Back to school tips for kids of all ages

Summertime is great isn’t it? Firefly catching, s’mores eating, late-night fireworks, family barbecues, swimming until your skin turns wrinkly, and sleeping in. As August rolls around and the back-to-school clothes, notebooks, and ready-made lunch options flood the aisles, you slowly start to plan for the new academic year.

Some parents are eager for the start of school. Getting back into a routine is a relief for some while others love the lazy days of summer with its freedom and spontaneity. Understanding your nature in this way will help you get your kids ready for school. If you’re naturally a routine-lover, enforcing the new routine of getting to bed earlier and getting up earlier over the week or two before school makes sense and will be easier for you than will a parent for whom routine is a hassle not a joy. Either way, by the time school starts, like it or not, a new routine will need to be in place and waiting until the night before can make it tough for kids of all ages.

Switch your child’s sleep and wake routines

It’s the wake-up time that matters most. For every hour that your child’s sleep routine is currently off, it will take four to seven days to adapt. In other words, if your child is getting up at 9 a.m. and will need to get up at 7 a.m. for school, it will take 8 to 14 days for the new routine be in place and for your child to wake up well-rested. For teenagers, who might be waking at 11 a.m. and will need to get up at 6 a.m., that five-hour switch will take a couple of weeks.

Here are the steps:

  1. Wake your child at the new wake time (the time they need for school in a couple weeks). This generates a sleep debt since they won’t have slept enough and will make them sleepier earlier at night.
  2. If you are a routine-oriented parent: Move the bedtime earlier by 15-30 minutes per day until you reach the new bedtime (See the How much sleep does my child need? chart)
  3. If you are a less routine-oriented parent: Watch closely for “tired” clues in your younger child and adjust the bedtime. Most kids will start falling asleep earlier within three days of the adjusted wake time. Note: Restlessness, agitation, and hyperactivity may mean you missed the sleepy clues.

Even though it may take four to seven days for each hour of time that the wake-up time adjusts for your child to feel rested when she wakes up, the bedtime will likely adjust sooner.

Bully-proof your child

Of course, you can’t actually bully-proof your child but you can give your kids of all ages scripts to use in a variety of circumstances that will empower them. Before school starts back up, role play with kids of all ages and all abilities to not just bully-proof them but encourage them to be an active bystander when they see other kids being picked on. Here are some age-appropriate scripts to practice with your child.

  • Preschoolers/Early elementary
    • If someone is making you feel sad or bad, or says. “I don’t want to play with you,” you can say, “I don’t like what you said. I’m going to play over there instead.” Then walk away. Or you could also say, “I don’t like what you did. I’m going over there.” And walk away.
    • If you see someone else whose feelings are being hurt and you want to help them, you can say to the kid being hurt. “Come play with me right now.” Or “I want to play with you. Come here.
  • Mid-elementary
    • When someone makes you feel sad or bad about yourself or is picking on you, you can say, “I have something else to do now. See you later,” and walk away. Let your children now they can talk about their feelings later with you or their pediatrician. If the same person keeps at it, he or she will stop pestering you if you keep ignoring them and walking away.
    • If you’re uncomfortable with how someone else is being treated, step in and say to the person being treated poorly, “Let’s go do something else together”. If this is happening among your friends, you may feel comfortable saying, “Stop it, I don’t like the way you are talking to _______. It makes me feel bad.” If they don’t stop then ask the person being treated badly leave with you. If they choose not to, you can say, “I don’t like the way this feels, I’m leaving now.”
  • Middle school/High school
    • You can be stronger with your friends now in middle school if they are treating you or other people poorly. Say “Stop it. Now. Talk to me (or the other kid’s name) nicer than that”. If they get all snooty or tease you about it, you can make a joke, stand firm or walk away. But if it keeps happening, think about whether you want to be friends with that person.
    • If the person treating you poorly isn’t a friend, just walk away and ignore them. If they are treating someone else poorly rescue the person being treated poorly. Engaging the bully won’t help.

