Back-to-school tips


(Melinda Beck for The Washington Post)

The start of school is just days away. Is it too late to prepare your child, no matter the age? Nope. Here are some tips from people in the know about how to help ease that transition for your kids, their teachers and you.

Get them comfortable

Tempe Thomas, a preschool teacher for 28 years at Chevy Chase Presbyterian Weekday Nursery School:

1. Parents, please don’t talk about the new school/class/teacher your child will have too far in advance because preschoolers do not have any concept of time. They live in the present. Talking about school too soon only causes anxieties and stress.

2. Try to arrange for some of the new classmates to “happen” to be at the same park/playground. But don’t say they’ll be new friends. Have the children play in the same area of the park/playground. It’s best not to force friendships.

3. About two weeks before school starts, be sure to reinforce leaving and returning. When you leave your preschooler to go to work or to run errands, say goodbye and say you’ll be back. When you come back be sure to state the obvious: “See? I came back.”

Do this each time, so that your child knows that yes, you’re going to disappear, but you will be back. . . .

4. And when school starts, drop off quickly. . . .The message the child gets when the parent says goodbye but then lingers and repeats, “I’m leaving now, bye, you’ll be fine, I love you, bye, I’m going now” [is that] you don’t think they can handle school without a parent there. So instead, tell your child goodbye, tell him/her “I know you’ll have a good time” and that you’ll be back to pick him or her up. . . .

Parents need to feel they can trust the teacher to care for and about their preschooler as much as they do. . . . Preschool teachers know how to get children interested in a book, puzzle, painting or other activity. If your preschooler cries, remember that the curriculum in the beginning of the year concentrates on making preschoolers comfortable in class.

Get organized (together)

Rachel Strisik, a professional organizer with Rachel and Company:

Involve your children with all the back-to-school organizing that you are trying to set up. Back-to-school is the best time for starting anew, and a way to ensure that it works for everyone is to help the kids create the systems. For example, with Ellie and Marin (my 61 / 2-year-olds), we are working together to set up where their backpacks and shoes will go when they come into the house. They are helping me put together what they will need in their homework station so they can feel ownership and pride, as well as a sense of accomplishment. This will hopefully make them want to keep it up once the school year starts.

I am also letting them pick out the container that will be used at our kitchen table when they do their homework. And we are discussing what goes inside.

A similar way of doing things with older children works, too. Have them help put a calendar together for the family and write out their schedule of activities, for example. That helps them feel in control of their own lives.

Get them socially prepared

Denise Daniels, child development expert:

Parents should make sure to go over important safety measures with their children such as standing away from the curb at the bus stop, always wearing a helmet when riding a bicycle to school and walking on the sidewalk to and from school. . . .

Nowadays there’s another back-to-school safety tip that parents need to include in their discussions with children: What to do if a bully confronts you?

1. Try to recognize when someone looks mad or angry.

2. If bullies confront you, ignore them and don’t give them any attention; that’s just what they want.

3. Speak up. Tell a caring adult such as a teacher, parent, bus driver or playground supervisor. Once an adult is involved, the bully usually stops out of fear that his or her parents will find out.

Standing up for oneself is an invaluable life lesson for kids.

Get them on a schedule

Beverly Samuels, who taught fourth and fifth grades at Marumsco Hills Elementary in Woodbridge for 25 years and is now a reading specialist for all grade levels:

The best thing a parent can do is start to get kids back on a schedule. Say to them: “This is the time where we read together, talk together, go to bed, turn the TV off.”

[This advice is important for all students and families], but being a Title 1 school, we have a lot of children living in poverty. Parents are not at home; they are working, trying to make ends meet. So the kids come into school and fall asleep because they didn’t get to bed until 1 or 2 a.m. They haven’t eaten breakfast. They are tired, and you can’t learn like that.

It’s not about buying crayons and pencils. It’s about getting them ready for nutrition and exercise and sleep, and getting the mind ready for school.

More from The Washington Post:

School lunches get an upgrade

Back to school, with a food reboot

More back to school coverage

More On Parenting coverage

Five ways to help your middle-school student get organized

Let your middle schooler be risky

Amy Joyce is the editor and a writer for On Parenting.
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