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Written by:  Jessica Gaylord
Date: August 1, 2012

After weeks of summer camp, vacations and no homework, it can be difficult for kids to get back into the daily grind of school. Crystal Reardon, director of counseling for Wake County Public Schools, says starting school on the right foot can enhance children's relationships with their peers and teachers, and help them develop a positive attitude toward school.

For children starting school for the first time, WCPSS Project Enlightenment (projectenlightenment.wcpss.net) offers valuable information and resources for parents.

Another helpful resource is schoolfamily.org, recommended by Kishia Carrington, student services coordinator for Durham County Public Schools. The website lists what to expect academically and socially for each grade level, from preschool through 12th grade.

Here are some general tips to help you and your child prepare for going back to school:

1. Schedule an appointment with the doctor. Visit your child's dentist, doctor or pediatrician to make sure he is in good physical and mental health and receives recommended vaccinations or immunizations. If your child plans on participating in sports, be sure to have a physical completed in time. (Some are school system-specific.)

2. Establish healthy habits. Changing routines is hard, but establishing regular bedtimes and mealtimes will ease your child back into school mode. A few weeks before school starts, encourage your child to go to sleep and wake up earlier than usual so the adjustment won't be too shocking.

3. Make organization a priority. Keep your school to-do lists tidy by using online organizational resources such as Clipix.com or Workflowy.com. It is also helpful to set aside a folder at home exclusively for filing paper copies of your child's important school information. This way, everything is all in one place.

4. Buy supplies early. Be sure to steadily purchase all necessary school supplies ahead of time. This will save you the headache of trying to buy them all at once the week — or night — before school begins.

5. Save the date. Keep track of what the entire family is up to by marking important future dates on your calendar or smartphone so they don't end up surprising you later.

6. Make safety a priority. Talk with your child about common safety practices, especially school bus, traffic and pedestrian safety. Review protocol for after-school safety if your child will be home alone.

Keep calm and carry on

Darlene Johnson, lead social worker for WCPSS, says it's common for children and parents to feel anxious about going back to school. She and Jeff Nash, from the DPS office of public affairs, offer advice to help combat children's uneasiness:

7. Communicate clearly. "It's easier now than it has ever been to talk to teachers," Nash says. If you have concerns about your child starting school, contact his teacher(s) through email, phone or even Facebook. "This is what teachers do," he says. "They want to reach out to families and children: It's part of the job."

8. Familiarize yourself. Johnson recommends taking your child on a tour of the school campus. Visit places she will be, like the playground, cafeteria or media center. If possible, arrange to meet teachers or principals on the visit. This way, your child will feel more confident on her first day back and there will be fewer surprises.

9. Read the student handbook. Go through the student handbook with your child. It can answer questions you might have and provide information about the dress code, emergency procedures and other relevant information. Nash says these handbooks don't usually change from year to year, so consult the previous year's handbook if you want information before the school year starts.

10. Establish expectations. Contact your child's teachers to understand what they expect academically from their students. Then, discuss with your child what he wants to learn and accomplish at school. Write down these goals and revisit them periodically to help him stay focused throughout the year.

11. Set an example. If your child is still feeling nervous about starting school, talk to her about fond school memories from when you were her age. "Smile when you tell the story, and encourage your children to create their own stories," Nash says. Let your child know you were once in her shoes, too.

And if the first week back isn't a success, don't panic. Johnson says in addition to contacting the appropriate teachers or a guidance counselor to create strategies to help address concerns you or your child may have, establishing an open line of communication with your child is extremely important and helpful.

"Find out what is triggering whatever feelings they have, and problem-solve with them," Johnson says.

Editorial intern Jessica Gaylord is a junior at UNC-Chapel Hill, double majoring in journalism and communications.



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