Reduce first-day jitters

Whether it’s the first day of a new school or a new grade, many kids worry. Some worry about where their classroom is or where they will put their books, while others worry about whether they are smart enough to handle the work that third grade or seventh grade or tenth grade demands. Regardless of age, new school years bring new worries for many kids. Here are some strategies to help calm those anxious minds:

  • Do a dry run. Most schools are open the week before school starts as teachers are prepping their classrooms. Take some time to wander the halls, find your child’s locker, check out the cafeteria, find the nearest bathroom, whatever it takes to get familiar with the physical space and reduce the worries of day one.
  • Pull out some of your child’s best work from last school year. Remind your child of his strengths as a student. Whether they are an artist, musician, writer, or athlete, find the evidence from last school year that can reassure them that they are ready for this next step in the academic, social, and physical ladders of life.
  • Follow the bus route, walk to school, or ride bikes together: whatever the route to school, practice! Doing something in advance builds confidence and makes it easier the next time around.
  • Finish summer homework early. Don’t leave the summer reading, essay writing, or math packet to the last minute. By finishing it a week or more ahead of time you reduce anxiety the weekend before school starts.
  • New school means making new friends. Try to connect with other kids before school starts (no matter your child’s age) so the first day of school starts with at least one familiar face. For middle and high school kids, ask the school if there is a mentor program, a buddy system, or an orientation time for new students where they can meet current students before the first day of classes. For younger kids, school playgrounds are great places to hang out the week before school to meet other families.

Final words of advice: Each new school year is a new beginning for you and your child. Try to leave behind last year’s baggage and successes and allow this year to start fresh. The beauty and magic of childhood is the fact that kids are constantly changing, growing, and developing. Last year was last year. This year can hold the promise of joy and success for every child and every parent, too!

– Dr. Molly O’Shea, a board-certified Beaumont pediatrician, offers traditional medicine in non-traditional ways including newborn home visits and emailing parents directly. She has practiced pediatrics for nearly 30 years and was the “Ask the Pediatrician” columnist for the Detroit News for many years. A journal editor for the American Academy of Pediatrics, she also organized the AAP’s national continuing education programming for pediatricians. Dr. Molly loves cooking, traveling and spending time with her family.

Finding the right preschool when your child has delays

U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Destinee Sweeney.

For any parent, sending your child to school for the first time can be overwhelming and a little bit scary. But when your child has delays (speech, language, developmental), finding a preschool that is the right fit for your child and your family can seem even more daunting.

To make navigating the process of finding the best preschool feel less intimidating, I compiled a list of five important things to look for and ask about to ensure the best learning environment and support for your child.

  1. Parent/Teacher communication. Understanding how communication is handled and what to expect from the start will be of utmost importance. How will you find out about your child’s day? Will you have the opportunity to communicate with your child’s teacher at pick-up and/or drop-off, or will the teacher send home daily notes with information regarding what happened at school that day? Will you have the chance to ask questions regarding your child’s progress in person or does the teacher prefer email or scheduled phone calls? Will there be conferences to communicate how your child is progressing throughout the school year? All of these questions are important to have answers to prior to enrollment so that both the teacher and you as a parent have clear guidelines and expectations regarding communication. Make sure you are comfortable with the amount and means of communication promised by the preschool. This will set your family up for success, a positive parent/teacher relationship, and make sure you have clear, thorough information about what’s happening in your child’s classroom.
  2. Student to teacher ratio and classroom size. Making sure there are enough helping hands in the classroom is crucial to ensuring that each child in the classroom gets the support he/ she needs. The lead teacher can only be so many places at once, so knowing that there are other qualified adults in the room is important. A 3:1 child to adult ratio is ideal, especially if you feel your child will require more individualized attention. When thinking about student to teacher ratio, you also need to consider class size. Children with any sort of delay will likely benefit from being in a preschool classroom with smaller class sizes. Smaller classes allow for more one-on-one teacher instruction, provide a less overwhelming sensory environment, and create more opportunity for teachers to facilitate social/play interactions.
  3. Willingness to communicate with outside service providers. If your child has speech, language, and/or developmental delays, he or she is likely receiving outside services and working with a team of therapists. When looking for the best preschool for your child, don’t be afraid to ask if the classroom teacher is willing to communicate with outside service providers and join the team of professionals supporting your child. Your child’s teacher will have access to your child for the longest period of time of any of the therapists/professionals on the team. Making sure the teacher is willing to learn more about your child’s goals in therapy, what strategies are most effective/beneficial, and how he/she can incorporate and support generalization of your child’s treatment goals into their school day will be essential for a successful preschool experience.
  4. Visual supports and schedules. We all benefit from the use of visual supports throughout our day. Whether it is a “to do” list, a grocery list or a calendar, visuals make navigating our day more concrete and help to eliminate stress even as adults. For preschoolers, especially preschoolers with developmental delays, a classroom with strong visual supports and schedules is equally (if not more) beneficial. A classroom visual schedule creates routine, predictability, and comfort in what to expect and what is coming up next. Visuals help guide our thinking and make abstract concepts more concrete. This is vital when helping children understand and make sense of a new environment. Look for pictures labeling items in the classroom, photographs of peers for “checking in” or saying “hello,” social stories, and of course, the visual schedule.
  5. Movement breaks/play. Knowing how long your child will be expected to sit for a given time throughout the school day is important to know. Preschool-age children need to move their bodies to be accessible to learning and to soak in the important information being presented during structured activities. They need to “shake their sillies out.” Making sure that movement breaks are embedded in the classroom routine is imperative. This can be achieved by dancing, playing with equipment (e.g., scooters, balls, balance beams, slides, etc.), structured gross motor activities, and more. We also want to make sure that your child has the chance to play! Play unlocks language and builds social skills. Play helps create imagination and develops problem solving skills. Children need to play. Ask how much time in your child’s day will be dedicated to play. Make sure there will be the opportunity to explore new toys, engage in play, and develop foundational social skills that will serve your child forever.

