By Michelle Boyle
So, summer has been over for a couple of weeks, and we’re all back to the hustle and bustle of school. It can be an adjustment for all of us, especially kids. I know it has been adjustment for our family. We were used to sleeping in until the sun was beating hot, drawing pictures all day if we felt like it, eating a late dinner, and playing outside until after dark.Now, we’re rushing from one activity to another, either making lunches or cleaning up the Ziploc containers they were in, and trying to get into a routine despite all odds being stacked against us. Whether your child is new to JCDS or just stepping up a grade, these suggestions may be helpful for you and your child(ren) as you get back into the swing of school, no matter what grade they are in.
Let’s start with the most basic: sleep, sleep, sleep. Getting enough sleep is crucial for your child’s ability to cope well with changes and the stress of transition. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that elementary-aged children need at least 10 hours of sleep, and tweens need between 9-10 hours.
It isn’t just getting enough sleep that’s important; it’s also maintaining a consistent sleep routine. Experts recommend keeping your children on the same schedule on weekends as we do during the week. Otherwise your child will be operating on a sleep deficit at the beginning of a busy week, and that’s never a good thing.
The next suggestion is easier for some of us than others – imaginary play. My husband can do it for hours while I last 10 minutes, at the most. You want to find out how and what your child is doing in school, and play it out. This works especially well in the younger grades. It can be as elaborate as setting up a “classroom,” equipped with chairs and a chalk/white board, or as simple as encouraging your child to stand in front of you and orchestrate a lesson.3 In no time at all, s/he will be directing you to draw pictures, write stories, answer questions (in both Hebrew and English, if your child goes to JCDS!)
Follow your child’s lead and take the instructions seriously. Play out various scenarios that could potentially happen in a classroom—you are confused about the instructions and need clarification, you’re struggling with how to solve a math problem and need assistance, you’re frustrated because the teacher keeps calling on other kids and not you, you’re excited about an idea you have, etc. By doing this, you’ll find out how your child perceives and experiences such scenarios, and how s/he perceives his/her child’s teacher’s responses. This is also a great opportunity to help your child learn to navigate some of these more challenging moments when and if they actually occur.
Another tip for imaginary play, is to go with the flow (even if it’s messy!) Last week, I walked into my daughter’s room and found she had taken every book off her bookshelf. At first, I was a bit taken aback by the mess, but then I took a deep breath and asked what she was doing. She explained that she was categorizing the books according to level of difficulty, placing stickers on them to indicate the reading level, and then putting them in piles. She then set up cozy reading areas for her dolls and stuffed animals and read to them. I bet this is exactly what went on in her classroom earlier in the day.
Warning: If you try imaginary play with your child in Middle School, they may roll their eyes! Which brings to me to…
Ask Specific Questions & Share Your Own Successes/Struggles3
When talking with your child in Middle School about school, ask specific questions, such as: “What were two good things from your day? And two things you’d like to work on improving?” Many families make this a dinner-time ritual when everyone shares successes and challenges from their day. By doing so, you help reinforce the practice, which is taught in school, of finding good moments even in more challenging experiences.And maybe most importantly, your child will recognize that you struggle too, and struggle becomes a part of life to be managed, not avoided.
Foster and Nurture Adult Connection4
It’s important for every child to connect with at least one adult at school, so ask your child to whom s/he feels connected. Often, it is the teachers with whom they spend the most time, but for some kids, that person may be the P.E., Art, or Dance teacher. Encourage your child to nurture that relationship.
Designate a specific place in your house for your child’s belongings, including backpacks, binders, lunch bags, homework, etc. Your child should be responsible for putting his/her stuff back to the designated place when s/he gets home from school and for retrieving it in the morning. This could save a lot of time and cut down on frustration during the morning frenzy.
At JCDS, teachers post their homework assignments and due dates online. Sit down with your child, review the homework calendar, discuss a schedule and a time management plan for the week, and encourage your child to email his/her teachers ahead of time if you foresee any issues. This practice can be especially helpful to Middle School students, who are learning to juggle a more complex schedule with more assigned homework.
Carve out a homework space for your child, especially for Middle School students. The space should be dependent on your child. Some kids need absolute quiet to concentrate, and other kids do better with some background noise. When I was growing up, my mom and I had a homework ritual. After dinner, we both camped out at the kitchen table. She was in school at the time, and I thought it was great that we could sit side by side to tackle our work. I knew she was there if I had a question, but more importantly, I just knew she was there.
Links to Resources:
3Ask Specific Questions & Share Your Own Successes/Struggles
4Foster and Nurture Adult Connection