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Back to School: Is it Really That “EASY”?

From the desk of Cathy Giardina

Although the familiar Staples commercial, may suggest “back to school” and “easy” in the same sentence, is it really that easy?Already those unsullied backpacks are crammed with papers and unidentifiable objects and many of those brand new supplies are nowhere to be found. How quickly the excitement of the start of another school year gives way to frantic repeat reminders to get up, get ready, and get going for yet another day of school!

As a parent, grandparent, lifelong educator, and now consultant with Stetson & Associates, I know success in school is not just a matter of a checked-off school supply list, new clothes, and the right lunchbox – although all of these are indeed important! As parents, we know our support for learning is lifelong, and that success in school begins by forming good habits in our children at an early age.

Start early – but it’s Never too late to start!

The U.S. Department of Education urges parents to start early; after all, we are our child’s first teacher. I always liked to have books available to our children even when they were babies. Reading before bedtime was a favorite family ritual. Now I have grandchildren, and all them live out of state; but it’s still possible to read together. Having two copies of the same book gives each of us a chance to hold the book as we read together over the phone or via Skype. It is fun to decide on a book together and each try to find it in our local library. The only way to become a good reader is by reading.

As the kids get older, reading together is still important! We take turns reading one page or section of the book. My grandchildren enjoy having “book clubs” discussing books with their cousins or friends across the miles thanks to modern technology. Often favorite books are loaned to one another and travel cross-country. Reading together, playing letter games, practicing with crayons and scissors – all of these are important readiness skills that help instill a love of learning at an early age.

Here are a couple of additional tips that have worked especially well for my own children and grandchildren.

Talk to your child – that includes listening!

There is sound advice in the old adage, “God gave us two ears and one mouth, so we can listen twice as much as we talk.” Sometimes we are guilty of formulating the next question or response to our child without paying attention to their answer to the first. We may be in a hurry, so we rush our children and don’t allow reflection or “wait” time for an answer. At Stetson & Associates, we do lots of staff development for teachers. “Wait time” is an important instructional strategy to allow all students time to engage. Research suggests waiting 3-7 seconds for a response after asking a question. It works well at home, too.

All of us have asked our children, “What did you do/learn in school today?” The common answer – “Nothing.” Open-ended questions that can’t be answered with a monosyllable work best to foster communication. Open-ended questions typically begin with words such as “Why” and “How”, or phrases such as, “Tell me about…” or “How do you feel about” A great resource for parents is the Search Institute’s website: www.parentfurther.com. It has a wealth of research-based information regarding everyday parenting and important communication tips.

Start and end the day right!

Have you noticed that just when you thought you had everything ready for school, there’s that missing shoe, folder, or “special” pencil that your child can’t leave home without? A good start to the morning is critical for a productive day at school, so decisions and choices about clothes and food need to be made the night before. I liked having a backpack station where the loaded backpack was placed each day ready for the next morning. Kids need ample time in the morning to wake up, get dressed, and eat that good breakfast.

Conversely, a regularly scheduled bedtime is a good end to the day and leads to a better beginning of the next day. As a teacher, I found that a lack of student engagement was often caused by tiredness, sleepiness, or “waking up on the wrong side of the bed.” Established routines, order, and organization are important life skills for children.

Upcoming Community Event:

Parents, educators, youth, and school leaders in the Greater Houston area – check out the FREE Link Up Greater Houston Conference on Saturday, October 1, 2011 at the University of Houston. The 2011 conference theme is “Thriving Youth – Creating a Safety Net for Youth in Uncertain Times.” Visit their website at http://linkupgreaterhouston.yolasite.com/ for more information and to register.

Resources:

Harvard Family Research Project, www.hfrp.org

Henderson, N. and Mapp, K (2002), “A New Wave of Evidence – The Impact of School, Family, and Community Connections on Student Achievement,” available at www.sedl.org

Inclusive Schools Network, www.inclusiveschools.org

Search Institute, www.parentfurther.com

Stetson and Associates, www.stetsonassociates.com

U.S.Department of Education, www.ed.gov/parents

Walsh, David, Smart Parenting, Smarter Kids, 2011.

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