August 27, 2012

Three important back to school tips for parents

For the past few years, a national school and office supply chain has run a delightful ad campaign about going back to school. A mother is seen ecstatically skipping through the store with her cart while her kids morosely trail behind her, all to the tune of “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” While there is no question that the commercial is amusing, it actually highlights the ambiguity that many feel in late August, as the start of the new school year looms large.

For many students, and for their parents, the beginning of a new school year can seem quite daunting. Questions abound. Will the increased demands of a new grade make getting homework done more difficult? Will past issues with organization and attention resurface and present challenges? How will your child’s teacher address his/her particular needs? What can you, as a parent, do to maximize your child’s positive school experience while still allowing him/her to gain some independence (see our blog from August 20 for tips on that)?

Of course, these are ongoing issues that will need to be revisited throughout the school year. But starting the school year off with some proactive, focused strategies can help maximize your child’s chances of getting off on the right note. Here are three things you can do to help your child’s back-to-school experience be a positive one:

Get your child involved in the purchasing process

Allowing your child to help select his/her school supplies, backpack and even desk accessories for “study stations” helps create a sense of both ownership and fun. Use the school supply shopping trip as a means of talking about how the materials will be used and organized (“This backpack has a special pouch just for your pencils and pens;” “I like that this desk pad has a calendar on it; you can write down when your assignments are due, and you can cross things off when you’re done!”). Additude Magazine suggests talking to a parent of a child who has already had the same teacher(s) (if possible) so you and your child will get a sense of what sorts of particular supplies will be required.

Get your home ready for studying

Set up a designated study area OR study areas before school even starts, or within the first few days of school. For some students with executive function and attention issues, just having a change of scenery from day-to-day or even task-to-task can help your child maintain focus and enthusiasm. It also helps your child’s memory and his/her ability to generalize information and apply or utilize it in differing situations. So make sure that you and your child have in the primary workspace all of the supplies s/he will need (pens, pencils, rulers, paper, calculator, etc.) and put together a box of necessary supplies that can be moved from space to space. also suggests making an “in box” for your child so that s/he has a specific place to put permission slips and notes coming home from school.

Get on task by setting SMART goals

Most students go into the school year with some vague notions of how they’d like to improve or in what areas they struggled in previous school years. By discussing with your child how s/he can begin to address these in a positive and focused manner, you are helping to make known issues seem less daunting and the tackling of new issues more manageable. At Engaging Minds, we advocate SMART goals – goals that are Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely- to give your child a greater chance of succeeding in meeting these objectives. So if your child mentions that s/he wants to “become a better reader,” suggest instead that s/he set a more focused goal such as “reading for 20 minutes every night” or “keeping up with the assigned reading in English during the week.” If your grade-schooler states that s/he wants to “do better in Math,” something more specific such as “learning all of the multiplication facts through the 5s by the end of September and all of the multiplication facts through the 12s by the end of October,” might prove a more realistic and timely task. Writing down then crossing off these goals as they are met and praising your child when s/he attains them will encourage ongoing success as well.

Your friends at Engaging Minds wish you and your children a super start to the school year, and we look forward to hearing all about your children’s first week(s) when we see them in September!