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The ABC’s of Back to School, From Teachers and Parents

It's almost here, folks - back-to-school time! Whether we like it or not, it's time to start thinking about the new school year. Here are some tips from our parents and Grade A teachers on how to get started.

New lunchboxes — check. Crayons and markers—check.  Notebooks, binders, glue sticks — check. 

You’ve gone to all the back-to-school sales and loaded your pupils up with the right tools to get their new year of learning off to a great start.  If only it were as easy as sharpening a dozen # 2 pencils and sending them off to a carefree, fun-filled year of school. 

Parents and teachers that are embarking on yet another new school year know better.  It’s an exciting time for sure, but it’s also one of the most stressful seasons that families face each year as well.  If you’re looking for some great advice on a smoother transition from the lazy days of summer to the schedule oriented months ahead, here is a report card full of A+ tips from our Gansett Mom’s Council and some local teachers that can help. 

Students of All Ages 

  • Establish a school-year sleep routine.  This may sound quite elementary, but the consensus amongst teachers at all grade levels is in reference to getting enough sleep.  Approximately two weeks before those school bells ring, parents should begin to wean their children off of their summer bedtime routines and ease into an earlier regimen where TV and electronics are off at a reasonable time, personal hygiene care such as showering and brushing teeth are taken care of and then they can have some quiet time before heading off to dreamland.
  • Plan a fun family day before school starts to make the most of the summer and prevent back-to-school blues.  Every summer I save one special outing that my kids have wanted to do all summer long and we do it the last week of summer vacation.  This year we’re heading to CoCo Key in Danvers for a day of indoor water park fun.
  • Read!  Our Class-A teachers couldn’t stress enough--read, read, read!  Although students receive a summer reading list, parents can be instrumental in keeping their kids on task by encouraging them to read not only throughout the course of the summer but during the rest of the year too.  If this means trading computer or iPod time for 45 minutes of page turning per day—by all means, do it!  For younger children, you’ve heard it before—snuggle in and read to your child often—it is that important!
  • Do not take too much stock in "heresy" about certain teachers. “Every child is different and while personalities meshing are certainly important both our teachers and parents highly recommend not listening to your neighbor’s opinion of why one teacher is better than another.  If there is a particular concern you have about your child’s learning style, a personality quirk or an anxiety issue, communication is key. Start the new year off with a note (or e-mail if appropriate) to your child’s teacher addressing any of these issues so he/she can help your child have a pleasant and confident start to the new year,” advises Tracey Tiernan, an elementary school teacher and mother of three.
  • Get it ready the night before.  Taking a few minutes the night before school to organize backpacks, homework, lunches, gym clothes, musical instruments and field trip slips can add years to your life!  This small investment can prevent that stressful chaos of wondering if Tommy’s left sneaker is actually buried in his closet or is hidden in the toy box.  Get your kids involved so they too can breathe easier when the morning rush hits.
  • Attend Open Houses.  Most schools hold an Open House at the beginning of the school year for parents to meet their child’s teacher(s) and visit the classroom.  This is an excellent opportunity to introduce yourself and say hello but our teachers have all noted that the Open House visit is not the time to conference with them about your child’s progress or other such matters.
  • Get to know the principals and the office staff.  This little gem was one of the greatest pieces of advice I received even before I had children.   Whether you have one child or several attending the school, it’s always helpful to introduce yourself to the principals and the school office staff.  These people will be interacting with your children also, so help them put a parental face to your child’s name.  Remember—it takes a village to raise a child! 

Elementary School Students

Be reassuring.  One of the best pieces of advice that our group of teachers have offered is to simply tell your children that they will be fine!  Talk with your kids a couple of weeks in advance about what to expect as they head back to school and seek their input as to what they are looking forward to as well as what they might be concerned with.  The end of summer is a great time to encourage them to reconnect with school buddies they may not have seen during vacation.  Several parents recommend letting your children make a scrapbook or journal of favorite summertime events to share with friends and teachers when the kids return to school as a bit of an ice breaker.

