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Back to School

It is hard to believe that it is that time of the year already to start thinking about going to school in September.  After such an odd year last year with COVID-19, our sons and daughters can expect to be at school in person this academic year.  With those 12 years of age and older and who have had the COVID vaccine, they may be given the option to not wear a mask in class.  However, for those 11 years of age and younger, they are going to still need to practice safe guidelines, including wearing a mask, social distancing for 6 feet and good handwashing.

Otherwise, we are back to the usual routine of getting ready to start school that first week of September (or last week of August for private schools).  Here are some thoughts and tips to help you get ready:

Your son or daughter is new to the school

Meet your new teacher.  One of the big questions before school starts is, “Will I like my teacher?”  You can help break the ice by taking advantage of the school open house or back-to-school night event.  Usually, these events are very friendly with kids’ activities to help your child feel “at home.”  Around this time, teachers may also make themselves available via phone calls or email in case you need to discuss special circumstances, such as learning disabilities or food allergies, for example.   Also take advantage of the school’s website so you can let your son/daughter see a picture of the new teacher.

Tour the school premises.  The open house also becomes an opportunity to tour the school.  Help your son/daughter familiar themselves with the classroom, hallways, bathrooms and the main office.  You may also get an opportunity to see where your child may sit and what her/his desk looks like.  Sitting at the desk can bring a lot comfort.  Finally, seeing the playground will help him/her visualize what recess is going to look like and feel like.

Connecting with Friends.  Sometimes you get lucky during the open house visit that your son/daughter will get a chance to see a familiar face or friend.  Even just one friend can make all the difference in the world as odds are, they are looking forward to being in school with your son/daughter.  If you happen to know if friend might be attending that school, maybe set up a playdate prior to the open house so they can talk about the school and develop a comfort level with each other.

Recall past positive experiences.  Help them remember that they have had fun with other kids in previous activities, be them sports, another school or other recreational activity.  Highlight for them how they were able to get over their fears or anxieties and enjoyed themselves.  Self-efficacy is part of being able to visualize yourself and see yourself succeed, and memory plays a big part.

Weeks before school starts

Get Your Supplies.  One of my more exciting times before school started was going with my mom to the office supply store to buy my coloring pencils, paper pads or notebooks, ruler and pens.  Check with his/her teacher as to what is being recommended so your son/daughter is ready to go on day one.  Let your child pick out the supplies with your guidance.  Giving them the opportunity to make decisions will empower them to go to school.

Choose a backpack.  Another fun item for them to pick out!  Make sure it is wide enough for school supplies, has padded shoulder straps and a padded back.  Teach them about all the compartments the backpack has and what to place in each one.  Encourage them to keep the backpack light so talk about what goes in it and what does not belong.  A good rule of thumb is that the backpack should not weight more than 10-20% of your child’s weight.  Teach them how to use both straps and make sure the bottom of the backpack is at their waste line.

Getting a new lunch box.  What art design will it be this year? What was the latest Pixair movie or Disney show? This is another opportunity for them to make a choice and let them buy into the excitement of going back to school. Keep the lunchbox simple and easy to use.

Minimize school work before school starts.  It might be possible that you had a curriculum, perhaps a small one and at a more leisurely pace, that you followed during the summer months.  This is always a great idea to maintain some academic performance and him/her ready for when school starts.  However, it would be a good idea to back off and let your son/daughter have unstructured play time at least a couple weeks before school starts.

Get back to the school routine.  As a family, you probably have been enjoying the sun setting down late in the evening to continue to do family and play activities.  Turning the “sleep” clock back gradually over the course of 1-2 weeks is helpful as you get ready for that first day when your child has to be out the door by 730 in the morning.  Go through your routine with your child and what expectations you have so as to be on time, either being on time at the bus stop or you are driving them to school.

Make the First Day a Success!

Be on time.  Better yet, if you can, try to arrive to school early so you can give your son/daughter an opportunity to walk around the hallways, classroom and recall where are the bathrooms.

Make contact with the teacher.  It is a good idea to touch bases with teacher at the end of the 1st day, and maybe even every day during the first week, to see how your son/daughter is integrating into the new learning environment.  Check to see how friendships and cooperation are developing.  Finally, this gives the teacher an opportunity to see that you are engaged and invested in your child’s success.

Traveling To and From School

Riding the school bus.  Here are a few tips to ease their fears and ensure safety:

  • Remind them to always board and exit the bus at locations that provide safe access to the bus or to the school building.
  • They should make themselves visible to the bus driver so teach them how to look at the driver so they can see that the driver is looking at them.
  • Remind your child to wait for the bus to stop before approaching it from the curb.  If he/she has to cross the street to get to the bus, they should look both ways before crossing.  You can work with them 1-2 weeks before school starts to teach them how to cross the street.
  • Remind them that one of the rules in the bus is they should stay in their seat and not move around to chat with friends.
  • Check on the school’s policy regarding food on the bus. Eating on the bus can present a problem for students with allergy and also lead to infestations of insects and vermin on the vehicles.
  • If your son/daughter has food allergy problems or chronic medical conditions, make sure the school and bus driver know about these and they can have a “bus emergency plan.”

Riding in the Car.  This is a good time to review the basics just in case you are taking other children:

  • Children should be in a car seat with a harness for as long as possible, and then ride in a belt-positioning booster seat.  Check specifications for both types of seats but some good rules of thumb for moving to the booster seat include the shoulders are above the top harness slots or their ears have reached the top of the seat.
  • For older children, our State of Michigan law calls for them to be in the back seat until the age of 12 years and they reach a height of 4’ 9”.  If they have outgrown their booster seat, double check that the shoulder belt lies across the chest and shoulder and not the neck or throat; and the lap belt should ride across the pelvic bones and by the thighs, and not over the stomach area.
  • For those in high school, remind them to limit the number of passengers in the car to minimize distractions while driving.  In the State of Michigan, the recommendation is to have no more than one non-family member in the car.  Also remind them about not texting while driving, no cell-phone conversations and no alcohol-drinking.  You can learn more about graduated driver’s license law from the AAP’s Healthy Children website.

Riding a bike.  Follow these guidelines to ensure a safe ride:

  • Practice the bike route to school before the first day of school to make sure your child can manage it.
  • Make it a rule to always wear a helmet no matter how short or long the ride to and from school.
  • Use the sidewalks as much as possible, and if they have to go on the road, to ride on the right side of the street, in the same direction as auto traffic and ride in bike lanes if they are present.
  • Use appropriate hand signals when coming to a corner or turn.
  • Respect traffic lights and stop signs.
  • Wear bright-colored clothing to increase visibility. White or light-colored clothing and reflective gear is especially important after dark.

Walking to and from School.

In general, children are ready developmentally to start walking to and from school around the age ages between 9 and 11 years.  But also check to see how they are doing with their impulse control.  In general, younger children tend to be more impulsive and need an adult to go with them to school.

  • Walking with friends and in a group is always safer than walking alone.
  • Try to stay on the path or side walk where there are trained adult crossing guards, particularly as it related to crossing the streets.
  • Think about dressing your children with bright-colored clothing to make them more visible to drivers.

https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/gradeschool/school/Pages/Back-to-School-Tips.aspx

https://www.pbs.org/parents/thrive/back-to-school-tips-for-parents

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