August 17, 2001

Back-to-School Guide For Parents

The precious summer months have whizzed by, and it's time for back-to-school" preparations, not only for students but also for parents.

Those three, simple words--back to school--may trigger excitement in some youngsters and dread in others. But for parents, the time-worn phrase signals the start of an important process--getting the children physically, mentally and emotionally ready to face the rigors and uncertainty of the school year and adjusting your routine to the hectic pace of fall from the lazy days of summer.

Whether you have a child in elementary school, high school or college, experts say that with a little planning, patience and scheduling, you can make life a bit easier for you and for your child.



A good way to make sure you and your child are ready for the first day of elementary school is to get organized. Experts say making lists of school requirements for each child is a good way to stay on schedule. It's far easier to remember that your daughter needs booster shots and your son needs new sneakers if you write it down on your calendar.

During the month leading up to the start of school, contact other parents to arrange carpools for school drop-offs and pick-ups as well as after-school activities. Some parents spend the entire month of August getting themselves and their children ready for school. But if that's not possible, make sure you're organized enough to get everything done. Getting organized helps to keep last-minute headaches to a minimum, and helps your child's chances for a successful adjustment.

Another key activity that helps you and your child prepare for success in school is to "continue the learning curve" throughout the summer, says Sheryl Walters, a psychologist for Chicago public elementary schools. Encourage your child to read books, magazines or newspapers to keep their minds stimulated. Your child may also benefit from working on math problems and writing while school is out of session.

"I personally don't think that kids need three months of doing nothing," says Walters, who has worked as a school psychologist for more than 20 years. "Children are supposed to be exposed to other activities that foster learning."

Another helpful practice is to set guidelines and establish a routine for your child during the weeks leading up to the first day of school. Earlier bed times and getting up at the same time every day brings more structure and discipline into your child's day, experts say. Elementary school children need about 10 hours of sleep each night, psychologist Walters says. That way, they'll be refreshed and ready to face the day's expectations with few surprises.

And as the big day draws near, Lewis says her boys already know a little about what to expect in the classroom and about what their teacher expects of them. Each year, Lewis meets with her sons' teachers, either over the telephone or in person. During those meeting she talks with the teacher about each boy's strengths and weaknesses and becomes part of the educational process.



With high school comes a passage into young adulthood, and a back-to-school experience that is a bit more intense, experts say. There's more at stake in high school, as students compete for scholarships, grants and awards. And then there's the clothes.

"Initially, the first thought is clothing," Steven Ballard says of preparing his son, Brandon, for school. "Now that he's 16, he's more fashion-conscious, so we want to find him something that he'll like and want to wear. So we begin to think about and budget for that far in advance."

Experts suggest that you begin shopping for clothes and school supplies early, so that you can take advantage of sales and have more merchandise choices. But clothes are just a small part of the back-to-school experience. Getting ready to face the academic pressures are perhaps the most essential part of the process.

Dr. JoAnn Roberts, a principal, says parents and students have to get the big picture by answering this question: "Where do I want my child to go from here?" Students should try to take honors or college-level courses if they're given the opportunity. Along with that, parents must make sure their children attend a school where they're allowed those opportunities and given a chance to excel.

"We, can no longer afford to send our students to mediocre schools," Dr. Roberts says.

Neither can high school students afford to choose their friends and relationships carelessly. High school students begin to form the nucleus of their social groups, and that often sets the tone for the rest of their lives. Parents should he aware of how and with whom their children spend their time.



Preparing for college is a whole different ball game. Perhaps it's the first time your child has ever been away from home. Maybe he or she has to deal with a roommate for the first time. No matter the circumstances, experts say, college students and their parents can make the transition easier with a little advance work.

The main issues that students have to deal with on campus, says Daniel L. Goodwin, assistant dean of Student Life and Activities at Howard University, are housing, registration, meal plans and financial aid. Like other colleges and universities, Howard has orientation programs designed to ease the transition to higher education.

"We have a very aggressive orientation program, not only for students, but also for parents," says Goodwin, the chief orientation officer at Howard. "[We] understand that orientation is a year-long process, not just one week."

Many students, especially those in their first year, may stumble or make mistakes. But there are ways and people to help correct those mistakes. Having a problem getting your tuition paid on time? You may be eligible for a deferred payment. Is your college student having trouble choosing class-es? Make sure he or she meets with an assigned counselor or advisor who can help them lay out an academic plan to help meet their goals.

The most important requirement on many campuses has to do with health. You thought your son's or daughter's days of shots were over, but they're not. Many colleges, including Ho-ward, require that their students receive immunizations, vaccinations and tuberculosis tests as a condition of admission. These immunizations help protect the safety and well-being of all students, which should be of paramount importance when you send your child off to college.

And when you do send your son or daughter off to college, make sure he or she has had some contact with someone at the school, experts say. Maybe your co-worker's daughter went to the same university or maybe your child has a friend who goes there. Have your son or daughter contact them so that the surprises are few. It doesn't hurt to have a mentor in place before your college student even sets foot on the campus.


Back-To-School Tips

Tips For Parents Of Elementary And High School Students

1. Make sure your child gets enough rest. Ease into the school-year sleep schedule by limiting television, video games and late-night meals.

2. If your child is entering school for the first time, make a practice run that follows the same route your child will take. Take your child to visit the school and teachers so that you both will feel more comfortable. Also, take that first morning off work so that you can see them off to school personally.

3. When buying school supplies, let your child choose at least one item, if not more.

4. Get to know your child's teachers, principal, coaches and other instructors.

5. Encourage good study habits by reading aloud to each other or checking your child's homework.

6. Find out who your child's classmates and friends are, and get to know their parents. Your child's socialization skills should extend outside the home to school, the playground and extracurricular activities.

7. Make sure your child is physically prepared for school. Eye exams, or, at the very least, annual physicals, are key elements of making sure your child is prepared to learn.

8. Learn and practice safety measures. If your child rides the school bus, get to know the bus driver so that he or she knows when your child gets off and on the bus.

9. Always reward a positive effort, attitude and good grades.

10. Communicate with your child on a daily basis. Communication builds trust.


Tips For Parents Of College Students

1. Make sure your college student's housing accommodations are settled before arriving on campus.

2. Make plans to visit your student at least once during that first year and have him or her come home for a break as well. Both parties are bound to miss each other.

3. Realize that your son or daughter is embarking on a new and difficult experience, so be sensitive to his or her need for privacy and independence. At the same time, ask questions that show how much you care. But try not to get of offended when the questions aren't answered to your liking.

4. Make sure your college student takes advantage of all the opportunities his or her college or university has to offer. Many campuses have state-of-the-art videoconferencing or computer systems that allow them to take classes on different campuses.

5. Encourage your child to participate in extracurricular activities so that he or she can have a well-rounded college experience.

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