You know what I think of when I think of the first day of school? It’s the optimistic odour of freshly sharpened pencils.
Sharpened pencils standing at attention in recycled jars, along with chairs tucked under child-sized desks, and a chalkboard that says, “Welcome” in perfect cursive.
As a teacher, there really is nothing more exciting than the first day of school. I truly get butterflies in my stomach as I wait for my new students to shyly show up in my classroom. But the only reason I am able to be so excited and optimistic is because of the planning and routines I put in place for myself in the weeks leading up to school. Without this preparation, I am certain that I would be just as anxious as you may be feeling right now.
The start of school is notoriously known as one of the most stressful days of the year, both for you and your child. Who will his teacher be? What if she hates her lunch? Where are we supposed to meet at the end of the day? Will she make it to the end of the day? By using just a bit of your beach time to plan for that first day and beyond, the transition back to school will not be that scary. There are always going to be unexpected surprises and stresses but the regular routines you establish at the beginning of the year will make those times more manageable. Here are the top 5 ways to ensure a successful start to the school year. This information is nothing groundbreaking, just tried and true wisdom that every teacher wants to make sure you know.
1. We can’t wait for you to get here! But do you know where you are supposed to go? And when? Most schools will inform you of the first day instructions: where to go, what to bring, and when to be there. Some schools have staggered start time for different grades so if you have multiple children, you could be running quite the relay that day. There may also be separate entry and exit locations for different grades so make sure you are familiar with where you will be dropping off and picking up your child. If you do not have this information, visit the school prior to the first day.
2. Once you know what we’ve planned for our first day, plan yours. Do a couple of dry runs to figure out how long it takes to get ready in the morning and how long it takes to get to school. Many kids are anxious about being late and get stressed out when parents tell them to, “Hurry up!” Create a morning schedule and post it where your child is able to see it. Give 10 minute, then 5 minute, then 1 minute warnings when it is time to get going. And then get going! Give yourself plenty of time to get to school and calm any last minute jitters, such as where you will meet at the end of the day. If you child is allowed to go home alone, figure out when and how they will check-in with you.
3. Together, decide on clothing that is appropriate for school…well in advance of the first day. Your daughter may have lived in flip flops and short-shorts all summer long but they do not belong in gym class. And while your son may truly feel that wearing a Spiderman costume everyday gives him superpowers, he’s going to have to rely on good old-fashioned brainpower to learn how to read. What I tell my class is that being a student is your first real job and like most jobs, in order to achieve success, you must dress for success. All schools have a dress code and despite what students believe, it’s to protect, not punish them. We need you to work with us on this one.
4. Please, please, please get in the back in the habit of getting enough sleep each night and eating a nutritious breakfast every morning. I have found that being well-rested and well-fed affects a student’s performance more than any other factors. I don’t know how many times I’ve overheard a student bragging that she got to stay up late to __________ only to be dozing at her desk or go home sick just a little while later. As for breakfast, I know it sounds like a cliché, but it really is the most important meal of the day. Nine times out of ten, when I ask that lethargic, unmotivated, ill-tempered student if he ate breakfast, the answer is, “No.” And at least once a week, I have a student ask if they can have one of my “emergency” granola bars. You can lead by example: in a survey done in the Netherlands, children were 78% more likely to eat breakfast if their parents did. So put down that coffee and paper and get cracking!
5. To make your afternoons run as fight-free as your mornings, have a plan in place for completing homework. Figure out what time and place works best for your child: my son likes to do his homework in the kitchen after school and my daughter likes to do it in her bedroom after dinner. Last year, I had one student who came in early every morning to complete his homework since he was more of a morning person and liked working in the quiet, empty classroom. Either way, a specific amount of time should be designated for schoolwork. Every day. There is always something that can be done, whether it’s reading, doing an experiment that reinforces what he learned in science that day, or, the most dreaded task of all, cleaning out his school bag and binder. It doesn’t have to be too long; a good rule is the grade times 10 minutes. Beginning as early as kindergarten, making homework a regular part of your day is an important routine to establish. She may not like it right now, but believe me, when the work start escalating in middle and high school, she’ll be a lot more capable of taking it all in stride.
So that’s it. Just a little bit of pre-planning and you, too, can have an optimistic, stress-free start to the school year. Sort of… The first day is going to be filled with excitement and anxiety no matter how much you prepare yourself and your child in advance. Even I have trouble sleeping the night before and can’t decide what to wear. But with a little preplanning a lot of tissues (most likely for you), things will be just fine. I promise.