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Ready ... Set ... Go Back to School

Published on: September 01, 2009

Ready for schoolBy now, we’re used to the deluge of back-to-school gear and goodies that appear long before the yellow buses return to the roads. Sometime midsummer, gleaming backpacks appear on store shelves, newspaper ads tout crisp notebooks and colorful rulers, and cozy hoodies surface at Target.

Every year, we plunge into the supply list and vigilantly plan our kids’ first few weeks back in the classroom. “Going shopping with your children is part of the fun,” says Ruth Hayes-Short, executive director of Educational Tutoring & Consulting on Mercer Island. “It gets kids motivated.”

Some families also practice their own back-to-school rituals. Whether parents view them as traditions or incentives, they’re meant to get the kids back on track — with a minimum of new-school-year jitters.

When my own kids were growing up, nothing said “School’s back!” quite like the symbolic box of sugared cereal I ceremoniously presented to them the first day of classes. They thoroughly enjoyed their Golden Grahams Week, which I diligently made sure only happened that one week a year.

That would be every new school year, kindergarten through grade 12.

To those who call this practice “silly” or “nutritionally irresponsible,” I ask, “Do you have a better way to help make the summer-to-school transition easier, more manageable — and maybe even a little fun?”

Actually, some parents do. Kathy Wood, Edgewood mom and ParentMap account manager, heads for a favorite cupcake or ice cream spot with her three kids (ages 6, 10 and 11) after school that first day, then tops it off by a festive frolic in the park.

ParentMap events coordinator Kimberly McDonald is careful about scheduling too many afterschool activities for her preschooler and second-grader the first few weeks of school, and Michal Lotzkar, a Kirkland mom, makes sure her 4- and 7-year-olds spend time reconnecting with their neighborhood classmates.

Getting organized
What else can parents do to help their kids get back into school mode?

If you’re like most parents, you’ve let bedtime routines slide just a bit over the summer. Who, after all, can fall asleep when it’s still light out? The sudden out-the-door-by-8 schedule can come as a shock to parents and kids who haven’t spent time preparing for it. That’s why many parents we polled for this article said getting kids on a sleep schedule is so important. “We start getting into an earlier bedtime schedule about a week or two before school begins, going to bed a little earlier each night and getting up a little earlier,” says Ellen Weidner, whose daughter, Morgan, is a Newport High School ninth-grader.

Hayes-Short agrees a better bedtime is crucial for back-to-school success, or at the very least, back-to-school alertness. “Some quiet reading time before sleep is also beneficial,” she says.

She also advises parents to consider their child’s age and grade level when helping him or her shift into a workable school routine. “For the little ones just entering kindergarten, it’s a big transition to be in school — sometimes all day — and be ready for the school protocol,” she says. “They need to learn to line up, put their coat away, sit in a circle, and raise their hands.”

Elementary-school kids should know what they’re going to wear the next day and understand the before-school routine. “We had checklists for my child: Brush teeth, wash face, gather supplies, place backpack by the front door,” says Hayes-Short.

Middle schoolers need to focus on organizational skills, she says. “The middle-school child should choose a planner of some kind, understand how to use it and learn to write down assignments.” Parents should go through their child’s backpack at least once a week to make sure their kids are keeping track of their folders and notebooks.

By the time a child reaches high school, many parents feel they can back off. That’s a mistake, says Hayes-Short. “This isn’t the time to become uninvolved. Know who they have for teachers and check in to see what they’re doing.”

No matter what your child’s age, don’t try to solve all their problems for them, she says. “It’s never too soon to help kids be responsible for themselves. Ask them, ‘How do you think you can fix this?’”

Linda Morgan is ParentMap’s associate editor and the author of the forthcoming book Beyond Smart: Boosting Your Child’s Educational, Social, and Emotional Potential, available February 2010 from ParentMap Books.

Getting your kids organized for the new school year

Getting ready:

1. Wake up your children early enough to have plenty of time to eat breakfast and get dressed.
2. Lay out clothes the evening before.
3. Make sure homework, supplies, projects and backpacks are by the door or in the car the night before.
4. Make lunches in the evening or put lunch money into backpacks.
5. Prep some breakfast foods the night before.
6. Keep the television off — at least until the kids are dressed, have eaten and have brushed their teeth.


    1. Set up a designated area for studying.
    2. Check your child’s planner or his online school site to see what homework has been assigned.
    3. Give your kids a break and provide a snack. Depending on age, attention spans and difficulty of assignments, children should work for an allotted amount of time and then take a 10-minute break.
    4. Ban TV, video games, cell phones and texting during study time.
    5. Projects, reports, presentations and papers need more prep and planning. Children should work on them daily and check off what has been done on the teacher’s checklist.
    6. Parents should make sure that work is done and completed neatly. Send an email or note to the teacher if your child is taking too long to complete the homework or if the work is too difficult.

      Source: Jeanne Keckler, center director of Renton Knowledgepoints, a tutoring program serving kids in pre-K through grade 12.

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