The first day back to school is rife with anxiety for kids and teachers alike. Parents can often be forgotten in our flurry of writing and intentional planning for that back to school after summer vacation transition of our students and teachers. But if we are to take seriously our belief in the parent/school partnership then we also must be thoughtful about the important work parents can do at home in preparing for that first week back at school.
Here then are five tips for parents to help make that first week back at school a good week for their children.
- Create a family ritual for the return to school. Remember the end of the school year? Those many different ways in which the school year was marked and recorded with an end of year play; special paper plate awards in the classroom; actual awards at the end of year assembly. Summer vacation is at its end and one way to support the transition back to school is with your own family rituals. This can be anything from getting ice cream the night before school starts to creating an album for each child capturing their summer fun to a healthy dinner as a family the night before school starts. These rituals do not have to end with the start of school – they can be a fun tradition to employ each time there is a day off from school during the school year as well. In our home we end the summer with dinner followed by s'mores and then a late night swim. In the winter we do this and end with a soothing hot bath for each kid. It is both fun and relaxing as their anxiety about going back to school is building up.
- Recognize the learning your child did this summer. Just like school ends with ceremonial recognition of year long learning, we can end the summer with recognition of the learning that has happened at home. If we are going to partner as parents with our schools in supporting the important skills of critical thinking; creativity; questioning; exploring the world around us – then it would be a wonderful show of this partnership if we began to help our children see how much they learn during their “time off” from school, while at home and on vacation. Spend some time the week before school starts recognizing in your child how much she/he has grown over the summer. Make a list on a poster board with gold stars highlighting all their new skills they acquired this past summer. Make a special “About Me” poster with pictures of new experiences your children had this summer. We always conclude the summer crafting a photo album of our experiences and highlight the new places we’ve visited and new experiences we have had. Celebrate your children’s learning at home and you will be partnering with their schools in teaching your children that we all recognize and respect learning wherever it happens.
- Be intentional about how to ask about school the first days back. The family after school routine is back and with it is the need to catch up with our children on what they did for the hours they were apart from us. Nothing is more telling to children about the importance parents place on their education, then the times and places where they area asked questions and engaged in conversations. It is part of life to be preparing dinner while talking to kids about their first days back to school, but cell phones can be left in another room, the T.V. turned off, so that the focus of conversation is on them. If you are picking your kids up in the car, take advantage of the time driving to ask specific questions (ones which do not allow yes/no answers) like, what book did the librarian read when you visited the library today; or, how many laps did you run in P.E.? Creating a routine of asking questions and having conversations about school offers your children an opportunity to process and recall their learning, and gives you insights into their overall learning experiences.
- Start the new school year with a positive outlook. You might not have heard great things about your son’s teacher for third grade. You might wonder and worry about the class size. The new teacher who just graduated and has thirty kids in the classroom. Or the schedule which has the kids in lunch at 1:30 and that feels very late for your little one. While these are all valid concerns, there is already plenty of angst with the start of a new school year for your children. Think about what you are saying in front of them at home or when talking to other parents in the supermarket or at the playground. The first week of school is a good time to start with a positive outlook, to speak in upbeat ways about what is going to go well this year.
- Stay focused on supporting the relationships your children are building. We are seeing more and more literature which tells us that relationship building is key for academic success. When talking with your children about their school day keep the questions away from judging what your children recall or remember academically and focus on the names of their friends and their impressions of their teachers. Reinforce the ways your children are developing positive relationships with their teachers and with their peers. When we focus first on these relationships we message to our children that we are all on the same team, parents, teachers and students. We let our children know that their friendships are important, to them and to us. Learning is grounded in relationship building and as parents we can help our children focus on nurturing those relationships by engaging in conversations about them. And, be attentive to building your own relationships. Not every parent can get away from work for back to school night or to volunteer with the PTA. But with facebook and emails we can each still develop relationships with the teachers and other parents in our school. Be sure to drop a note to the teacher, especially if you are not able to come in to school for any face to face meetings, introducing yourself and explaining your family commitments. If you are not able to meet parents at the end of the school day or at these meetings, there might be a class or school facebook group you can join. Or send your email address in an envelope for your child to give to a friend so that you can arrange a “parent/child” play date on the weekend. Parents model for children the commitment to the school community. If parents remain engaged the message conveyed will be “we are all in this together.”
Gifting children the gift of parent/teacher/school partnerships to start the school year is a great goal and can only make this a great school year for everyone involved.