Back to school prep

Ten tips

As summer comes to a close, the first day of school rapidly approaches. And with the abundance of classes, sports, vacations and lazy days, sometimes we forget that our kids need to get ready for another school year—at the last minute.

We know our kids need to have their supplies purchased and medical forms completed, but is there more we could do?

With a bit of forethought and a little creative scheduling, you can help your kids be prepared for the first day of school—excited to learn and ready to absorb.

1 Attend orientation. Schools offer orientation for a reason. If your daughter is just beginning kindergarten or entering a new building, then go to orientation. Help her learn the layout of the building before she gets lost on the first day. Find her classroom, meet her teacher and locate the bathrooms. She’ll be grateful when she can enter with confidence instead of confusion her first day.

2 Talk to the teacher. If you are lucky enough to know who your child’s teacher is, contact her. Ask her what you can do to prep your son or daughter for the start of school. Any suggested reading material? Is there a checklist of skills he should know? A little research goes a long way.

After two years of learning D’Nealian handwriting at preschool, I’ve learned my daughter’s kindergarten will be teaching Zaner-Bloser instead. Now I can spend a bit of time with her straightening out the curls on the ends of a few of her letters.

3 Read books about school. If your daughter is nervous about going back to school after a comforting summer at home with mom or dad, then read her some books about school. There are many that your local library can help you discover.

“My favorite is The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn,” says Becky Provencher, who teaches a split class of kindergarten and first grade at Telpochcalli Academy in Chicago."It’s a story kids can relate to.”

4 Forgo the snacks. With vacations and being on the go, meals during the summer aren’t as structured or consistent as during the school year. But in the couple of weeks before school starts, do your best to get your kids back to a three-meals-a-day routine, especially your youngest kids who might be used to snacks every morning and afternoon. Hungry kids can be prone to whining and inattention.

“Snack times aren’t available at all schools,” Provencher says."If possible, find out what time your child will eat lunch and mirror that at home.”

5 Role play. If your child is new to school, then teach her some basic coping skills by using role playing.

“Play school,” Provencher says."Or, practice conflict resolution. Discuss situations that may arise and teach your child to learn how to resolve conflicts before they face them in school.”

6 Read, read, read. Summer is a time for fun, certainly, but don’t let kids neglect their basic need for the written word.

“A lot of libraries offer summer reading programs,” says Amanda Seely, a fourth- and fifth-grade split-class teacher at Winston Campus Elementary in Palatine."Parents should sign their kids up because the libraries offer great incentives and prizes.”

If your local library doesn’t run a reading program or if it’s too late to join, then just continue to encourage regular reading. It’s a skill they should never lose—and with your support, they won’t.

7 Keep a journal. Encourage your kids to jot down a couple of sentences each day in a notebook. Summarize what they read in a book or write down a few feelings for the day. Either way, their writing skills won’t fall away and they will be prepared for their first assignments.

“Kids need to practice their writing to stay on top of their skills,” Seely says."Even a couple sentences a day will go a long way.”

8 Review. In the weeks leading up to school, try running through some flash cards with your kids to review their math skills. Or, boot up the computer and search the Web for interactive math and reading games at sites such as or

“Reviewing the last few weeks before school helps a lot. We don’t have a lot of time at the beginning of the school year to review last year’s knowledge,” Seely says.

9 Get some sleep. Both teachers I spoke with echoed this idea. Kids need their sleep before school starts. We all tend to neglect our sleep in summer. The sun is out longer, which fools us into staying up later to attend festivals or simply hang out with the neighbors. Kids expend more energy running around outside and tend to sleep in more often.

But when it’s time for school to begin, many children find themselves exhausted and cranky. A couple of weeks before the first day of school, get your kids back on a normal schedule. Don’t let them sleep in much past their wake-up time for school.

Grogginess doesn’t help your child learn, and it doesn’t encourage a good learning environment.

10 Reconnect. Are you wondering if your daughter is still on par with her skills learned last year? Pull out some of last school year’s quizzes and see if she can still correctly answer the questions. If a lot of the knowledge seems to have disappeared, then contact your child’s school for resources.

“It’s OK if your kids need help. Don’t be afraid to ask,” Seely says.

Michelle Sussman is a mom, wife and writer in Bolingbrook. You can contact her at or visit her Web site at

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