It’s a new year. As usual the summer flew by andthe long days and hazy routines of the season are behind us. You’re back at the corner waiting for the school bus to pick up your children. While adjusting the straps of rock heavy backpacks for the umpteenth time, you give parting words of advice: “Listen to the teachers, eat your lunch and then dessert, and please use those tissues and not your sleeves! “
All of the miscellaneous school supplies you bought over the summer are now stashed into cubbies and lockers and, by the way, it’s not your imagination that the supply list does get longer each year. Your children are now familiar with their new teachers, classrooms and schedule. Above all else, they know precisely when it’s lunch and recess time.
Important new routines are being established at school, but what can parents do at home aiming toward the goal of a successful school year? What are the key ingredients to the “at home recipe?”
Down time: When your children come home after school, let them relax and unwind. All during the day, they’ve been mostly indoors sitting at desks and following rules and listening to teachers (hopefully). Physical exercise is essential for growth and development, in addition to shaking off the rigors of the school day.
Establish a homework routine: Homework should be done in a quiet space with good lighting, preferably at the same time each night. Try to make sure they tackle homework a few hours before bedtime when they’re just too tired—in my house that time of night was fondly referred to as “bewitching hour” or “twilight zone.” Check for these red flags: Is your child struggling and getting frustrated with assignments or taking too long to complete them? If you see a pattern with one or more subjects, it’s time to follow up with the teacher. Conversely, if they pop into the kitchen after two minutes announcing “I’m done; can I have another brownie? “ Look over the work. Is it legible, fully completed and ready to be packed up? If not, issue a gentle reminder that it’s important to do a good homework job, and give the work back for completion. Then go ahead and reward for a job well done. How about home sticker charts? Is there a child out there who doesn’t love stickers?
Read together regularly. No matter the age, encourage your children to read to you regularly. Take turns reading pages, act out characters’ voices and discuss the events of the story. Go to the library and choose books together. Let them see you reading, and be a good reading model! Talk about your favorite books and authors when you were in school. Reading together is wonderful quality time, and while you’re sharing these special experiences, you’re also strengthening reading and comprehension skills.
Listen and stay positive. Encourage your children to talk about their school day. Ask them about friends, projects, teachers and challenges they may be facing. Children, like adults, have their off days, so try not to overreact to one out of sync day. Observe if there is a pattern, if so, contact the teacher or school social worker.
Send healthy snacks. Again, it’s not your imagination that children always seem to be hungry! While you’re preparing for the next day at school, it’s so tempting to throw some prettily packaged sugary and totally not nutritious snack into that backpack. But that’s not what children need to satisfy their hunger. It’s important to establish healthy eating habits at an early age, and it’s far better to send real foods—fruits, vegetables or cheeses—that aren’t just empty calories. All it takes is a little forethought when you’re in the supermarket.
Partner with teachers. Go to open school night and parent teacher conferences, take notes, ask questions, and work on establishing great communication with teachers. Make sure you know contact information: Do they prefer email or phone calls? If you need to share some information or talk, ask for a convenient time you can speak. Teachers enjoy being approached in a friendly manner and are usually receptive to information and ideas. After all, you know your children the longest and the best.
Last but not least, the years of your children’s education journey are precious, passing “in a blink of an eye. So sit back and enjoy this most wonderful ride.
By Esther Kook