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Friday, August 12, 2016

Help Your Child Prepare for a Successful School Year

There are many things that parents can do to help their child prepare for a healthy, happy, successful and safe school year.

Healthy Routines
First, start school routines about a week before school. Decide on bed times, types of healthy breakfasts and snacks, and locations for school materials. A good night's rest truly serves a child well, and typically placing backpacks and school essentials by the door at night helps to ensure a ready send off each morning.

Nightly Reading 
There's no doubt about it, children who are read to often do better in school. Establish a nightly routine of read aloud. There are many online and offline resources that can support this effort. A colleague recently started Readocity which will send books to your house that match your child's interests. This could be a great resource for busy families. At our school, a child can take home a new book as often as they like--you could get your child in the routine of taking great books home to read regularly. A same day each week for a local library visit can help in this regard, and access to online books can be very helpful to working families too. One great site for this is Unite for Literacy which offers multiple titles for free. Reading across genres including picture books, chapter books, books about math, science books, history books, and more is advantageous as well. There are many great picture books for older children that deal with very interesting and sensitive topics--topics that will prepare your child well for their world.

Play Math Games
Making time each week to count, create patterns, cook together, and play math games will help your child learn math in natural and engaging ways. Most board games involve math in some way, and there are many online math gaming sites too such as Sum Dog, Minecraft, Dragon Box, and Illuminations.

Read Websites and Notices
Check school websites and notices to make sure that your child is prepared for the year ahead. Note dates for parent night and make plans to attend those events as important information that will impact your child's year is shared on that night. Plus attendance at curriculum and parent nights gives you a chance to meet the other parents too.

Update your Calendar
Update the school year calendar with all the important dates that you know of for the year to come. Typically schools and many classrooms share a calendar of events online for families and students. There are so many great calendar choices to use for this. My family uses Google calendar which makes it easy to share important dates with family members. Plus Google sends a ready reminder of events right to your computer.

School Supplies
A good way to begin gathering school supplies is to look around your home for pencils, pens, notebooks, folders, and more. Typically if you have more than one child who has been to school, you're likely to have a lot of supplies at home. Then shop the bargains to get additional supplies. If money is an issue, don't be afraid to call the school and ask if there is any support available. I know that my school does provide support when a family is unable to purchase or access particular supplies.

Back to School Clothes
It's best to spend your money on comfortable play clothes when it comes to the elementary school students. Clothes that make it easy to run, jump, and move comfortably are typically good clothes for elementary school play and learning. I've noticed in recent years in the school where I teach there's a much greater emphasis on comfort and ease of movement than labels when it comes to purchasing shoes and clothing.

Healthy Snacks and Water
Growing children get hungry and they need a healthy snack for school everyday. Buying a good water bottle and putting your child's name on it with big letters will help your child to bring water to school every day, and it will save our planet from too many plastic bottles. I'm still working on this positive habit myself. Healthy snacks are really important too. Typically if you pack a protein such as a boiled egg, peanut butter sandwich (if PB is allowed), yogurt, or cheese sticks, with some crunchy vegetables or fruits and perhaps another option, you'll provide your child with enough food to keep him/her ready for a day of learning and recess play.

Worries and Concerns
I believe it's best to share worries and concerns with a teacher earlier than later. Many teachers today ask parents to contact them by email or a note prior to school if there's a concern. Others welcome notes on the first days of school. Typically if a concern is expressed early, a teacher can keep his/her eye out for that issue and try to help a child with a bit more sensitivity. In general, it's best to reach out to teachers in respectful ways sooner than later when a worry or concern exists as it takes a team of teachers and family members to navigate a positive school year.

Positive Attitude
Share a positive attitude about learning and potential with your child. Current cognitive study points to the fact that all children are capable of learning. Use a growth mindset, and work with your child to set good goals and work towards them. We know that positive, confident students learn better than worried, self conscious students. Therefore do all you can to extend a positive learning attitude to your child. And please, don't say that you weren't good in math or any other subject or that you didn't like math or any other subject as that kind of commentary truly has a negative affect on positive learning.

Extracurricular Events
Signing your child up for one or two extracurricular events truly serves to build your child's confidence and sense of self. Extracurricular events are also a great chance for children to build friendships and for families to get to know other families. Typically local park and recreation organizations, YMCA's, religious organizations, and other community groups sponsor extracurricular events in the arts, sports, or other interest areas. There's often scholarships available for these programs if money is short. Don't be afraid to ask. I believe that success depends on 50% academics and 50% passion. Extracurricular events will help your child to determine what he or she likes. For some that will be easy to determine, and for other children, they will want to try out many, many kinds of events until they find what they like.

