Thursday, August 26, 2010

Tips for beating the back-to-school blues -- for you and your child

I'm in the pages of The Boston Globe today, with an In the Parenthood column about beating the back-to-school blues.

“You spend so much time getting your child ready for school, there’s so much excitement, and you’re trying to help your child feel good about the transition,’’ says Amy Gold, director of curriculum and instruction at the Rashi School in Dedham and the mother of a second-grader. “Parents forget what it means for them, that their child is going to school, some of them for the first time.’’

Since the Rashi School -- an Reform Jewish independent K-through-8 school -- just opened a brand new intergenerational campus in Dedham, every single student has to adjust to being in a new place. “Our school has moved, so everything is brand new for us, whether you’re a 5-year-old entering kindergarten or a returning eighth grader,” Gold points out. “There’s a whole acclimation process to being in a new place.”

The economy presents another transition that many students haven't had to face in the past: Having to leave private or parochial school because they can't afford it anymore. The transition from a religious school to a secular one can be jarring as well. Playdates with kids from the new class can help ease the transition, and give parents and children a familiar face to look for once school starts.

Much of the advice out there is focused on kids entering kindergarten or teens going to high school, but tweens entering upper elementary or middle school are facing homework, and creating new study habits can be daunting for kids and for parents. "It's especially important for upper elementary school students, and again for middle schoolers, that they know they have a dedicated space for homework," Gold says. It should have "All of the equipment and tools that they’re going to need  in front of them in a quiet, dedicated space." Some kids may prefer to work in their rooms, and others may need to know that their parents are nearby in order to be productive, but as long as the space is clean and clutter-free, the location itself doesn't really matter.

Whether your child is changing schools, starting school for the first time, or returning to the same school they went to last year, the transition from summer to school year can bring on the back-to-school blues -- for you as well as your child. I've pulled together a few tips that can make for a smoother transition (they previously appeared at Work It, Mom!). Here they are:

  1. Understand that there is always some sort of transition, no matter what age or grade. “Parents need to begin transitioning children into the back-to-school routine early enough so they have time to adjust — mentally and physically,” says Laura Olson, vice president of education for Kiddie Academy, a national child care education franchisor. 
  2. Get children excited. Talk about all the great things they'll be learning this school year, and all of the new things they'll be able to do now that they're another year older. If there are any big changes -- a new kindergartener who won't be able to take her afternoon nap, for example -- discuss them and have your child help you come up with a way to deal with the difference.
  3. Let kids be involved in back-to-school shopping. Sure, it's easier -- and faster -- if you pick up all the school supplies by yourself, but letting kids cross off items from their lists as they fill the cart will keep them involved and excited about the process.
  4. Play school with younger kids. Set up a study station at home, and play school with your children -- but let them be the teacher, while you play the role of the student. As they "teach" you a thing or two, ask them how they feel about starting school, and find out what concerns they may have. Answering questions from a position of authority -- even if it's just pretend -- may make children more confident about voicing their fears.
  5. Practice new routines at home. Will kids be going to bed earlier once school starts? Don't wait until the night before to start the new bedtime routine. (Remember: Kids need their sleep in order to function in the classroom.) Will they have to lay their school clothes out the night before? Make their own breakfasts? Pack their own lunches? Walk or bike to school by themselves? Take the bus? Practicing without pressure will help make these routines second nature by the time school is well underway.
  6. Establish a routine for yourself. Do you know what you need to do to get everyone out of the house on time? What do you need to keep yourself sane in the morning? If you don't know whether making lunches the night before will really make your morning go more smoothly, try doing it for a few days before school starts. It's better to discover that you need more time in the mornings before you actually need more time in the mornings.
  7. Make sure kids understand their new schedules. That goes for at school and at home! Older kids may find a day planner useful for keeping track of classes and homework assignments; younger kids may need a little more assistance. Try a visual aid, like On Task On Time for Kids, or a school-related version of a chore chart to make things more manageable.
  8. Host playdates and attend back-to-school activities. Find out about back-to-school activities, events, and teacher conferences and try to attend. It's a great way to familiarize kids with their schools and teachers, and for you to get a better feel for what they'll be doing in the classroom.
  9. Ward off after-school meltdowns. Stock up on healthy snacks -- a tired kid with low blood sugar is an explosion waiting to happen. Schedule some down time, so kids can blow off steam before settling down to do homework.
  10. Learn how to handle homework. Breaking the nightly assignments down into manageable steps can help your child avoid feeling overwhelmed. If you have younger kids who don't have to deal with homework yet, try giving them something busy to do while you work on dinner. It doesn't have to be complicated -- coloring a picture, leafing through a favorite book, or sorting blocks by color will do the trick, and establishing a homework-type step in their routines now will make it easier for them to transition to the task when they're older.

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