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Mental Prep Can Ease School's Start

Summer is a time to relax. For many kids, bedtime is later, snacks are more available and there’s more time to have fun. But if you wait too long to mentally prepare your children, they could be in for a rough start to the school year. By starting the transition in August, kids have a better chance for a smooth return to the classroom.

Reintroducing routines and schedules will help prepare kids for a structured school day. “Structure is important for parents,” advises Ellen Jakubowski, owner of The Goddard School in Montgomeryville, PA.

One of the biggest mistakes kids and parents make, according to Lynne Corle, a 1st grade teacher at Culbertson Elementary School in Newtown Square, PA, is to make summer a total vacation from education.

Academic Exercises

“Research tells us that many kids lose academic ground over the summer,” says Maria C. Kotch principal of the Media Elementary School in Media, PA. Teachers can tell almost immediately which students have and have not kept their skills fresh, says Corle. Cognitive exercises can keep kids’ minds sharp.

For preschoolers, “make learning fun at all times,” suggests Jakubowski. For example, practice numbers in everyday situations such as counting your steps as you walk, finding the total number of people in a room or counting the grapes on a plate.

Elementary school students should practice math facts before returning to school, says Kotch. If kids have mastered computations such as one-plus-one-equals-two, problem solving comes easier.

Teens should try to look over some material from the previous year, says Katie LuBrant, upper school counselor at Moorestown Friends School in Moorestown, NJ. While most curricula are designed to begin with a bit of review, it will help to get the wheels turning again to look over old notes. Struggling students can benefit especially from this kind of early preparation.

For all age groups, “it’s so important for parents to read to their children,” says Jakubowski. “A kid who has a love of books will make the adjustment back to school easier,” concurs LuBrant. Older kids can go to the library or a bookstore and enjoy reading for pleasure.

Sleep Transition

Kids are often sleep-deprived, says Maryanne Bourque, RN, a community education coordinator at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children. Because children don’t have the maturity to handle lack of sleep like adults, it’s important to enforce a sleep schedule in preparation for the school year.

“One of the biggest adjustments is getting back on a sleep schedule,” says LuBrant. Because it takes a few weeks for the internal clock to be reset, start adjusting sleep schedules 2-3 weeks before school starts. Gradually move bedtime earlier, perhaps in 15 minute increments. Adjust wake up times too, working toward the school year wake-up time.

Sleep experts recommend excluding TV from bedtime routines because it tends to stimulate kids. Remove electronics from children’s bedrooms by bedtime, or at least make sure that cell phones, iPods and other devices are turned off. “It’s harder for kids to power down if all the electronics are still chirping away,” says Bourque.

Start with a Few Goals

Before school starts, you can help older students get organized. They need:

  • A place to do homework, whether it’s at the kitchen table or in a quiet study area.
  • A planner for homework assignments and a plan for using it.
  • Realistic goals for the school year, broken down into manageable chunks. For example, an intial goal could be to do well on weekly quizzes or monthly tests rather than targeting a far-off midterm grade.

For younger students, spell out expectations. “Kids want to please. They want to do the right thing,” says Corle. When expectations for the school year are clearly defined, they do well, she says.

Alleviating First Day Jitters

Kids pick up on parental anxiety, so do your best to be upbeat about the upcoming school year. “Talk about school in a positive way,” says Jakubowski. Topics can include how much fun school is, what your child will learn and the prospect of meeting new friends.

Older students can have start-of-school jitters about seeing friends, making a sports team and grades, among other worries. To cope, break issues into small objectives, advises LuBrant. For example, if the concern is making friends for the new school year, think about one social situation at a time, such as where to sit during the lunch
period.

Then, emphasize doing your best: Be the best friend, the best teammate or the best student you can be, she suggests.

Over-Prepped

As you prepare kids for a smooth back-to-school transition, be careful not to obsess over details. That can convey anxiety rather than confidence to children. Kotch advises parents not to sweat it, because “kids literally can’t wait to get in to meet their new teachers and classmates.”

Suzanne Koup-Larsen is a contributing writer to MetroKids.

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