Don't Compete
It's easy for parents to fall into competition with one another. After you've parented for a long time (or taught for an even longer time), you notice that taking good care of your child and following his/her lead with regard to interests and needs results in happy children. No two children are exactly alike and every child shows his/her strengths at different time. One child might be the fastest runner in first grade while another reaches his athletic potential freshman year in college. Another child may be a wonderful artist and his/her best friends may excel in drama, music, or Judo. There's so many ways to be successful and to shine, and sometimes when parents compete, they limit the potential of success for their own child.

In our automated, fast world, sometimes people forget to teach the old fashion, but still important, safety rules--rules that can save a life or protect a child's self confidence and reputation. Every year I read a few stories in the paper about preventable tragedies and I notice areas where a child could profit from a bit more support. These rules and protocols should be shared with your child in a calm and confident way a little at a time.
  • Before crossing a street, make sure you look to see if a car is coming. If a car is stopped, make sure to look into the driver's eye to notice if they know you are crossing before you cross.
  • Wear your helmet when riding your bike. Teach your child bike safety rules and signals.
  • Never ever go swimming by yourself and without an adult supervising. 
  • Don't walk alone--there's safety in numbers. At times a parent will permit a child to walk alone, but it's important that it is a well traveled and safe route.
  • If you are ever in a place where there is a gun, go home and tell a trusting adult about the situation. No gun should be in open view or access to a child. At times, children may be in a situation where another child shows them a gun or a gun is not locked up. It's good for your child to know this can happen and to find a way home sooner than later.
  • Plan a safety message and protocol with your child. For example, if you're child ever feels unsafe in a situation, he/she can tell the person, "I need to go home, I am sick." 
  • Teach your child about sexual abuse and what to do. We have a very good program about this at our school that basically teaches students that no one has a right to touch your body or ask you to do something you're uncomfortable with. If that happens, get away and tell a trusting adult.
  • We sadly teach about violence safety too. We teach students that if a violent event were to occur, there best option is to run to safety as fast and crazily as they can, and if that's not possible, to fight back by throwing things so they can get away. We practice this at school, but it's good to practice at home.
  • Fire safety is important too. Teach children not to play with matches. Sadly, when you read about fires, there are still some that are caused by children playing with matches. Also have an emergency plan at home for evacuation should their be a fire.
  • Staying clear of ice is a lesson for winter, but often children don't realize that an ice covered pond or lake is not safe. Tell them to never walk on ice without a parent's permission or attendance. Sometimes families that come from warmer climates, don't think to share that advice with children since it wasn't a concern for them in their hometown or country. 
  • Teach children to advocate for themselves, to speak up if anything is troubling or not going right. Then help them to navigate those trouble spots well. In cases where your child has made an error, help him/her to right the wrong in ways that matter. Learning to take responsibility for errors and learn from them is an important life skill that starts with young children. In cases where your child has been wronged, if it's small, help your child to manage the situation by talking to a friend or teacher, and with regard to bigger events, help your child to navigate the event. Many times a child will speak to a parent rather than a teacher about a school problem, and sometimes parents have to call the teacher and speak up for the child at first to help remedy the situation.
  • Don't approach a car with a stranger, don't go off with a stranger.
  • Beware of tube sleds. Every year a few children lose their lives sledding with tube sleds as when they get going fast there's no stopping them. If it's a groomed trail with oversight and no trees or roads, you're probably okay, but generally the old fashion plastic sleds are better for neighborhood hills as generally a child can simply roll off if in danger of hitting a tree, car, or rock. 
Young children should be supervised at all times. As children get a bit older, around ten, they begin to assume more independence. Regular conversation about safety is important for your child's well being. Establish a level of trust with your child so he/she feels comfortable talking to you about the day's events, highlights, and worries. In general, rather than all the fancy items, your time, support, and presence is the best gift you can give your child. 

The time and care you invest in your child in the early years truly pays off later on with regard to strong parent-child relationships and children who have a strong, loving foundation with which to move forward in life. I'm sure there are more tips that you can add to this list. If so, please let me know.

In the meantime, I wish you and your children a wonderful school year ahead.