  • Visit your child’s classroom before school starts.  This tip was high on the list from all our elementary and middle school teachers when asked what parents can do to help anxiety-ridden youngsters that are nervous about beginning a new school year.  During the end of summer vacation teachers are setting up their classrooms by organizing the different centers, decorating bulletin boards, arranging desks and furniture.  If it is okay with your individual school, arrange to drop in and introduce your child to his/her new teacher.  They will have some quiet time to interact with the teacher as well as a chance to roam the classroom and become familiar with their new learning environment. 
  • Set the stage.  Spend time thinking together about quiet time and reading and work space in the house. Choose special places, like corners of rooms, or certain tables or chairs, to show your kids that you'll help them find space where they can do the things that matter, like reading and homework.
  • Resist the urge to involve your child (or yourself) in everything. Parents get bombarded with beginning-of-the-year paperwork including many pamphlets advising of all the after school clubs, sports and programs available.  Give both your child and yourself several weeks to settle into the new school routine before signing up for everything that comes down the pike.  Know your child’s limits and better yet, know your own before committing to too many activities!  (I need to take this advice myself!)
  • Volunteer in the classroom.  If your child’s classroom is looking for parent volunteers and you have the time and desire, sign up.  It means a lot to your child and it can be very rewarding to work with his/her new friends as well as helps you form a closer relationship with the teacher.
  • Freeze the juice boxes.   Dale Loomis, NPS Science Teacher and mom of three suggests that parents freeze their children’s juice boxes the night before and then place one in the lunch each morning.  It also keeps the whole lunch cold until cafeteria time.
  • Keepsake photos.  Whether you are a scrapbooker or not, Christine Smith, mom of two, loves the idea of taking a photo of her daughter on the first day of school holding a sign stating the date of the first day of school and the grade.  This is fun to do on the last day of school as well, that way you can really see how much your child has changed and grown.  Keep a box of Kleenex handy! 

Middle School and High School Students 

  • Label everything clearly.   Color-code for different subjects--green folder, book cover, and notebook for science, yellow for English etc.
  • Make an instant hit with the teacher by sending in a note to ask if there are any needed supplies in the classroom that they could use. Science teachers, for example can always use donations of things like paper towels and Windex or Fantastic!
  • Make your teenager smile (or blush!) by packing her/his sandwich in a Hello Kitty or Spiderman baggie. And yes, a few notes of encouragement packed in their lunches throughout the school year never hurts either. 
  • Never fall for the “I don’t have any homework” line.  It’s not always easy for the parents of middle and high school aged students to know exactly what’s going on in each of their child’s individual classes.  “If you continue to hear from your child that he/she doesn’t have any homework, be pro-active and check in via e-mail with the teacher to make sure your child is exactly where he/she should be.  Don’t wait for progress reports to come out—by then it might be too late,” recommends Ken Genereux, a high school teacher and father of two.
  • Cell phones and texting.  The majority of students in middle and high school have cell phones that they bring to school each day.  While communicating with parents during the school day is sometimes necessary, texting throughout the day back and forth is a big distraction to your student, those around him and the teacher.  There is a time and a place for texting, parents need to be respectful of this and encourage their children to be respectful as well.
  • Think in terms of rectangles.  Stephanie Griffin, a middle school teacher and mom of two, likes to refer to rectangles in the context of school readiness.  Books and soccer fields are powerful rectangles as well as dinner tables and basketball courts, but video games, Xbox, iPhones and other unsupervised computer access are less healthy choices that do not promote academic success for most children.  Suggestions: Set time limits for screens. Look over the phone bills and note the times texts are sent...more than five texts during school hours is too many. Texting late into the night has also been observed as an explanation often for sleep deprived, cranky students. Monitor rectangles and praise your child for the books read and time spent doing social things.
  • Parental support.  Many teachers are parents as well.  They realize the many balls that parents are juggling on the home front and are committed to helping your child be the best student he/she can be and are most appreciative of the support families extend to them throughout the school year.   

