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Transition effectively into the new school year

By Katie Wetherbee

Catalogs and newspapers boldly proclaim the advent of the new school year. Office supply stores tout the latest, most effective organizational tools guaranteed to increase students’ success. While new notebooks and planners are valuable tools, the best preparation is intangible. By equipping their children socially and emotionally, parents can prepare their children for a positive school year.

Create Traditions

Traditions set the tone for many seasons of the year, and the beginning of the school year is truly its own “season.” Creating and maintaining traditions can help to ease children’s fears and also help them positively anticipate the transition back to school. In addition, family rituals and traditions are fun!  Back-to-school traditions can take many forms. One family celebrates by displaying pictures of “first days past.” The family enjoys observing how the children have changed and grown throughout the years.  A local neighborhood hails the new school year by hosting a First Day Breakfast. Neighbors meet at the bus stop, armed with donuts, juice and good wishes before the students board the bus. Other back-to-school celebrations include going out for dinner on the evening before school and special school supply shopping expeditions.

Setting Goals

The start of the school year is an excellent time for “new year’s resolutions.” Parents can model goal setting for their children by sharing some of their own goals for careers or hobbies. It is particularly helpful for parents to share both successes and failures to give a sense of perspective. More importantly, children will glean the values of patience and persistence. This underscores that mistakes sometimes build more character than success; a healthy attitude toward failure is an integral part of accomplishing goals.

When setting goals, parents should encourage students to emphasize process rather than product. Instead of, “I want to get 100% on all of my spelling tests,” parents can suggest, “I will study my spelling every night for 15 minutes so I can do my best on the tests.” For older students who are worried about class rankings and grade point averages, the same wisdom applies. Rather than focusing on numbers alone, students should create a measurable action plan for their aspirations. “I want to go to an Ivy League school” is an admirable goal; “I will meet with my guidance counselor for college planning, take an SAT prep course, and get a tutor for chemistry,” gives a student structure and teaches responsibility.

Transitioning to a New School

Adjusting to a new school—as the result of a move to a new town, or just a new school in a familiar district—takes time and effort. Parents can ease this transition in several ways. First, younger children will benefit from visiting the school, playing on the playground, and peeking in the windows of the classrooms. Reading stories about school experiences can also be a comfort to young children.

Older students, while experienced with school transitions, may harbor their own concerns; arriving at class on time and mastering the combination lock are two common worries. As they anticipate the school year, the pressure to succeed athletically and academically can be intense. Parents can encourage their children by emphasizing effort: “You really studied hard for that test. I’ll bet you are proud of yourself,” can be especially encouraging.

The Balancing Act

Transitioning into a new school year usually means new sports, clubs and lessons. All of these activities are enriching and enticing, but families should proceed with caution.  Overbooking the family schedule can result in stress, fatigue, and frustration. Students may not have ample time to complete school assignments or prepare adequately for tests. In addition, children need downtime for relaxation and unstructured time with family and friends. Parents should be keenly aware that free time in a student’s weekly schedule is not a luxury, but a necessity.

As students enter middle and high school years, they will begin to make more of their own decisions regarding extracurricular activities and after school jobs. Still, parents should remain involved and use their children’s new found autonomy as a springboard for discussions about a healthy, balanced life. This is an excellent stage to coach children on time management. Conversations about how to manage work, family, recreation and responsibilities set the tone for discerning, realistic scheduling.

In planning the calendar for the new school year, family time should be a priority. For some families, this will be a special weekly activity. In other households, families might schedule a weekend getaway once each grading period. Regardless of the budget or the schedule, families need to consistently make time for meals together. One mother said, “Our sports commitments and work schedules made dinner together nearly impossible, so we improvised: we now have breakfast as a family.”  Gathering at the table, even for a bedtime snack, is an important ritual for busy families. Mealtime together allows families to reconnect, celebrate success and share concerns. In addition, parents will have an opportunity, through conversations with their children, to guide their morals and ethics. Finally, mealtime offers a chance to learn manners, turn taking, and other social skills that are critical for success.

It’s A New Year for Parents, Too…

Parents have their own concerns as the school year commences. Usually, a new school year brings a whole new set of teachers for each child. Building positive relationships with these professionals is a necessary first step toward a successful school year. One way parents can accomplish this by volunteering to help in the classroom. Not only will this assist the teacher, but it will also give parents a first-hand account of how the classroom operates. This will help parents to understand the teacher’s style and more effectively assist their children with homework and projects.  In addition, involvement in the classroom helps parents to anticipate the teacher’s needs, allowing parents to play a more supportive role.

Parent-teacher communication plays a pivotal role in the success of every school year. At the beginning of the year, most schools hold Open House to orient parents to the curriculum and classroom. During this time, parents should find out what method of communication the teacher prefers. While some teachers find the convenience and speed of the computer facilitate communication, others prefer phone calls or, as one teacher says, “A good, old fashioned note from home.”  Parents should also ask how general information about class activities and course content will be disseminated; many teachers maintain websites, while others write weekly or monthly newsletters. Knowing the teachers’ policies and routines helps to set a more predictable tone, alleviating frustration.

As the school year progresses, students’ goals and schedules will undoubtedly change. By maintaining consistent communication with their children and with the school staff, however, parents will be able to closely monitor their children’s academic, social and emotional growth.  The milestones students achieve will be measured not only by grades and test scores, but by maturity of character. Emphasizing both personal and academic growth sets the tone for a truly successful school year.
HOPE in the News
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August 06 - Transition effectively into the new school year
February 06 - Math education encourages thinking outside box
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