Raise a kid who loves school

By on July 28, 2011
Conquering first-day fears
School’s supposed to be a fun place for children to learn and grow, but students of all ages—from pre-schoolers to kindergarteners to elementary students—may find the big building a tad scary. After all, the start of each school year brings unfamiliar faces, different classrooms and noisy hallways. Whether your child’s off to preschool for the first time or entering the third grade, education experts say the following areas commonly give kids the jitters. Calm your child’s concerns with these helpful tricks from teachers in-the-know.
Fear Factor: The school
What your child thinks: “Wow, this is place is HUGE! What if I get lost?”
Calm those concerns: Visit the school during an orientation program or call the office to schedule a tour. Point out similarities between the school and your home or your child’s previous daycare or preschool setting, suggests Allyson Barry, a childhood development specialist at the Early Childhood Parenting Center, in Santa Monica, Calif. Say: “Look! Your kindergarten class has a book nook just like your preschool.” Explore fun places like the library, gym, and art and music rooms, and show him where the front office is located. Summertime picnics at the playground also can make the big brick building less intimidating.
Fear Factor: The classroom
What your child thinks: “Geez, this teacher sure has a lot of rules about where things should go and how I should behave. I hope I don’t get in trouble.”
Calm those concerns: Remind her that many school rules—no interrupting, no back talk, no hitting, no yelling, no running—are the same ones she already follows at home. You also may want to snap a photo of your child and her teacher together at orientation. Post it on the fridge so she becomes more familiar with this new important role model entering her life.
Fear Factor: The restroom
What your child thinks: “I’m not used to going to the bathroom with other people. What if the stall door won’t lock? Or worse, I get locked in! I hope I don’t have an accident!”Calm those concerns: Your kid’s probably not the only one worried about this, but the important thing to remind him is that he’s not on his own. “Keep reinforcing that his teacher is there to help, just like a parent. If he’s unsure about something, like how to lock the stall door, he can privately ask for help,” says Robert Pianta, Ph.D., dean of the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education. You can help out by choosing outfits that make bathroom breaks a breeze. And don’t make a fuss if he has an accident: Kids this age often get wrapped up in their activities and don’t realize how badly they need to go until it’s too late.
Fear Factor: The playground
What your child thinks: “I don’t know anyone, so I won’t have a friend to play with.”Calm those concerns: If your child’s school allows it, get a roster of her new classmates and arrange a play date or two before the school year starts. Even if they don’t become fast friends, just knowing a familiar face can help. Remind her of past experiences, perhaps at daycare, where she didn’t know anyone at first. Reassure her that she’s not the only child in class who’s nervous about making friends and offer a few suggestions, such as: “Wouldn’t it be fun if you asked a classmate to jump rope with you tomorrow at recess?”
Fear Factor: The cafeteria
What your child thinks: “There’s so much stuff at the lunch line—silverware, drinks, and food that looks weird to me.” OR “I can’t open my thermos, and I’m afraid I’m going to spill my drink.”
Calm those concerns: Before the school year starts, eat at a few cafeteria-style restaurants to familiarize your child with the process. If your child’s brown-bagging it, use easy-to-open containers and tuck in an occasional surprise, such as stickers or a family photo. It’s a good idea to occasionally check out the lunch room you. “Most schools allow parents to join their kids for lunch and welcome parent volunteers who help monitor the cafeteria,” says Dr. Pianta. Besides the fact that kids love having mom or dad drop in, these lunchtime sessions provide a fun way for you to meet and chat with your child’s classmates, as well as see if your child’s having any dining difficulties like problems navigating the cafeteria line.Your mission: prevent morning madness
Mornings easily can be the most chaotic time of your child’s school day—if you don’t do a little advanced planning. A great day doesn’t magically fall into place when the alarm goes off; rather it begins with careful planning the night before. Professional organizer Stephanie Voss, founder of The Organized Parent (www.theorganizedparent.com) and mom to two boys ages 9 and 14, offers these tips for putting the “good” into your child’s morning.
The night before
Help with homework. Make it a rule that your child completes his school work the same day he brings it home. Mornings aren’t the time to tackle this task.Choose an outfit. Every night, lay out your child’s clothes for the next day, including socks, underwear, shoes, hat and jacket. If you want to be really prepared, use a closet organizer to set aside a week’s worth of outfits.Prepare his backpack. Make sure homework, permission slips, and lunch money are checked, signed (if needed), and packed. Stash the backpack by the door so he can easily grab it on his way out.Pack lunches. Pre-pack items like carrot sticks, grapes and pretzels in plastic bags for the entire week. You can make some sandwiches early too. Cold cuts work well (add condiments that morning), but Vozza suggests fixing PB&J in the morning since the bread can get soggy.Check your calendar. Before ushering the kids into bed, see what activities are on tomorrow’s schedule, and have them get piano books, scout uniforms or soccer cleats ready.

Say goodnight. Stick to a calming bedtime routine (try bath, books, songs and then tuck-in time), so your child falls asleep easily and doesn’t wake up tired and cranky.

