic devices as well.
Special Time: Even the most well-oiled family machines, with the most organized schedule in place, can find themselves feeling like they are missing out on quality time with one another.  Many families find success in adding two very important items to their weekly schedule/routine: one-on-one and family time. Depending on the number of members in your family and what the activity is, one-on-one time may need to be scheduled every other week.  The great thing about this calendar entry is that it can be whatever a parent and child want it to be, a dinner date with each child or even 10 minutes a day of reading or uninterrupted time to talk.  The same goes for family time. Planning an outing or even a game or movie night at home is a plan that works to help many families stay connected in this time of busy schedules.
Although equipping families with general tools will result in a successful start to the school year, sometimes there are specific concerns that can affect many children at home and at school. 
Whether the result of a move or simply moving to the next grade level, changing schools can be a difficult adjustment for children. Many students feel that as soon as they have learned the hallway map and the rules of the cafeteria, it is time to switch schools. As with any big change, the best thing we can do for our children is help them prepare for the change and encourage them along the way.  Equipping older students with a school map and bell schedule can be useful. Encouraging students of all ages to ask questions and find a peer role model who seems to know the ropes, are useful tools for students of all ages.
Regardless of whether a child is a veteran student in a school, or it is their first year on their campus, many children experience anxiety about school performance. Sometimes this anxiety is unfounded because the student has always performed well, but some children find school very difficult.  It is important to equip students early on with tools that will increase both their confidence and performance at school.  In addition to teachers sharing tutoring information in class, schools often give an overview of their tutoring policy and schedule online.  When a plan that includes utilization of teacher websites and email addresses, sets of textbooks for use at home, and implementation of organization is put in place early on in the year, a child’s anxiety often decreases.  It is important to let students know that we believe that they will be successful, and part of that success is assuring them that we have put a plan in place to handle the difficult times as well.
Seeing friends again after a long summer is often one of things that children look forward to.  It doesn’t take long however, for our children to be faces with the children who are not so easy to get along with. Even more common, are the very typical, every day friendship issues that every student has to learn to maneuver.  Even from an early age, it is important for parents to help their children learn how to work through difficult friendship issues.  Empowering our children with advice of how to compromise, and effectively communicate is a life lesson that begins in the early years of school, but is a gift that lasts throughout adulthood. Of course, when the situation is more serious in nature and there is concern that a child is being put at risk, adult intervention is mandatory.
It seems that the older children get, the more demanding their schedules become. This is true in school, but also in extra-curricular activities, where we find that very busy extra-curricular schedules begin to have an impact on children’s preparation and success in school. Less sleep, less time for homework and studying, less free time, and less balanced meals can all be a result of afterschool activities.  Many parents want to support their child in their extracurricular sport or activity, but also help them succeed academically.  The best way to do this is to equip children with preparation and balance.  Just as there will be a long-term benefit from learning social interaction skills, children will also benefit from learning time management and prioritization skills.  Involving students in schedule making and time management as it pertains to his or her life, is a useful exercise.
In all, the best thing parents and teachers can do for a child as we begin a new year is give them the tools they need to be successful.  While the strategies and implementations above will provide a structure of success to any family, the truth is that no one can do it alone. Our children will benefit the most when teachers, parents, mentors, school staff and other influential adults band together to equip and positively influence a child to create success in his or her future.