ALMOST DONE: Experts offer transition tips for back to school

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 30, 2016


The days of summer are winding down for school children across the county.

To ease the transition, university experts at National Louis University compiled a list of 11 tips for parents to set the course for a successful school year.

They are as follows:

• Email the teacher. Email your child’s teacher at the beginning of the school year. Just say, “hi,” let them know the best way to reach you, and that you look forward to your child learning in this grade level. Teachers appreciate the outreach, because there are other parents who slam the door shut on communication.

“Letting the teacher know, ‘I’m approachable,’ is reassuring to the teacher,” said Seema Iman, associate professor of elementary and middle level teacher education at NLU.

• Plan the night before. It’s easy for school mornings to go 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 that they have time in the morning to eat breakfast without rushing.

“Younger children need nine to 11 hours of sleep due to increasing demands on their time from school, sports and extracurricular activies,” said Ayn Keneman, associate professor of education at NLU. “It takes energy to remember what you learned.”

• Deal with, “I don’t want to go to school.” Getting to the heart of the child’s reluctance to go to school is key. What are they worried about. 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,” said Leslie Katch, assistant professor of education at NLU. “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”

• For small children, roleplay what will happen. For younger children, who will enter preschool for the first time, routine is paramount, Katch said.

Try practicing and talking through what will happen on the first day of school.

“You will have your backpack, we will put it in your cubby, and then mommy will kiss you goodbye.”

Or, providing your child with a mantra, like, “Mommy will always come back after we eat lunch,” can provide some comfort.

• Take turns reading with your child

At home, parents are the teachers. Pick out a book and read a paragraph; then let your child read a paragraph, and take turns. “The child gets to hear what the words sound like when they’re pronounced correctly,” Imam said. Your child also gets the practice of encountering unfamiliar words and learning them, plus the bonus of doing something with you. It’s important to note that reading all formats counts, including comic books, graphic novels, magazines, digital formats and listening to audiobooks.

• Reduce anxiety

Anxiety is a normal, adaptive reaction to stressful situations, but if persistent it can negatively affect many aspects of a child’s learning and social and emotional well-being. As children return to school from summer vacation, feelings of anxiety can escalate. “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,” says Jennifer Cooper, Ph.D., NCSP, assistant professor in NLU’s School Psychology program. She recommends that parents create an open dialogue about feelings and help their children manage stress by maintaining realistic, attainable goals and expectations for their child. Caregivers also should be aware of warning signs of anxiety, such as excessive worrying, somatic complaints, irritability, difficulty concentrating, change in sleeping patterns, etc., and seek help from a qualified mental health professional if the problem persists or interferes with daily activities.

• Remove the “math is difficult” stigma

Parents and students alike can feel intimidated by math homework, especially as its difficulty increases. Instead of believing the myth that mathematics is intimidating and difficult, try talking with your child about how math is here to help make life easier. Relate math to daily activities, such as cooking, sports and shopping.

• Volunteer at your child’s school

For a parent to volunteer is a great way to build a bridge between school and home. If you have time to volunteer during the school day, great; if not, email the teacher and explain you’d like to help, but you work from 9 to 5.

“There are things teachers can ask parents to do that working parents can do,” Imam said, such as preparing materials for bulletin boards. In addition, work the school events that take place on weekends or evenings. Join the PTA OR PTO.

• Master the technology

Many schools now have a password-protected website or parent portal that parents can use to view quiz results, grades and other information. Too often, parents never even look at it. If it’s tricky or you don’t know the password, be proactive about reaching out to the teacher or school webmaster to learn how to use it.

• 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, “ said Keneman.

• Talk with your children 20 minutes each day

You don’t need to lecture them on the Revolutionary War. Just build in some time to connect, whether the child feels like talking about his favorite game or the argument she had with a friend. The conversation helps parents build a relationship with their children and support them. Below are a few conversation starters.

• 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?

“Effective communication is the most important 21st Century skill,” Keneman observed.  “Spending 20 minutes daily with children will increase listening and speaking skills as well as strengthen close relationships to help parents stay connected to their children during all stages of life.”