As the long summer of fun stretches ahead… at least until August, some parents will begin to realize that the start to a new grade brings new expectations and academic demands. How can everyone best prepare?
It might surprise many adults to learn that the average six-year-old needs at least ten (yes, 10!) hours of sleep. Their bodies and minds are growing and changing constantly, and the stimulation of a new school year- with a new teacher, friends, schedule, and activities- means that adequate sleep is paramount for learning. Ideally, parents and guardians will ease children into a new schedule at the end of the summer by shifting bedtimes earlier in half-hour increments during the last week or two before school starts. A calming routine is very helpful for good sleep hygiene: start by turning off electronics, take a warm bath or shower, then follow up with quiet reading time and lights out. Set an alarm for the morning and encourage your child to be as independent as their maturity level allows. (www.sleep.org/articles)
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day… who said that, anyway? There is some debate about whether this is true for everyone, but for a child whose stomach is approximately the size of their fist, the importance of good nutrition to jump-start the school day is clear. Whatever works for your family is fine… not many people have the time to make an omelet, but a breakfast high in protein, fiber and vitamins (cold pizza, anyone?) will keep your child’s brain functioning at its best until snack time! (www.webmd.com/food)
Summer is generally an active time due to playdates, camps, and vacations. Suddenly in September school starts, and young children are asked to sit still and listen for long periods of time. While teachers know to build in recess breaks so that children have a chance to expend some of their abundant energy, parents need to consider how much exercise children are getting outside of school. Just as you would for your own health, encourage them to walk or ride a bike to local attractions. When you go to the doctor’s office or the mall, take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator. Play catch or walk around the block together, and on a rainy day have a family “freeze dance” or play Simon Says! (www.theactivetimes.com)
Read with your child! Fiction, nonfiction, books, articles, comics, poetry, signs, cereal boxes… It doesn’t really matter, as long as you’re enjoying your time together! If you enjoy reading, let your child see you reading too- have a daily DEAR time at home (Drop Everything And Read). Show them that reading is fun as well as a way to learn new information. If you have a computer or other device, go online and investigate a topic of interest: dinosaurs, outer space, ballet dancers… and be sure to discuss the fact that not everything on the internet is true! If you’re cooking a meal, have your child help read the recipe (or back of the box) and find the ingredients you need. (www.educationworld.com/a_curr/columnists/miller/miller002.shtml)
In the elementary years, children will need to be able to recognize and write both capital and lowercase letters and be familiar with the sounds letters make. Their first and last names are good places to start! Start their journey towards learning phonics by having fun with tongue twisters (alliteration) and reading rhyming poetry or Dr. Seuss books. The more familiar students are with basic sight words (most two-letter words), the more fun it will be to attempt to read and make meaning of a story. Ask questions like “What do you expect?” or “Why do you think?” that encourage discussion. Practice taking a “picture walk” together, finding context clues in the cover and illustrations that help predict the content of the book. (www.readingtokids.org/ReadingClubs/TipPictureWalk.php)
Count everything! Forward and backward, by twos and fives and tens… In order to do math, your child needs to know the counting words and understand that each one corresponds to an object in front of them. Can they tell you how many toys they have, or who has more candy? Your child should ideally be able to recognize and write the numbers from zero to twenty (or one hundred), and at minimum read and write legibly the digits zero through nine. There are lots of simple place value games to play using regular playing cards. Just remove the aces and face cards, divide the deck into two piles, and play “War” (the person with the higher card keeps both). Or turn the cards face down and try to match numbers, saying them both out loud. Have your child make simple flashcards and decorate them with stickers. Many resources can be found at the Dollar Store! (www.nzmaths.co.nz/number-early-learning-progression)
If you have a non-digital clock at home, practice telling time to the hour and half-hour. Look for shapes and patterns everywhere you go… A trip to the market can be a wonderful educational opportunity if you give your child an age-appropriate assignment. For example, they can weigh produce, figure out how many servings of an item your family needs, and calculate or estimate price differences between brands. Make sure you clarify the budget or number of products in advance to prevent shopping meltdowns! (www.famillyeducation.com/fun/math-activities)
This seems like common sense, but homework is for the student, not the parent! It is intended to be extended practice of a skill learned in school. If your child does not understand the homework, do your best to be supportive, but do not attempt to complete it for them! Ask questions like “What did you learn in class?” and “What did the teacher say?”. Set up a study area that is quiet and comfortable, and make sure they have all of the materials they need (paper, pencils, crayons, scissors, etc.) so there are no excuses not to get straight to work. If a student is struggling, frustrated, or taking an hour every night to do a simple worksheet, the teacher needs this information. Maybe the workload could be modified for your child, or perhaps everyone in the class had trouble with the assignment and the lesson needs to be retaught. (www2.ed.gov/parents/academic/help/homework/homework.pdf)
Find out how the teacher prefers to communicate and reach out if you have a question (or if there’s anything going on at home. Most parents would be surprised at what children share with their teachers!) Life changes, such an addition to the family or move to a new home, affect a child’s sleep patterns and energy level. Teachers also notice mood changes and can make suggestions to help with the beginning of the year stressors.
If your child ever comes home and complains that the teacher did something that was “unfair” (it’s bound to happen!), please check it out with the teacher before going to the principal. Most teachers work very hard to meet all of the very varied needs of their students and will listen to concerns presented calmly and as a request for information. The best thing for your child is for you and the teacher to be part of a team, with the goal being your child’s academic, social and emotional success. It really does take a village to raise a child, and teaching children that it’s okay to ask for help is a valuable life skill.
In conclusion, it is possible to have a smooth transition into school if you keep a few simple things in mind: meet your child’s physical needs, prepare them academically, and keep the lines of communication open. Best wishes for a successful year, and child!
About the Author:
Jill Van Rawley, MAH is a long-time educator and mother of two thriving teenagers. She has been working at CORA for the past four years, and before that performed a similar function at Catapult Learning for five years. Jill has taught every age from preschool through eighth grade in private, public, and parochial schools. She was a classroom teacher in the upper elementary grades in Cherry Hill, NJ for ten years before staying home for several years when her daughters were young. Teaching for CORA gives Jill a chance to provide targeted instruction and hands-on learning to remedial math students, and also indulge her creativity in art, music, and drama with enrichment reading groups. Jill teaches at three different parochial schools in Philadelphia.