Back to School Shopping 

Let’s face it, each year the back-to-school sales start earlier and earlier.  This year, ads were being run on the Fourth of July!  New supplies are necessary, and it’s always fun to have some new items in our children’s school wardrobes, but our smart and frugal bunch of teachers and parents hope you’ll pay attention to their advice on this highly overrated subject below:

Don’t shop the sales until you know exactly what your child’s teacher wants.  Some schools will post the needed supplies on the school website prior to the first day of school, but most teachers will send a list of necessary items home within the first few days of school.  Here are a few key items to keep in mind suggested by Joanne Morrissey, a third grade teacher at NES and mom of three:

  • Backpacks: practical and simple. Always consider the size of your child. The pack should not ride on your child’s bottom. It should sit on the back.
  • Writing instruments: Good old fashion #2 yellow pencils, these are a pencil sharpener’s best love. (These also make an excellent teacher gift!) Mechanical pencils are great for the older kids as long as you keep them amply supplied with refills.
  • Crayons, Markers, Colored pencils: The deluxe sets are not needed in the classroom. Start with a basic supply. Chances are high that by the winter holidays they have lost them all and will need replacing.
  • Folders and Binders: Although school supply stores provide a suggestion list, here you are better off waiting to hear from your child’s teacher.

While back-to-school does present its share of harried and stressful moments, it’s also an exciting time of year to celebrate your child’s individual growth and learning.  New skills will be learned, new friendships made and milestones both small and large will be met throughout the new school year. 

Local Physical Education teacher and the author of Mother Daze, Christine Carr, shares a passage from her book that will surely make you smile—In a letter sent home to parents from a school's principal: "If you promise not to believe everything your child says happens at this school, we will promise not to believe everything he says happens at home." 

“A good education takes time to unfold but teachers can't do it alone -- it takes a team effort: child, parent, and teacher. With everyone on board, our children will certainly be ready to take flight and experience the valued benefits of a quality education.” 

What about you?  If you have some advice you’d like to share to help other families transition a bit easier into the new school year, we’d love to hear from you in the comment section.  If you are interested in joining our Gansett Mom’s Council or have a question you’d like some help with, please e-mail me at CB091987@aol.com or you can reach our editor, Stephen Greenwell at Stephen.Greenwell@patch.com.

samantha cooke August 17, 2011 at 12:05 PM
Thanks for the great tips.Here is another tip- send in a fun thing that I do for the first day of school or at the beginning of the year. I send in something special with my children to share with the class at the beginning of the year. Usually, my children will bring in a kit to grow a TickleMe Plant. This is the only plant that will close its leaves and lower its branches when kids in the class tickle it. A great way to break the ice at the beginning of the year and excite them about science, nature and gardening. The students and teachers get excited about growing them and my child receives some praise for sharing. A positive hands on experience is created for all. You can search TickleMe Plant or visit www.ticklemeplant.com for more educational information and supplies like their greenhouse kit.
Running While Mommy August 17, 2011 at 01:14 PM
Thank you so much for this article. I have been fine up until recently thinking about child number one going off to kindergarten. I realize I have no idea what to expect. Just the other night we got a message that said "red cards' will be mailed out this week Really, that's it? No other explanation? What the heck is a red card? Lucky for me I have a few "experienced" friends who laughed and told me what they were. I am really looking forward to the orientation for my sons school on the 24th. I am hoping it will put me at ease. Thanks again, all great suggestions.
Cheryl Butler August 17, 2011 at 02:26 PM
Hi Nicole! It's seems to be much easier on our kids going off to school than it is for us! Annie will be entering Kinder. this year, too! I will see you at orientation! :)
Cheryl Butler August 17, 2011 at 02:26 PM
Samantha--thanks for the great suggestion! I'll check it out. Happy end of summer!
LilyParker August 19, 2011 at 03:41 PM
I'm so glad to see that you mentioned the whole cell phone issue in your list - it will be my first year dealing with that little demon since my daughter is entering middle school and I finally am having to give into a cell phone. It isn't that I don't want to give my daughter the freedom, but I see how attached I am to my own and I really don't want to see her relying on it or being distracted by it. I'm thinking of getting her a prepaid phone and minutes (something inexpensive like Tracfone) so I keep keep more of an eye on her usage. Think its a good idea? I figure that with only 200 or 300 minutes over a 3 month period it might limit her in a way that otherwise I couldn't.
Cheryl Butler August 19, 2011 at 05:36 PM
Hi Lily--welcome to the club! ha ha Tracfones are a great option for limiting tween/teens usage of the cell phone.....in addition, if you choose to go with a family plan on your own cell phone--most places will let you control when a child can use the phone (for example, you can have it turned off between the hours of say...9 PM and 7 AM) and can limit texting with a plan that suits you. It's great that you are already on top of this before it gets started! :) Hope your daughter has a great first year in the Middle School! :)

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