So look for these important things as you explore options for your preschooler. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, to go on visits, to observe, and to make sure you feel comfortable with what the program has to offer. Of course, a teacher who will love your child for exactly who he/she is and make learning fun is key to a positive first school experience as well.

If you have any questions or would like assistance on your journey to finding a preschool that will best fit your child’s unique needs, do not hesitate to reach out to the Beaumont Children’s Speech and Language Pathology department, we would love to help.

– Ali Pettit, M.A., CCC-SLP, Speech and Language Pathologist, Children’s Speech and Language Pathology Department, Beaumont Health

First-day-of-school traditions

first day of school photos

Cropped image. AngryJulieMonday, Flickr. CC license.

Today is the first day back to school for many kids around metro Detroit. Lots of families have special “first day of school” traditions that they look forward to each year. We asked some of the Parenting Program staff and volunteers how they celebrate this special day.

  • My son is just now starting kindergarten, but when he was in preschool, we did an annual picture outlining his favorite food, what he wants to be when he grows up, etc. to see the differences between the years. We plan to continue doing that. We might find some new traditions as well! – Stephanie Babcock
  • We take our son’s picture in front of the tree we planted the spring after he was born. He holds a “First Day of (insert grade here)” sign with the date and wears a special outfit with new shoes for the first day, too. We end the day with ice cream (along with half the other kids from our school since it’s conveniently right across the street)! – Becky Bibbs
  • We’ve only done it twice so far, but we go out for ice cream after the first day. – Rebecca Calappi
  • Our back-to-school tradition is that each of our kids gets to pick a place to go out to dinner (or dessert) in the last few days before school starts. Now that our two oldest are in college, they’ve traded dinner out for their choice of homemade meal before they must go without Mom’s cooking for awhile. Since I’m a bit of a soft touch, that usually turns into a week of “kids’ choice” dinners before they head off to their universities. – Nicole Capozello
  • The only real tradition I have is forcing my kids to take smiley pictures on the front lawn before school until they want to scream with vexation. – Wendy MacKenzie
  • We always do pictures on the front porch with our kids holding up fingers representing the grade for that year. Our kids always get a special outfit purchased for that day. – Kelly Ryan
  • We always take a picture with our dog on our front porch. This year my son is starting kindergarten, so I would like to buy him an adult-sized shirt that says “Class of 2031” on the front and have him wear it each first day of school. I saw that some people hand-print their child’s hands in paint on the back for each grade, so we might do that too.  On Friday, we will go out for ice cream on Friday to celebrate the first week. – Emily Swan

What are your family’s traditions for the first day of school? We’d love to see how you celebrate!

Picture “perfect”

boy and girl on first day of school

Pretty much the last thing my kids want to do when heading off to school is pose for pictures. Much to their chagrin, they are lassoed by their parents and wrangled into poses on the front lawn. The sun, peeking through the last of the summer green, illuminates the various scowls and glares that my kids present to the camera. After many attempts, as the minutes before the first bell tick away, we finally manage to drag a half-smile out of them. And that’s what makes my family’s First Day of School pictures so memorable: the sheer effort it takes to produce a satisfactory result.

Hopefully, for most families, taking pictures on this momentous day is a less-trying venture.

Preserving the day for posterity is important. If a cheerful and smiling face is your priority, you may want to consider taking your pictures after school, when time constraints are less of a factor and tensions aren’t running as high. Every year I insist upon the before-school-sullen-kids photos, which are now more of a tradition than anything else. But I have discovered that the pictures taken after school are often more pleasant, both to shoot and to look at later. Everyone tends to be more relaxed, which leads to better cooperation and more genuine smiles.

