Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Back to School Tips

As summer draws to a close, and the new school year is fast approaching, I start thinking of what will make this year easier and more successful than the year before, for my clients, their families, and my readers. This post is a reprint of an article I posted on back in August of 2008, but I think the information is still useful and relevant. For more back to school tips, you can also check out my back to school post from last August, which focused more on the social and emotional aspects of returning to school.
Back to school can be a busy and challenging time and it’s easy to let things slide in the beginning of the school year. But, if your child struggled with school last year, whether academically, with behavior or organization, or with social skills and friends, it’s important to take a few steps now. If your child has special needs, like autism, Asperger’s, ADHD, or learning differences, an early plan is especially important. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be a lot of work, and the payoff is huge.  A few conversations now, a couple of systems established, and the year will run more smoothly. Try these tips to get off to a great start.

Attend Back to School Night

Back to school night may be the only opportunity to meet your child’s teacher until the first report cards come out. The benefits of this meeting are twofold. First, it shows your child’s teacher that you’re an involved parent. While most teachers really try to treat all kids equally and fairly, they’re only human. The child with the parent who is paying attention may be less likely to be overlooked in a crowded classroom, and it’s easier for a teacher to contact a parent who has been introduced. In addition, this meeting is your chance to find out what the teacher is expecting. What is the system for assigning and collecting homework? How much time is homework expected to take? What should the parents do if the homework is taking too long? Are parents expected to help with homework? How will the teacher communicate with the parents, and how can you best contact the teacher? These are all questions for which you as a parent need answers. Discuss these issues with your child too. Often, the teacher will tell the parents one thing, but the kids may understand something else entirely.

Put Together a List of Classmates and Phone Numbers

The beginning of the school year is the perfect time to have your child put together a list of classmates and their phone numbers. You don’t need the whole class, just a few from each subject. Chances are, your child will not be perfect this year. It’s easy to misplace a paper, forget a book or write down an assignment incorrectly. It’s best to let this be your child’s problem, but the classmate list makes it easy for your child to find a solution. 

Think About Special Services

Schools can be overcrowded and underfunded. As the school year goes on, the waiting lists grow. I worked as a school therapist for years, and every year, it was the same pattern. Things started slowly in September, but by February, my waiting list was so long, I couldn’t possibly fit in another student. Many parents want to give things a fresh start in the new school year, and that may be a good idea. At the same time, it doesn’t hurt to explore the support services. Find out how far in advance you’ll need to request homework support, special testing, or tutoring. You don’t want to give problems time to grow, only to find out that the help you need won’t be available until the following year.

Also, check and see if you need to make requests in writing. Too often parents are patiently and cooperatively waiting in a “verbal” line, only to find out later that the countdown for services doesn’t even start until they make a written request.

Set Up a Homework System at Home

Just as a good teacher will start the year with a plan for homework, assignments, and communication in the classroom, you should do these same things at home. Work with your child to figure out where and when homework will be done. How will your child get you the papers you need to review? The less naturally organized you and your child are, the more time and effort you should put into this upfront plan. It will be easier to start with a system and then modify it if it’s not working than to try to dig out of chaos in the middle of the year. Take advantage of the beginning of the year enthusiasm, and the fact that there is no old work to catch up on.

Don’t Forget Social Issues

If your child has struggled socially in the past, the new school year can be the best time to tackle those issues. Take time with your child to discuss potential friends in the new classroom. Since many kids move over the summer, and most schools shift the students every year, lots of kids will be looking for new friends. Are some of these kids potential friends for your child? Think now about play dates and activities. It can be tough to join into a dance class or a team after it’s established, but being an early member makes your child an automatic insider.  And for parents, often the first few days of school are the times it’s easiest to meet other parents.

These simple steps may be tough to manage in those busy first weeks of school, but it’s worth it. Try to think of this as an investment for a smooth and successful new year. 

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