Super start: How to prepare children, teens for new school year and transitions
Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017
MANHATTAN — The first several days of school will plant roots for the rest of the academic year, say education professors at Kansas State University.
"The first days and weeks are tough, so it's best for parents to provide as much patience, understanding and support as possible," said Spencer Clark, assistant professor of curriculum and instruction in the university's College of Education.
Providing choices, such as what to wear and whether to bring a lunch or eat in the school cafeteria, helps students feel a sense of ownership in the process of preparing for school, said Lori Levin, who also is an assistant professor of curriculum and instruction in the College of Education.
"Anytime kids have a choice, it's freeing," Levin said. "Choice is a huge motivator for children and teens alike."
Students experiencing full-day kindergarten will probably be tired, irritable, fussy and hungry for the first few weeks of full schooldays, whether they go to day care afterward or come straight home, Levin said. It will take them some time to get acclimated to being engaged in high levels of activity for six hours of the day.
To help prepare them for long days, Levin recommends having children go to bed 15 minutes earlier each night until they reach the ideal bedtime, using blackout window shades if necessary. Elementary-age children need 10-11 hours of sleep per night to function at their best, Levin said.
Mornings are important as well. The professors advise offering healthy breakfast foods or having high-protein granola bars on hand that children can eat on the way to school.
"It doesn't have to be elaborate, but they do need to have something in their tummies before they head off to school for hours of learning," Levin said.
Middle school brings new challenges to students, including changing bodies and a transition toward adulthood, Clark said.
"Studies show that the No. 1 thing that helps kids be resilient through middle school is knowing they have one adult in their life, whether it's a parent, teacher, coach or clergy member, who they can rely on," Levin said.
Regardless of the child's age, Levin advises parents to share honestly with their children about their school experiences, including the fun times, the challenging times and how they overcame difficulties. Also, it is key for parents to ask about and acknowledge their children's feelings about school.
"Listening attentively and without judgement is so important," Levin said.
For teens entering high school, Clark recommends parents talk with them about how their decisions at this school level will affect their future steps, Clark said. However, parents should not put undue pressure on their children and instead should help the teens balance their activities and homework to achieve success, Levin said.
They can do this by discussing the teen's schedule with him or her, helping teens decide when they should work on homework, and assisting them in selecting which extracurricular activities they want to participate in and how those activities may relate to their strengths and goals, Levin said.
"Studies of feedback from high schoolers show they are under tremendous pressure, which they put on themselves and feel from parents to get good grades, be in a sport and get into a great college," Levin said. "Having reasonable expectations is important. So many teens try to do it all and get overwhelmed. Having some down time without technology is really important."
For any age of student, the professors advise attending "back to school night," which many schools offer to provide an opportunity for students to see classrooms, meet teachers and get acquainted with peers. If that is not available, parents and students can stop by to meet teachers and learn the building's layout, Levin said.
"There are a lot of unknowns for students when they enter a new school, so anything to inform them about the unknowns will help to alleviate stress," Clark said.