If you want to truly capture a snapshot of “The First Day of School” though, avoid posing the kids at all. Have your phone in your hand (and really, where else would it be?) and grab some shots at different points throughout the day. Candid shots are amazing for preserving memories; you can instruct your subject to “look happy!” but as we know, a truly happy moment is something that can’t be produced on command. It must be captured. Sneakily. And really, those shots where someone is being a stinker or otherwise not performing up to par, those are the ones people like to see on Facebook and Instagram.

The first day of school, for many, offers a wide range of emotions: excitement, trepidation, frustration, panic, relief. (My children could be described as “grumpy,” largely due to my photo efforts.) Which moments will be preserved in your photos?

– Wendy MacKenzie is a mother of four, Parenting Program volunteer, and a champion at annoying everyone on the first day of school.

4 back-to-school tips

boy with textbook

I’m not sure where the summer went, but when I see school supplies at Target, I know our lazy days are coming to an end.

For me, this means getting ready: the kids and me.

Rise and shine!

Last year was kindergarten, so I’m hoping first grade won’t be so much of a shock. However, that doesn’t mean I’m not going to start getting the kids out of bed in the morning earlier and tucking them in before the sun goes down.

It’s a huge help for us to get back into the wake-up routine before the first day of school. That first week or two, getting them up is easy because they’re excited, it’s new and fun. But that wears off fast and it’s a nice buffer to not have to pull them out of bed every day.

Lunchtime

I get my kids as involved as possible in making or choosing their lunch. My daughter loves hot lunch at school and has very few days where she wants to bring a lunch. If your school has a lunch app, I highly recommend downloading it. They love asking what’s for first choice, second choice and all the sides that being served the next day.

When it comes to packing lunches, last year, I burst out the gate. I made sandwiches that looked like snails and drew turkeys on the baggies if they had a turkey sandwich. By the end of the year, the choices were PB&J with grape or strawberry jam. I was over it. So, prep lunches as much as possible the night before. That way, you just have to throw stuff in their lunchboxes before running to the bus.

Getting there

Y’all, seriously. That drop-off line is as bad as they say. Plan for it. You will be sitting there for 10 minutes while kids pile out of cars safely. You will be honked at by someone late for a meeting or someone who didn’t get their coffee. Bad words occasionally get exchanged. Don’t fall down that rabbit hole and please don’t lash out at the people directing traffic.

Park far away from the door and walk your kid up. Or park on a side street near your school and walk. We walk to school every day. When it rains, we all have boots and umbrellas. In the cold, snow pants and scarves. It really helps relieve some of the morning stress, plus, my daily step count skyrockets.

Papers are coming

Prepare yourself for the tidal wave of papers coming home in the first week. Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts, Drama Club, fundraisers, class rosters, community events—you name it. And, logically, the more kids you have the more papers you get at home.

That first week or two, get organized. Have a spot for schedules, forms you need to sign and return, and forms with dates you need to put on your calendar.

And my last bit of advice, you can’t fully prepare for everything, so don’t try. Just have the kids lay out their clothes the night before, pack their snacks in their backpacks, have their water bottles ready to fill and turn the coffee pot on. Only 180 days to go!

– Rebecca Calappi is a freelance writer, adoptive mom to twins and past Parenting Program participant. Surprisingly, she’s mostly sane.

Getting Gray ready for kindergarten!

little boy standing in front of school bus

Gray was excited to do a test run on the school bus.

This is the moment. My first-born child is starting kindergarten. As much as my maternal instincts want to protest this major milestone, part of me rejoices in the independence and new life phase that my son is about to embark on. He’s attended preschool twice a week, so he is familiar with structure regarding lunch time, clean-up, etc. But since beginning kindergarten will be such a big transition, we made several extra steps to get him ready for his start to school. Already we:

  • Visited the elementary school at Kindergarten Round-Up to meet the principal, two possible teachers, and tour the school (including the library, gym, classrooms, cafeteria).
  • Got to ride a school bus and learned basic rules such as remained seated while driving, where kindergarten students sit on the bus, etc.
  • Downloaded the app that school uses for electronic communications to stay connected over the summer
  • Met Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) members at Open House. These are the volunteers who will host meetings and different fundraising event throughout the school year.
  • Did a monthly calendar over the summer to check off daily and start a countdown until the first day of school
  • Included him in back-to-school shopping for his lunch box, backpack, and supplies he will be using when in school
  • Phased in an earlier bedtime (one month before we started moving bedtime, two weeks before we will move bedtime up again) to ensure an adequate night’s sleep for full day of learning.
  • Discussed how a typical week at school will look like (five full days which means no more days with Nana) and how we will incorporate fun things outside of school days. This was big for my little guy because he thrives on consistency.