Plan for breakfast. Set cereal, bowls and spoons on the table, cut up fruit, and make sure breakfast items like cereal, yogurt and granola bars are easily reachable.

An a+ morning
Get your head in the game. Wake up before your child does so you have time to mentally prepare for the day without interruptions.

Factor in extra wake-up time. If your child’s a slow riser, add some additional minutes into his morning. Better yet, buy an alarm clock and make him responsible for starting his day.

Establish a routine. Use words or pictures to detail your child’s morning tasks (for example: brush teeth, comb hair, and make bed) and post the chart on his bedroom door. Keep it simple, but helpful. “The goal is to get your child to know it by heart and follow through without you constantly barking orders,” says Vozza.

Silence distractions. TV, video games and computers only add to morning chaos while distracting your child from the main task: Getting ready for school. Establish (and stick to) a “no electronics” rule on school mornings.

Say goodbye with a smile. Even if, despite everyone’s best efforts, the morning is a little frenzied, always take the time to give your child a hug, a smile and some encouragement to have a great day. You want your child (and you) to start the day on a friendly, not frantic, note.

School bus basics

The Big Yellow Bus
Your first-time rider either thinks it’s the coolest thing since pop rocks or rates it scarier than the big rat character at the local pizza place. If your child’s of the latter camp, you can soothe her worries and ensure that her trips to and from school are safe ones, with these travel tips.Get on board
Many schools provide bus orientation sessions before the school year starts. Take a few practice rides together and point out all the fun things about riding a bus: The seats are big, so she can sit with a friend. She sits up high so she can look out!Say hello to the driver
Make sure you and your child know the driver’s name and her bus number. Get the driver’s contact information, as well as that of the school transportation coordinator’s, in case of emergencies.Report problems
Let the driver and your school principal know if your child’s being bullied by other  riders or if you hear of conduct problems like swearing.Recruit reinforcements
Ask an older child from your neighborhood to ride the bus with yours for the first  week or so of school, or if you feel she’s being picked on. Get to know the parents of other riders and work together to supervise bus stops to ensure there’s no misconduct or rough-housing while kids wait for the bus.Check her gear
Make sure jackets and backpacks have no loose drawstrings or long straps that could get caught in the handrail or bus door.Reassure her
Taking the wrong bus home or getting off at the wrong stop are classic kid fears.  Assure her that a teacher or teacher’s helper will see her off the bus at school, as well as make sure she gets on the right one at the end of the day. The driver will guide her when it’s time to come home.

Remind your child—repeatedly—of these critical safety rules:

•    Don’t goof around at the bus
•    Stop, stay on the sidewalk.
•   Don’t rush for the bus. The driver will open the door only when the bus is at a complete stop, so instruct your child to wait for this cue before moving toward the bus.
•    Always obey the bus driver.
•    Walk in front of, not behind,  the bus.
•    Be alert to traffic.
•    Never stand up or walk on a moving bus. Use a seat belt if one’s provided.
•    Hold onto the hand rail when getting off the bus.
•   Don’t stop to pick up dropped items (bending over makes her invisible to the driver) or go back to the bus to retrieve an item (again, the driver may not see her).
•    Assure her you truly won’t be mad if something’s left behind.
Inquiring minds want to know: How was school today?
Your kid’s finally home from school and you can’t wait to hear about her day, but the “fines” and “goods” she utters sure leave out a lot of details. Find out what’s really going on with these friendly conversation starters.Wait. Like many adults, children are tired at the end of a long school day. “Let her decompress with a snack and some quiet time before bombarding her with questions,” says Jerlean Daniel, Ph.D., deputy executive director of the National Association for the Education of Young Children.Ask open-ended questions. “How was your day?” is a surefire way to generate a lackluster response like “Okay.” Instead, be more specific. Try: “Tell me three things you learned today.” Or: “What did you do in music class?”Don’t forget about her friends. Of course, you want to make sure your child’s learning, but her social interactions are important too. Find out how she’s doing forming friendships by asking, “Who did you play with at recess? What games did you play? What do you like about your new friend?”Pay attention to your child’s homework. The papers your child brings home will clue you in to what’s going in on the classroom, so you can target your questions  better, says Laura Olson, vice president of education at the Kiddie Academy, a national chain of child care learning centers. You might say, “Yesterday you had to color in different coins. What else did you learn about money today?”Share your day. Talk about something that happened in your day that your child might relate to. For instance: “I had a tough day at work. My boss asked me a question and I really had to spend some time finding the answer.” Hearing about your struggles may encourage her to ask for help with her own problems.Take the focus off of school. Your child may not be forthcoming about things that upset her—like if she’s being bullied or having problems focusing at school—when asked direct questions. But she’ll probably open up and share things that are  bothering her once she’s involved in other activities, such as baking or playing board games, says Olson.

Listen, listen, listen. Once your child starts talking about her day, hold off on asking more questions and let her talk. “As parents, we tend to jump in and hurry kids along to the next topic. Pausing and listening are important,” says childhood development specialist Allyson Barry. Your child’s confidence will grow when she sees you’re genuinely interested in her day.

 

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