Back to School Sanity

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Preparing for the Summertime-to-School Transition 

Frances Haddad 

The summer heat has settled, and believe it or not, those first days of school are closer than they may appear. New beginnings are known to be difficult, and approaching the unknown future can be scary, especially for a child who will enter preschool, elementary, or even high school in just a few weeks. As such, it can be expected that children (and even parents and teachers!) may come down with a sudden case of the jitters in the days leading up to the start of school.  

Preparation and anticipation can be overwhelming, but there are ways to harness the calm and ensure that the transition from those fun days of camp to the grueling days of school is (almost!) effortless. So spend these weeks preparing your children for what is to come, and they can return to school invigorated, ready to learn and to succeed.  

Brain Power 

Summertime may be a period of relaxation, but don’t let it become a break from the kids using their brain power. Like any other muscle, the brain must be exercised in order to maintain strength and agility. While it is true that children need a breather from the intense workload that school often imposes, it is imperative to encourage some amount of reading and writing over summer vacation. The sense of dread that accompanies the summer book list is likely to be felt no matter what, but flexing the brain during the summer months is necessary to prevent it from turning to mush.  

If reading and writing skills are practiced during the summer months, then when the children return to their desks come September, they won’t feel like they have set foot onto such unfamiliar territory. And parents, it is up to you to strongly encourage your children to read and read some more during the summer. For younger children, read to them their favorite stories and be sure to practice A-B-Cs and Aleph Bet. 

When children practice literacy skills over the long summer break, they return to school with their knowledge intact, thus sparing them a good deal of frustration when the academic workload returns. It goes without saying that summer reading and writing should be accompanied by motivational techniques such as cool prizes to give kids the extra push they may need.  And of course, the reading should be light and enjoyable. But remember, intellectual fitness is just as important as all that running, jumping, and climbing that has kept your kids physically fit during the summer.  So, get thinking and keep that brain moving! 

Act It Out 

For a preschool child, the first days of school can be frightening. The kids will be expected to walk into a big classroom, and confront the unfamiliar faces of new teachers and peers. They will be leaving the comfort of Mommy’s side, and will spend a long day away from the scents and sounds of home. Therefore, it is Mommy’s job to prepare her child both mentally and emotionally before school begins.  

Goldie Schechter, a seasoned educator with extensive experience in the field of psychology, says, “In order to help a young child overcome the trepidation of a new experience, it is important to give them the tools they will need to face obstacles. With my own preschool-aged children, I role-play the entire scene of going to school, in order to give them the tools to face the inevitable emotions that will arise. I tell my child to pretend that a room in my house is her new classroom, and as I hold my child’s hand, I say, ‘Ok! We are going to school today. Let’s walk there together. We’re here! It is time to stay in the classroom and Mommy will come back later.’ 

“Then, I address certain emotions that may arise by saying, ‘Mommy left and you feel sad. It’s okay to be sad, but let’s remember that Mommy will come back to pick you up soon.’ It is crucial to address a child’s feelings. Sometimes people try to deny kids’ feelings, and say things like, ‘School is so exciting!’ or ‘There’s nothing to be scared of!’ But this is the wrong approach, since it does not validate a child’s feelings, which is so important. It is up to us as adults to remember that it is very scary for a child to be dropped off by their mother for the first time, and they need tools to handle it.”  

Mrs. Schechter also offers us some sound advice for handling a high school student’s fears about the first day of school. “When a teenager is afraid of the first day of school, it is important to address his concerns, and help him find practical solutions to his fears. If your child says, ‘I don’t want to go to school. I won’t make any friends,’ show that you understand his fears, validate his concerns and say, ‘I hear you, and that’s a real concern. Let’s talk about how to handle it.’ If you talk about different situations, your child will be better prepared to face whatever comes their way.” 

In general, it is imperative to keep the channels of communication open with children. You want to promote an atmosphere where your children feel they can be open with you. If they are open with you, and if you learn to practice active listening, you can play a large part in assuaging their fears. If you have given your children tools to use in case of difficulty, they will see you in their mind’s eye, cheering them on, whenever they face a challenging situation. 

Beat the Mad Rush 

“It is as clear as yesterday,” says Cindy Shasho. “It was the first week of September, and I needed to buy notebooks for my children. I ran to one Staples, and the line was out the door. When I finally made my way through the aisles, I saw that the shelves were empty. I must’ve gone to four or five stores before I found what I was looking for.”  

Cindy is not the only one who has experienced the stress of last-minute school supplies shopping. Those of us who have scavenged for school supplies, pulling out the last package of ballpoint pens from underneath the last stack of loose-leaf paper, learned the hard way that buying school supplies should be done early.  

Skip the stress-inducing scenario of running up and down the aisles last minute. After taking inventory of the supplies in your home, and putting together a comprehensive list of exactly what each child needs (some teachers provide the list for you – check if your child’s teacher has done so), go to the closest school supplies depot and stock up on necessities already a few weeks before the first day of school. Many school supplies can even be ordered online. 

“What Do You Want From Me?” 

In general, it is important to let people know what is expected of them. A boss must make job responsibilities clear for his employee. And a wife can’t expect her husband to be a mind-reader. If you want him to take out the garbage, then say so! Parents and teachers, the same applies to your children and students. Expectations must be made clear, so children know how to proceed and succeed. 

It is to our benefit, and to the benefit of the young people in our homes and classrooms, to spell out what we expect. Parents and teachers alike can sit down with their children and write up a list of expectations, such as, “Lauren will place her knapsack in the front closet each day after school,” or “Students will place their homework on the teacher’s desk at the start of class.” Hang the list in a visible location, so the child will be easily reminded. 

It’s also important to allow children to add their own ideas, so they feel a sense of ownership and they see that their contribution is valued. Plus, they’ll be more likely to follow the rules.  

The Glass Is Half Full 

Children may hear numerous criticisms throughout the day. “Stand up straight! Tuck in your shirt! Clean your room! Tie your shoes!” Yes, it is up to us adults to guide the youngsters under our charge and provide direction. But it is crucial to remember that children thrive on positivity, and therefore it is essential to focus on what they do right. “You did a lot of thinking while doing your homework” or “Wow, I like the way you put your knapsack by the door for tomorrow,” are things you can say to show your children that you notice their efforts. 

Parents, make deposits in your child’s “emotional bank account” and catch them in the act of good behavior. Teachers, give your students reasons to succeed in your classroom! If children see that their good behavior is recognized, they will be motivated to achieve. 

When the adults bring in the first days of school with positivity and patience, a daunting experience can be transformed into one surrounded by excitement and warmth. Parents and teachers, school can be a place where your child, or your student, can succeed.  It is all in how you present it. Remember, your enthusiasm is contagious!