Summer is over. You've shopped for the new school outfits, tracked down the latest lunch boxes, and even stocked up on pencils and notepaper. You're all set for back to school.
But are you?
Perhaps it has not occurred to you that parents can make a big difference in how well their children do at school. Here are some ways you can help them benefit as much as possible:
Be enthusiastic, positive and optimistic about the coming year. Let your children know you are interested in their schoolwork.
See that they have a suitable place for studying and homework. The ideal situation is for each child to have his own desk or table and comfortable chair where he can permanently keep his school things and work quietly without distractions. The lighting should be good and if possible a shelf or bookcase should be nearby with any reference books you've got.
Two absolute musts which no "learning" home should be without are a dictionary and thesaurus. They needn't be expensive editions. In fact you can get a paperback thesaurus for a dollar or two.
Decide before school starts when homework will be done. If you make it part of your daily schedule just like mealtimes or bedtime, you'll avoid the continual "do-I-have-to?" syndrome.
Budget into your home schedule a special "family time" for reading, playing games or other activities.
Number one priority: Devote some of the time to reading together. It's a proven fact that the more children are read to the better readers they become. If you choose books somewhat above their reading level, you will familiarize them with new words, which they will recognize in their readers later on.
Take time to discuss the story to see they have understood the key parts. Don't overdo the analysis; this spoils the fun.
Play games. Any game which gets kids thinking will stimulate those brain cells necessary for learning at school.
Some old favorites and good mind-teasers: chutes and ladders (for the young ones learning their numbers); Monopoly (for the older ones learning basic math skills); Solitaire (beating each other's times and scores); checkers; backgammon and chess.
Be sure, however, to include some new games, such as Dungeons and Dragons, Tunnels and Trolls, Runequest and Moneychase.
Perennially popular card games are: Snap, Happy Families, Old Maid, Rummy, Whist, Bridge, and the Upside-Down-Game (cards are spread upside down on the table and the players take turns turning over two cards in the hopes of finding a pair, which is great for developing memory).
Word games, of course, are naturals for developing vocabulary. Every family should have a Scrabble. Then, of course, there are lotto, crosswords, and all sorts of quizzes and riddles.
And don't forget to increase your children's word banks through drama: charades, puppet shows, acting out a story they've read, playing "disco jockey" or TV commentator by speaking into a tape recorder, and, of course, storytelling. Have each member of the family take a turn, round-robin fashion, or read the beginning of a story and have each child make up an ending.
Limit TV watching to a few well-chosen programs. It can be an asset for building vocabularies and for introducing your children to all sorts of new interests. But be discriminating and get into the habit of discussing the programs afterward.
See that your children have their own library cards, know their way around and are acquainted with the children's librarian.
Put up a family bulletin board in an accessible place where everyone congregates, such as the kitchen or den. Keep a calendar of all individual and family activities.
The board will not only help you keep track of everything, but it also generates an organized and stable life style, so important to learning.
Give your children jobs to do around the house -- jobs that require following directions, doing things in an orderly sequence and completing the task.
Have them decide who will feed the goldfish, water the plants, or load the dishwasher. They can trade after a week or two, but the important thing is that they learn to assume responsibility. This is the key to learning.
[D.C. reading specialist Jane Ervin is the author of "Your Child CAN Read and YOU Can Help."]