Gear Up for Learning Before the School Bell Rings
For families with kids on traditional school schedules, or a year-round calendar that offers a longer July break, the days of summer vacation are waning and a new school start is right around the corner.
Some children will be starting a formal learning program for the first time. To help kids switch from laid back to learning mode, we asked veteran educators and experienced parents for their tips and advice on gearing up for a new school year at different stages.
Find resources for starting preschool
Transitioning from home to preschool or kindergarten can be both exciting and scary for your child. The Johnston County Partnership for Children in Smithfield, like other local partnerships that provide More at Four or Smart Start programs, provides resources that can help make this transition smooth.
Among its many offerings are a "Get Set for School!" three-month coloring and activities calendar filled with suggestions to prepare you and your child for the world of academia. On any given day, a parent can read tips such as, "Ask your child to tell you a story. Write it down," or "Ask your children to pick up toys at the end of play. Thank your child for helping."
Other suggested activities to help a child get ready for a first school start include:
* Inviting children who will be in your child's class to your home to play.
* Walking or driving by your child's school and pointing to his or her classroom, if possible.
* Playing a card or board game that involves taking turns.
* Giving your child simple tasks that involve matching, sorting or counting objects like socks, towels or silverware.
* Adjusting your child's eating and sleeping times to the school-year schedule.
Most importantly, the calendar notes: "As the first day nears, stay positive about school and proud of your child. Your little one's a big kid now!"
Practice lessons for elementary ages
Barnsley Brown, a Chapel Hill mother of one and life and business coach, suggests creating opportunities that prepare young children for independence while also demonstrating "the reality that the summer will soon be over."
Parents and children can pick out a special backpack together and pack it with school supplies, Brown says. She suggests conducting an inventory of what your children will need for school, having them help you make the list, and then talking about where to get the supplies. Discussing choices and how much can be spent on various items promotes reasoning, organization and management skills.
Parents of elementary school-age children also suggest incorporating instructive activities into everyday events so kids practice their school-related skills when not in the classroom. For example, Pepper Hines of Durham says when her boys were growing up, she would allow them to keep the change if they could tell her how much she would receive after purchasing a soda or an ice cream cone.
Clarenda Stanley of Cary asks her 7-year-old son to read the list of ingredients on the backs of boxes as they shop. She explains that the ingredients listed first are more prominent in the food. "It's a learning opportunity in nutrition and health, but it also builds phonetics and reading skills," she says.
Encourage organization, independence in middle school
The transition from elementary to middle school is challenging. Although older, your child still needs your involvement, according to Allison Carson, a Johnston County Schools teacher who has taught middle school for six years. Carson, who teaches at Archer's Lodge Middle School, suggests working on organizational skills with your rising middle schooler. Have him organize his room or other rooms in the house, but don't leave the task wide open. Give him an area to put in order. Carson also says making short lists and checking them off as each task is completed helps.
Carson and her colleagues suggest the following activities to help ease the transition from the structured elementary setting to the limited freedom of middle school:
* Buy a lock and practice opening it using the combination.
* Ask your child to help organize your shopping list by area, such as bathroom or kitchen or by meals.
* Make sure your child reads different genres during the summer and ask him to write a summary.
* Practice multiplication and division facts so they are recalled more easily as students learn more challenging math.
* Have your child follow the directions for a recipe.
Just as importantly, Carson advises parents to "talk with your child every day and keep in touch with what's going on with their friends. They need to realize that little things like name-calling can get out of hand."
Overall, being a positive leader rather than a follower is critical to your middle school child's success. "Middle school can be overwhelming for sixth graders in particular," Carson says. "They're trying to find themselves. What's important for them to know is that it's OK for them to be themselves."
Review before high school starts
Michelle Freeman, a 17-year teaching veteran who teaches Spanish at Durham Academy, suggests students entering high school review what was learned the previous year to reinforce their knowledge during the summer.
Getting ahead is not necessarily the priority. Rather, "it's keeping in what they've already put there," she says, referring to the previous year's instruction.
While Freeman strives to provide quality education during the school year, her tandem objective is to instill the academic confidence they need to be successful in high school. Parents can strengthen that foundation during the summer.
"Developmentally, they are better prepared for ninth grade than they were at the beginning of eighth grade, so parents can review and see that weak areas are strengthened," Freeman says. It only takes 20 uninterrupted minutes or less each day or every other day. "Switch it up each day and just do a little," she says. "Consistency is important, not tedium. Your child needs to know that the review won't last forever."
Freeman advises against rote memorization, suggesting instead that parents go through the notebooks and ask questions instead of assigning work. "Sending them away with assignments resembles school and testing. This is your chance to nurture, staying true to your role as a parent, not a teacher. As a parent, you may want to come down hard, but it's not necessary," she says.
For example, if you read a book report that your child wrote, you can say, "Tell me about that again." It's less tedious to answer such questions as, "What did you get from this?" Other prompts like, "Help me understand," or "Can you teach me?" motivate your child to explain a concept, proving that they really understand it.
This approach creates a conversation between parent and child, Freeman says. And while some subjects like math can be practiced by redoing equations or retaking quizzes, talking to your child is less bombarding than assigning work.
"Summer is a wonderful time for reinforcement without rushing," Freeman says. Know your child and know yourself. Extreme patience is key because you have to be willing to start from scratch. And make every effort to be nonjudgmental, she adds. "If you have a tendency to fuss and be impatient, step away."
Your children need honest reinforcement — not a false sense of security — with room for improvement, which builds confidence as they move to the next grade level. That confidence is further advanced when you end the sessions on a happy note. Telling your children "I'm so proud of you" will help them to look forward to the next session.
At every stage, children need their parents to guide them towards independence, promote the value of lifelong learning and celebrate their successes. Each school year ushers in a chance to start anew and reinforce the value of being prepared to learn.
Crystal Kimpson Roberts is a writer and communications professional who has been a mother for nearly 20 years. She lives in Smithfield with her husband and three children.
For more information
Triangle-area Smart Start offices:
Chatham County Partnership for Children
919-542-7449 • www.chathamkids.org
Durham's Partnership for Children
919-403-6960 • www.dpfc.net
Johnston County Partnership for Children
919-202-0002 • www.pfcjc.org
Orange County Partnership for Children
919-967-9091 • www.orangesmartstart.org
Wake County Smart Start
919-851-9550 • www.wakesmartstart.org
Smart Start North Carolina
Exceptional Children's Assistance Center
National Coalition for
Parent Involvement in Education
North Carolina PTA