Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Back-to-School Supplies

It's back-to-school time and both parents and teachers are hitting the superstores in search of great deals on school supplies. You've probably already received that lengthy supply list and may be daunted by how much your child needs to stuff into his backpack on that first day. You may even be wondering if they actually need everything on that list. Good question. Let's break down what you and your child really need to do to prepare for the first weeks of school.

1. The LIST is a suggestion - not a requirement. If your child attends a public school, keep in mind that it is supposed to be a FREE PUBLIC EDUCATION; therefore, in theory you don't really need to buy these things. However, with the painful budgets cuts lately, schools just don't have the supplies they need and they are asking for your help. If your child attends a private school, that is a different story.
SUGGESTION: Buy only what is necessary for the first week of school. Some of those items won't even be needed until months into the school year, so wait to buy them when they are needed instead.

2. Plan your CALENDAR now. If your child is involved in a plethora of extra-curricular activities, sports, lessons that will require missed or shortened days at school, don't wait to tell his teachers. Meet with your teacher and/or principal about anticipated missed days to get their support. Educators agree that "time in the seat" makes a difference in a child's success in school. Try to keep missed days to a minimum.
SUGGESTION: The older the child, the more detrimental missed days or hours at school can be. Making up missed work is a challenge for many children, so schedule doctors, dentists, and other appointments outside of school hours whenever possible. Also, do not ask teachers to provide missed work prior to your child's absence as often they do not really know what they will be covering more than a week ahead of time.

3. Strive to be an effective COMMUNICATOR. In this electronic age, schools are turning more and more to email, texting and even Twitter for school to home communication. School websites are communication central for many schools. It is very difficult for teachers to find time during the school day to talk on the phone and many parents find it difficult to schedule face-to-face conference time with teachers during the school hours. Follow the communication protocol preferred by your child's school and you will have an easier time staying in touch and on top of what's going on.
SUGGESTION: If your school uses a "parent portal" of some sort to keep track of grades, absences and discipline actions, make sure you sign up for it and utilize it. If you communicate with teachers via email, give them 24-48 hours to respond to you. Don't expect them to stop teaching to answer email during the school day or at 11:00 at night. Both parties need to adhere to email etiquette and be aware of the tone used in this form of communication. Keep in mind that any email sent to a teacher becomes part of the official record and can be used as evidence in future proceedings of any kind.

4. Get ORGANIZED! Do you have a routine established for doing homework? Does your child struggle with time management or project management? Decide now your priorities and then establish guidelines for getting things done. Homework before or after dinner? Television (or other "screens") before or after homework is done? Check your child's backpack when they first arrive home or some other time (but do check it!). Where do you keep papers sent home to you from the school? Permission slips? The school picture order form?
SUGGESTION: Have some system in place to stay organized. Model this organization for your children and you will both be less stressed as the year progresses. Post a calendar where everyone can see it. Use a three-ring binder to keep all papers in from the school with a tab for each child. Set a time and place for homework and monitor your child's completion of it. Everyone will have a different system - the goal is to have a system!

5. Be an ENCOURAGEMENT. Although each new school is a "clean slate," we can often put too much or too little pressure on our children to be successful in school. Your personality as a parent may help or hinder the effort your child puts forth. Keep in mind that no matter how successful your child is in school, they will need encouragement to push through those challenging moments. Is home a safe place for them to fall flat on their faces? Do they know that even if they mess up, you will help them problem-solve their way out of it and love them anyway?
SUGGESTION: Often when you did well in math, for instance, it's really hard for you to understand why your child struggles in math. It is not a part of your prior experience or understanding. This is where it is important for you to step outside your own reality and encourage those who struggle. If your child needs help, do whatever it takes to find him the help he needs. Don't just set the expectation of success and then show your disappointment when your child does not meet that expectation. We all have different gifts and talents, strengths and weaknesses.

One final note. . .

Recognize your child's teacher for who she is - a partner in your child's education. Not the enemy. Not the adversary. Not "them." WE are in this together, for the sake of kids. Now all we have to do is act that way.

Have a great school year! Your kids are they should be.