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Teachers know best: Follow their tips to help kids prepare for school

On the first day of school in 2016, Canfield Middle School students Mairi Young, right, hugs her friend Ava Jenks. All across the Inland Northwest in coming days, friends will be reuniting as classes resume for the school year. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
On the first day of school in 2016, Canfield Middle School students Mairi Young, right, hugs her friend Ava Jenks. All across the Inland Northwest in coming days, friends will be reuniting as classes resume for the school year. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

Ready for school to start? We’re not either.

To help you get ready, we enlisted the advice of some teachers from grade school through college to tell us what parents and students can do before school starts and what to do once it’s begun.

Before school begins

Starting a new school? Check out when the transition camp might be. If you’ve missed it, call the school to see if there is another opportunity for you to walk the halls before school starts.

Read. Read as a family as well as read independently. Find books you love, but if they have a science or social studies-theme that can be helpful. If you know you’ll be studying U.S. history this school year, maybe find a fictional book based on an event in U.S. history. If you don’t love reading, consider putting the closed captioning on the TV and reading that.

Start putting the phones, tablets and video game systems away for longer periods of time. If you’ve been attached to electronics all summer long, time to break yourself of that habit.

Go on educational field trips. Visit a library, head to Mobius Science Center or the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture. The MAC’s Family Day is Tuesday, with special program from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Keep a journal. Write down what you did this summer before you forget. It can be an online journal or a physical one. Attach photos or drawings.

Rediscover math. Yes, we know you haven’t thought about math in two months, but try reviewing some math facts or find a math game to play. Kids can even test their parents to see if they know their times tables or how to subtract 25 from 57. Make it fun so it doesn’t feel like math. Do activities like make cookies to practice fractions.

Establish a routine again. If you haven’t been going to bed or getting up at school-time hours, start doing that again. It will help you not be as exhausted that first week – and when we say “you,” we mean both students and parents.

Check the school website’s calendar and announcements. That’s where schools will put up important information like Meet the Teacher, the plan for the first day, changes from last year and Back to School Night.

Attend the Meet the Teacher event as a family. It sets the tone that school is important – and it lets teachers know that you’re active participants in it. You can even consider bringing the teacher flowers or another small acknowledgment.

Talk about the upcoming school year. Parents, be encouraging about what a great school year this is going to be. Build up how much fun your kids are going to have and some of the things they can look forward to. If kids have fears about the upcoming year, listen to them and help them plan how to deal with those scary things.

Go school supply shopping together. It helps get everyone excited. Even if kids share supplies with the rest of the class, a new backpack can be a fun find.

Reunite with school friends. It will help to build the excitement if you plan something fun with the friends you’ve been missing.

The first weeks of school

Don’t miss the first days, weeks of school. This is an important time when the routine is being established.

Make sure you know how you are getting home. Surprisingly, many kids get to the school the first day and don’t know the path to walk home or which bus they are riding or who is picking them up. Have a plan and write it down in case you forget.

Make sure you know the plan for lunch. Often the cafeteria is very busy those first few weeks. If you can pack a lunch, it will make sure you have enough time to eat. If you are buying lunch, have your parents added money on your lunch account? Do you know what your code is to pay for lunch? Talk about what snacks you’ll bring and make sure you have a water bottle, especially these first few weeks when it’s still hot outside.

Make sure your parents read and sign all the paperwork. The first few weeks can be an avalanche of information, especially if you are transitioning from elementary school to middle school or middle school to high school. More teachers equal more information, such as how each class is graded, what school supplies are needed and when the office hours will be.

Set up a homework schedule. Have a snack when you get home from school and then get homework done. The longer you wait, the more tired you’ll be.

Create a system for tracking your assignments. Use an agenda, notebook or electronic calendar to record due dates and details of assignments.

Establish what the family expectations are for homework and grades. If you get stuck, will Mom and Dad help you? An older sibling? Or will you attend teachers’ office hours or have a regular tutor?

Have a set place for backpacks and school gear to be stored. No one wants to be looking for stuff as the bus is about to arrive. Get into the habit of packing your bag the night before.

Have a set place for phones to be charged that is not in the bedroom. Your friends can text and Snapchat with you during daylight hours, too.

Be supportive, parents. A new teacher might be an uneasy transition. Remind kids that they have been successful in the past and will do well this year. Concerned about that teacher or about what help your child needs? Schedule a meeting with the teacher early in the year. Convey what has worked for your child in the past (or what has not worked). Don’t wait for parent-teacher conferences.

Check in with kids each day. Ask what their high point and their low point was, not just “How was your day?” or “What did you do at school today?” You’ll get more information, and you’ll be able to see mental health patterns developing.

The rest of the year

Avoid being overscheduled. Before signing up for many after-school activities, see what you can handle with school. Try to avoid late evening extracurriculars. Sleep is important.

Have a backpack and binder cleaning out party regularly. Consider doing it whenever we have a school holiday or at the start of a new grading period.

Establish positive communication with teachers, parents. Read the regular emails and notes your child’s teachers sends. Ask questions but not in an accusatory way.

Look for ways you can help teachers. Does that teacher need help copying papers or cutting things for an upcoming project? Ask how you can help, even if you can’t be at school during daytime hours.

Attend as many school activities as possible. If you can, chaperone a field trip. Come to games and performances. Be that embarrassing fan in the stand cheering for your kid, just don’t undermine the coach or director.

Give teachers praise. Like something that the teacher did for your child or the rest of the class? Parents and students always can drop teachers a handwritten note or an email. “Thank you” goes a long way. Think about nominating a particularly great teacher for an award.

Get to know the staff at your school. The principal and vice-principals, the secretaries, the counselors all can be good allies to have.

For college-age kids

Create a routine. Make sure it is a sustainable one that will make it through the whole school year. Routine becomes a part of you. Going back to school doesn’t mean changing the way you live; it means adapting the way you should live to be your best self.

Take care of yourself. Schedule time for reading, thinking, recreating, exercising, connecting with friends and family and tending to the spiritual, if that’s meaningful to you.

Don’t sacrifice social life. Make time for it.

Make time for being alone – especially if you’re in a dorm or busy apartment complex. School can be overwhelming with the amount of people around all the time. Alone time is essential.

Get academic direction. Professors have office hours for you to use them. If those times don’t work, make an appointment with your professors. Students who meet with their professors tend to have better grades. It shows professors that they care about their education. Even if you don’t have a question, you can meet with the professor for one-on-one discussion of the material.

Don’t wait to challenge a grade or ask for help. Often students wait until the last few weeks of the semester, when it feels almost too late. It also makes professors question if it’s only about the grade and not about learning the material.

Take advantage of tutoring opportunities. Learn what academic resources are available and how to access them.

Know what mental health resources are available and how to access them. When you’re in crisis, you might have difficulty sorting that out. Discover those resources before the crisis begins.

Meet with the disabilities office. If you have a qualifying disability like autism or anxiety, low vision or hearing impairment, connect with the disabilities office before school begins. Also inform teachers of your needs that first week of school.

Your parents’ helicopter days are over. They should not be calling professors or helping you with homework. You have fled the nest, Little Birdy. It’s time to fly.


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