The end of summer—and the first few weeks of September—is a stressful time for parents and children. How do you prepare your child for this transition back to school?
Better yet, how do you prepare yourself? Rest assured you’re not alone.
Rebecca Eckler, a working mom of a teen and another child just entering Kindergarten, seems to have a good handle on preparing her children for a new school year. She tells her kids that it takes three weeks to get used to anything new. “I warn my children about that in advance, so they know that if the first couple of days, or couple of weeks, suck, that it takes time.”
However, if your child has anxiety or aversion to school, he/she may need more support with the transition. Toronto District School Board teacher, K.K.Y. Ebanks, who has 19 years of experience, noted that “students with anxiety do not like surprises so try to take the surprise out of what you can and, with what you can’t, try to provide them with coping strategies that will help them deal.” Ebanks suggests contacting your child’s school a week or two before it opens to ask about scheduling a visit so you can take pictures of where their classrooms are along with the washrooms, library, office, gym, etc.
Shane Brett, a parent in Toronto, has tried a number of ways to make sure the first day of school goes smoothly for his children. “At home, we would go through the daily schedule together in a light role play version, talking about where they’ll need to go and how to be prepared for each stage,” Brett says. “For my daughter, that included a trial walk to school in the weeks prior so she felt comfortable with the route and the amount of time she needed to get there.”
As teachers, we get to scope out the school and walk the routes before the first day to ease ourselves into the school year, so I think these are great ideas to help students too.
As for the academics, if your child is in middle or high school and has an Individual Education Plan (IEP), Ebanks suggests that he/she “should be made aware and be well-versed on the contents of their IEP so they are able to be their own advocate at school and remind the teachers what they need in order to be successful.” With class sizes of 30 plus students, and with as many as a quarter or more of them on IEPs, involving your child in their learning will help you, the teacher and your child create a positive learning experience. Being in control over their learning also gives your child more confidence.
However, this method may not work for all students with IEPs as some may be too shy to communicate his/her needs directly to the teacher. So, for parents and/or students who find juggling academics challenging, Eckler feels “getting a tutor for my daughter was one of the best parenting decisions I made.”
Whether it’s to keep your child organized, like Eckler’s daughter, or act as an advocate to ensure your child gets the accommodations he/she needs to be successful in class, a tutor may be the answer for your child to be happier at school and, as a result, both of you at home.
One of the most important steps to a successful school year, Tracy Amacher, the mother of two busy boys who is an educational assistant in Victoria, BC, suggests “having open communication with the school and your child’s educators will benefit everyone.”
It’s also very important that the conversations at home about school should always be positive. Ebanks suggests changing the typical yes/no questions like ‘How was your day at school?’ to more specific questions such as: What made you laugh today? How did you make a difference today? What will you do differently tomorrow that you learned from today? She believes that such specific questions will help your child think more deeply when answering which will also help them with their written and oral skills.
Another teacher in Toronto, Richard Oki, agrees that parents should be positive and confident about school with their children. He also reminds parents that “it’s important to emphasize to their kids that they try their best and not dwell on grades.” While some parents struggle with this different approach to education, many school systems have shifted from highlighting grades to teaching students important life skills such as self- motivation, collaboration, communication, and time management skills.
As for day-to- day management of school life, your child may need your help learning how to maintain a balance between work and play. Learning to appropriately apportion their time is essential. Brett gets his kids involved in creating the plan that achieves that.
“I’ll sit with my kids to review their homework, and ask them to propose the schedule for the night. I’ll help them consider chores, dinner time and other factors.” He thinks this gives them ownership of the schedule so when he tells them it’s homework time, he’s simply reminding them of the plan they created. “It’s harder to get frustrated at an idea you came up with!” Brett notes.
Remember that balance is important for you, too. Your job as a parent is the hardest job you’ll ever have. Your child relies and looks to you for everything, so it’s important that you take care of yourself. How do you prepare for the day? Jenna Srigley’s secret as a working mom of two in Niagara is that she “always wakes up about an hour before my kids to have a shower and get myself ready before waking them up.” She also prefers to prepare the lunches for school and have her kids pick out their clothes the night before.
“If I’m organized and have everything, including myself, ready by the time my kids get up it makes for an easier morning for all of us.” However you decide to prepare your child, and yourself, best of luck for the school year ahead.