6 Steps for a Smart School Start

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At first glance, getting the kids ready to head back to school might seem fairly straightforward: Purchase some new clothing, school supplies and backpacks and they should be all set. But in reality, back-to-school preparations — and continued success throughout the year — require participation from every member of the family. Not sure where to start? We’ve compiled tips from North Carolina school administrators, family experts and other parents to help make the transition smoother.

1. Be upbeat

Maintaining a positive attitude for your children can help make the transition into school as smooth as possible.

“I think the most important thing a parent can do is make sure kids are in the right frame of mind to learn and grow at school,” says Erica Perel, a Hillsborough mom preparing to send her oldest child to kindergarten this year. “By that I mean they are well rested, well fed, have respect for their teachers and the attitude that learning is fun, not something to be stressed about.”

2. Reset the family clock

Janice Wood, a Summerfield, N.C., mother of two, gradually begins changing her family’s routine a few weeks before school starts.

“We go to bed earlier and get up earlier,” she says. “We also try to have meals at the same time so that the kids’ bodies get prepared for the school year. I begin to limit their video game and TV time because during the school week I don’t allow TV or video games.”

Getting your children involved in simple chores around the house can also get them ready for new routines in the classroom. Claire Walton, early childhood director at Charlotte Country Day School, says children as young as 6 or 7 can help clear the table after dinner and put away dishes.

3. Get organized

Teach a child key organization skills by modeling examples at home. Designate a specific place for backpacks and plan to look through them each night for important paperwork, homework and school communication forms.

Lisa Sacco, a mother of two and licensed psychologist with Orenstein Solutions in Cary, says placing separate “To” and “From” folders in her children’s backpacks is a tremendous help, as well as packing lunches and laying out clothes.

“The more that can be done the night before, the better,” she says. “Is laundry clean? Don’t worry about what they are wearing as long as it’s clean. Don’t worry about clothing battles.”

It’s also a good idea to mark important dates in your calendar ahead of time, such as parent-teacher conferences and back-to-school nights. Harold Dixon, the current president of the Mecklenburg County PTA Council, recommends taking note of important school meetings throughout the year and working them into your schedule so there are no surprises down the road.

4. Communicate with teachers

In today’s world of emails, texts and smart phones, figuring out how much to communicate with your child’s teacher can be a little confusing.

“Being involved in school can be a tricky line,” Sacco says. “You do want to be appropriately involved in school. Be engaged without hovering. Convey a positive attitude [for your children] and have a plan if they don’t.”

Peggy Otey, head of the lower school at Charlotte Country Day School, says the school’s staff members encourage parents to communicate openly with teachers. If your child has had a difficult morning, call or email the teacher and let him or her know. The more information you can give a teacher, the better to help your child. Most teachers check email before and after school, so it might not be feasible to expect responses during the day when teachers are in the classroom.

“When the kids were in kindergarten I would be room mom and stayed in touch with the teacher face to face,” Wood says. “Now that my kids are older, I do like the emails, but I still go in for face-to-face conferences and still try to volunteer to get to know the teachers.”

Dixon agrees one of the best things a parent can do to ensure a child is progressing academically and socially in the classroom is to maintain communication with teachers.

“Know where your child is academically and stay on top of grades,” he says, recommending that parents find ways to periodically visit the classroom. “Every now and then teachers need to see your face, even if it is just for five minutes.”

5. Get involved

Stay-at-home parents aren’t the only ones who can be involved in school committees and organizations. Dixon started helping with the PTA while working full-time when his daughter started school. He is still involved even though she is entering her senior year of high school.

“It feels so good for a child to see a parent get involved,” Otey says, adding that parents should contact a school’s parent-teacher organization for volunteer opportunities. “I think all schools are a little more sensitive to the number of working families.”

If you work during the day, send a quick email to your child’s teacher asking if you can help prepare materials for the classroom during the evening at home. Many teachers need items cut or laminated and will welcome your offer to help.

6. Keep learning

School administrators understand that keeping up with relevant and timely parenting and educational topics is more important for parents than ever before. Because of this, many schools now offer free parent workshops, typically during morning and evening hours.

In Durham, members of Durham Allies for Responsive Education launched the website www.strongdurhamschools.com, which helps parents navigate their way through the Durham school system and highlights volunteer opportunities for parents. Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools began offering classes throughout the Charlotte area with Parent University three years ago, and Dixon now works as a family and community services specialist with the program. Guilford County Schools also recently started a similar program in the Triad.

Setting your child up for success at school begins long before the classroom doors open. You can be confident that your child will appreciate — and learn from — your active participation in their education and outside interests.

Renee Roberson is a mom and freelance writer in Huntersville.

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