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10 tips for a positive back-to-school experience

POSTED: July 24, 2014 8:00 a.m.
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A child miseducated is a child lost." - John F. Kennedy

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Even though my wife and I have no children left at home, back-to-school preparation remains a top priority every year as summer wanes. My wife is currently a second grade teacher. While she has also done stints as an assistant principal, as a reading recovery specialist, she spent most of the past 20 years hands-on in a classroom of young students.

Parents and students tend to focus their back-to-school efforts on stocking up on school supplies and buying clothes. Parents - especially those with young children - should instead focus their attention on things that will ensure the safety and security of their children at the beginning of a new school year and help them have a positive back-to-school experience.
Here are some recommendations from an experienced teacher and from other expert sources like WebMD.com:

1. Have children memorize important phone numbers and names.
In an era when data is stored on phones and tablets, even adults often don’t know basic information that might be important in an emergency.

2. Fill out those emergency contact sheets immediately.
They are usually sent out before the start of school or handed out on the first day. Give complete information including cell phone numbers and email addresses. Those first few days of class are hectic. Invariably, there is a student with a problem and no way to reach a parent because the sheet has not been turned in yet.

3. Attend back-to-school events.
These are good times to meet teachers and other school officials. With so many new children and new faces, it is not the time to try to corner the teacher to discuss your child’s special needs or issues.

4. Establish routines.
A couple weeks before the start of school, set regular times for going to bed and for waking up and getting dressed. Establishing the schedule in advance will minimize the chance for a meltdown on the first day of class.

5. Do walk-throughs.
Make sure your child is familiar with the route to and from school. If there is a bus or car pool, go to the pick-up and drop-off points. Make a plan for what to do if something goes wrongSiblings should know where to meet each other after school. Children dropped off before school starts need to know where they should wait and where and when they can enter the building.

6. Have an after-school schedule.
Designate a specified time for homework and/or study every day. An established routine will mean fewer battles over time. Make sure school work takes precedence over video games, television, playing with friends, etc.

7. Plan for sick days.
When both parents work, dealing with a child who is ill and can’t go to school can be a challenge. WebMD recommends: “Before school begins, line up a trusted babysitter or group of parents that can pinch hit for each other when children get sick. And make sure you know the school’s policy. You may have to sign forms ahead of time listing people who have your permission to pick up your child.”

8. Communicate with the teacher.
If your child has special needs or concerns like severe allergies, the teacher needs to know. Write a detailed note or email, or set an appointment to talk with the teacher outside of class time.

9. Work as a team.
If you feel your child needs additional help, brainstorm with the teacher about possibilities to help the child. Many teachers have great experience helping with all kinds of children. Be willing to try all ideas. Keep an open mind when working together and keep trying until the child’s needs are met.

10. Recognize your personal role as a teacher.
School-age children spend 70 percent of their time away from the classroom. Any individual teacher normally has about 180 days to interact with a child and that time is typically divided among 20 to 30 other children. The primary responsibility for educating a child resides with the parent. Teachers and schools are resources.

The beginning of each school year is important because it can set the tone for the student’s progress and enjoyment of learning throughout the year. Teachers, parents and students can accomplish great things when working together for the benefit of each child.

Flint Stephens has a master's degree in communications from Brigham Young University. He is author of "Mormon Parenting Secrets: Time-Tested Methods for Raising Exceptional Children." His blog is mormonparentingsecrets.com.

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