As this is our first year, we are looking to learn more about how to effectively transition into the school year from summer fun and eager to watch my child grow into this new chapter.

– Stephanie Babcock is an IFS coordinator with the Parenting Program. She’s a proud mom of two.

Summer slide: It’s not a dance

boy reading

We’re all excited as the school year ends and summer is upon us. Most children are so happy on the last day of school as it means sleeping in, staying up late, and best of all: no homework! But many parents know that we must keep our children reading, writing and doing math to prevent the “summer slide.”

What is the summer slide?

This is the slide in academic skills that happens over the summer. When our children return to school, they’ve fallen to a level lower than they were at when they left school in June. Typically, students can lose up to two months of learning in the summer and it takes the next grade’s teacher four to six weeks to get students back to the level where they previously were. The most profound thing about summer slide is that it is cumulative.

Over the years, the one- to two-month slide adds up and creates a gap by the time the child reaches high school. However, a parent can help your student avoid the “summer slide,” provide the opportunity to step right into the new grade level, and even learn the new grade level materials.

Summer slide is more common in lower-income levels, although no student is exempt.

Reading over the summer

Research shows that the amount of time that students spend reading outside of school is linked to gains in reading achievement. In fact, it shows that if your child reads just six books during the summer months, the summer slide can be avoided!

However, these books need to be “just right fit” books. Talk with your child’s teacher before the end of the year to find the right reading level. The books can’t be too hard or too easy; they need to be just right. This video can help determine a “just right” book.

A child is most likely to read books that he or she selects. We need to give children the time needed to select books that will motivate them to continue to read all summer.

Summer reading programs

  • Most libraries offer free reading programs that are motivating and fun. Check out your library online or at your next visit, so your child is signed up and ready to participate. Libraries are meant to be a place to read, have fun and learn as a family. When my children were little, I packed a lunch, went to the library, then headed to the park to spend some time both playing and reading.
  • Some bookstores offer summer reading programs and discounts on books. One chain even rewards summer reading with a free book at the end of the summer. Also, purchasing books for your own home library may be fun for your child, especially for high interest books. Many stores have a book list for each age and grade that children love, as well as the top picks for different age groups.

Just keep on reading

One of the most important tips that I can offer to parents is to keep reading! It isn’t meant to be something we do for a half an hour a day. It can be done all day and every day.

In the morning, grab a newspaper and read the comics, the headlines or weather. In the afternoon, provide time for your child to read the “just right” books that they selected. In the evening, find time to read with your child and encourage them to read aloud to you. Talk about the vocabulary that you encounter in your reading. Reading together helps build listening skills, as well.

When your child was an infant, you may have had books all around the house. As children grow, we tend to keep books in a central location. Instead, I suggest keeping high-interest books all around the house because kids are more likely to pick up a book and read if they are conveniently set around the house. You might also keep some books in the car; children spend a lot of time while moms drive them from here to there. It’s the perfect place to keep a few books for them to read.

There are many online reading programs that find a student’s level and provide motivational activities and books for your child. Talk to your school to see if this is available for you to purchase.

Another idea is ordering a magazine that your child enjoys. It gets delivered right to your house each week or month. They can be very motivational and can keep kids reading.

Don’t forget about math

Math is another area where students slide during the summer. Provide level-appropriate workbooks to practice the skills that your children learned during the school year.

Estimation is an important skill that can be practiced whenever you can. It can be how many miles to you think it is to grandma’s house, how long you think it will take to get somewhere, how many M & M’s are in the jar. Whatever you think of to support this skill will benefit to your child.

Write, write, write

Writing over the summer is also important. Provide a fun summer journal. Each day, have your child take time to write. It can be a journal of what they are reading, or maybe a place to write a story or poem. It is often fun to reflect in writing what they have done that day. Of course, a letter to grandma is always loved and appreciated. Just find time to practice writing.

Enjoy your summer!

– Lori Irwin, M.Ed., is a Parenting Program volunteer. She’s a former teacher of children with severe disabilities in reading, a consultant with a leading educational book publisher, and a mother of two adult children.