Starting school or starting back at school is a busy time in many homes and can be a daunting task for young children and for some parents. I hope the following tips, based on my parenting experiences and nearly 40 years in schools might assist. At the very least they may assist you in framing up the questions you need to ask.
Establish a positive routine
Every family is different but a routine is vital. Set up what works for your family but then stick to it!
Areas to consider:
• Breakfast and getting to school on time are important
• When and where home learning is done
• Sharing the day’s experience over the evening meal
• Downtime, screen-free time, sport and exercise and bedtime.
This applies to the weekend too, though the routine and rhythm may well be quite different.
Help them organise themselves
Being in the right place, at the right time, with the right books or gear, can be quite a challenge during the first few weeks, even for older children. All children are capable in age-appropriate ways of beginning to learn how to manage their own school needs. Assist in understanding the physical layout of the school as those new to high school can be confused by the scale and complexity of the physical layout and student movement to and from classes. Understanding the school timetable, assisting in packing of the school bag the night before, with a copy of their timetable at hand, helping to make their own lunch are all within the capacity of quite young children.
Be there to listen
Keep conversing but do not grill! They may be too tired to talk some evenings, so don’t take crankiness as a sign that things aren’t going well. Let them know you are there for them and listen to them and respect their views (even if not accurate). Not every day at school will be seen as successful by your child. They may have a disagreement with a friend, they will make errors and will be frustrated at times. Their perspective on these events is valid but may not be the ‘whole picture’. Listening is important, as important as doing something. (Getting involved should be considered when you see a pattern of events unfolding). If you listen well, then your child will be more open to accepting your advice and direction.
Nutrition and Sleep
Children need a nutritious breakfast and lots of healthy food for recess and lunch time. Brain work uses a lot of energy. The day will have different lessons and thus can be long and demanding. Regular routines for sleep uninterrupted by digital devices is critical.
Reconsider parental boundaries
Going to school for the first time is an important symbolic step. It is a big step on a child’s journey to greater autonomy. Moving to high school is also an important symbolic step. The influence of peers is going to become very important and that your views as parents might sometimes be challenged. Let them make their case and then explain the reasons for your “yes” or your “no”.
Build a relationship with the school
Get to know the school and your child’s class teacher and specialist teachers. The teachers will appreciate your interest. They know that interested and engaged parents lead to better learning outcomes for students. Take each opportunity to attend information evenings, parent-teacher meetings, social events and generally get involved.
Take an interest in home learning
Developing study habits is the goal and that can take time and considerable practice as every child is different. It’s advisable to check their diary/journal each night and encourage them to write their home learning into their diary, and ask about what needs to be done and when. Even if the detail of some subjects is beyond your knowledge as it was for me or the subject not your preference, conversations about what they’re learning helps to keep you in touch and reinforces its importance in your eyes for them.
Get to know their friends
Making clear that friends are welcome in your house is a great way to get to know your child’s friends. With High School students, parent-free zones will become the venue of choice for after-school gatherings. Thus it is important to lay down some ground rules if you are out working all day. Get to know the parents of your child’s friend’s and positive social circles and contextual knowledge can build quickly.
Having your child involved in co-curricular activities can assist with the point above but make sure they have some down time and are not doing too much. They still need some unstructured time. Creativity tends to stem from boredom.
Keep it in perspective
Sometimes parents think school is everything and nothing matters more than high grades,
Keep in mind that learning is life-long and a child’s health and wellbeing, emotional and physical, must always come first as it underpins the quality of all learning, especially academic learning.
Schooling is important; learning to work hard and regularly produce a ‘personal best’ is important. The knowledge base developed is very useful; the critical thinking, public speaking, leadership skills and resilience developed at school are all important.
That said, not all children will shine at school and many who do not still turn out to be outstanding and highly successful adults.
Encourage them to do their personal best each day and enjoy the learning, whether it be academic learning or learning about who they are and their place in their community.