9 back-to-school tips to help parents bridge the chasm between home and classroom
Posted August 28, 2016
Whether its coming back after a long summer or starting kindergarten or preschool, children are often full of school-driven angst at the end of August.
To help out, the education faculty at National Louis University, a nonprofit founded in 1886 with seven locations in Illinois, Florida and Wisconsin, put together nine suggestions for parents to minimize stress in the first weeks of school and the months that follow.
1. Email the teacher
Call, text or email the teacher at the start of the school year, says Seema Imam, associate professor of elementary and middle level teacher education. "I always teach my teachers about keeping their door open," Imam says, "But I don't think parents realize that they could knock."
Reaching out to introduce yourself establishes a relationship, puts your child more firmly on the teacher's radar, and lets them know you care and how to best reach you. “Letting the teacher know you are approachable is reassuring,” Imam says.
2. Plan the night before
It’s easy for school mornings to get crazy. Don’t let your child be the one who’s late to school because he couldn’t find his shoes. Instead, minimize chaos by having a place for each child to put his or her things, including the backpack.
Get kids to sleep early enough so they have time in the morning to eat breakfast without rushing. “Younger children need 9 to 11 hours of sleep due to the increasing demands on their time from school, sports and extracurricular activities, says Ayn Keneman, associate professor of education at NLU. “It takes energy to remember what you learned.”
3. Tackle not wanting to go
Getting to the heart of the child's reluctance to go to school is key in hard cases, says Leslie Katch, assistant professor of education at NLU. Find out what the child is worried about, whether it be bullies, sitting alone at lunch, the academic work, or just not wanting summer to end.
“Asking questions can reveal important intel into the feelings and emotions around going back to school,” she says. “If you can pinpoint an issue, talking through the problem and acknowledging your child's concerns can help provide the confidence needed to enter the first day of school.”
4. Role play with younger children
Role playing is especially key for young children, Katch says. Helping kids anticipate routines will help everything seem less scary. Start with the first day of school. "You will have your backpack, we will put it in your cubby, and then mommy will kiss you goodbye." Katch also suggests useful reassuring mantras: "Mommy always comes back after we eat lunch."
5. Take turns reading
Routinely reading together makes literacy work at school feel less foreign, Imam says. Pick out a book and read a paragraph, then let your child read a paragraph, and take turns.
Kids seeing parents reading and responding to books brought from school helps establish their importance, Imam says. Your child also gets the practice of encountering unfamiliar words and learning them, plus the bonus of doing something with you.
6. Reduce anxiety
Anxiety is normal for a child starting school, says Jennifer Cooper, assistant professor in NLU’s School Psychology program. Dialogue, coping techniques and realistic goals can all help.
“Parents and other caregivers can teach their children simple strategies to help with anxiety, such as organizing materials and time, developing short scripts of what to do and say when anxiety increases, and learning coping strategies to relax under stressful conditions,” Cooper says.
She also recommends parents and caregivers look for warning signs, including excessive worrying, health problems, irritability, difficulty concentrating, change in sleeping patterns and get qualified professional help if the problem persists or deepens.
7. Volunteer at your child’s school
Volunteering is a great way to bridge school and home, Imam says, helping your child sense your connection to his or her school. Having mom and dad be a part of the classroom reduces the strangeness of the new experience, Imam says.
Even if parents work during the day, Imam says, there are valuable contributions they can make, such as preparing materials for bulletin boards or helping with evening or weekend events. Email your teacher to find out what you can do to help.
8. Reconnect with friends
With summer activities and travel, children can lose touch with the friends that they made during the school year. Seeing a friend can make children more comfortable, so schedule a playdate with a few friends before school starts. “Going back to school is stressful for children of all ages, so reconnecting with friends is a great way to help reduce a child’s anxiety for the upcoming school year, “ says Keneman.
9. Talk with your children daily
With both children and parents much busier than previous generations, Imam says it is critical to have structured time when the child can recount their day with the parent. These conversations develop communication skills, strengthen parent-child relationships, and help the parent spot problems as they emerge.
Here are conversation starters Imam suggests: "Tell me about the best and/or worst part of your day." "Did any of your classmates do anything funny?" "Tell me about what you read in class." "What's the biggest difference between this year and last year?" "What rules are different at school than our rules at home? Do you think they're fair?"