Getting back on the school track

  • Article by: TIFFANY GEE LEWIS , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 30, 2011 - 9:05 AM

Well before the first bell rings, get your kids prepared for the transition by getting organized, setting goals and talking things through.

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A back-to-school shopping list.

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The Shaw family of Woodbury has a yearly ritual. Two weeks before school begins, the sporadic summer bedtime gets set solidly at 8 p.m. An hour before that, the kids shower, finish their evening chores, lay out their clothes for the next day and do their mandatory 30 minutes of reading in bed.

"They tend to resist it a little that first week," said Jen Shaw of her three children, "but by starting it before school, they're not resisting it once school starts. It's one less battle to wage."

Not every family starts so early or follows such a rigid schedule, but getting kids back to school involves physical and emotional transitions, said Yvonne Gentzler, associate professor of family, youth and community at the University of Minnesota.

Clean and organize

Children do better in an environment that is orderly, so get them headed in the right direction by encouraging them to clean their closets and desks and come up with a system for getting dressed on school mornings. Post a family calendar or bulletin board in a high-traffic area so every member of the family knows about upcoming activities. In boxes and out boxes can help keep important papers and homework assignments in one place.

"Being organized and having a routine at home will help everyone make the transition to a more disciplined school routine," Gentzler said.

Create a vision

Beyond rebooting household routines, setting goals is another way to prepare for back-to-school. The Shaw family holds an annual meeting at the end of each summer to discuss individual and family goals for the coming year.

Making goals for an entire year can be overwhelming, especially for younger children, so Gentzler suggests short-term goals for a few weeks or months. Goals could include making a new friend, signing up for a club, spending less time on the computer or learning a new skill.

"Too often we look to grades as the only way students find success," Gentzler said. "I think there are other measures of being successful at school."

Talk about concerns

Barb Thibaudeau said the back-to-school prep for her Maplewood family used to be labeling school supplies and laying out a new outfit. Now that her children are entering their teens, the focus has shifted to balancing schoolwork and extracurricular activities. She's talking with her 16-year-old son about getting more sleep and issues such as not bowing to peer pressure. Thibaudeau said she starts these conversations before the school year.

"When you're not in the mix, it's easier to work through the processes of school," she said.

If parents lay the groundwork for an open dialogue, kids know they will have a listening ear when situations arise.

Be choosy

Kids can easily get overscheduled, so decide which activities are worth the time and effort. Be sure to factor in enough time for homework and the sleep that children require to be on top of their game at school, Gentzler said.

"Select quality, not quantity," she said. "Kids don't need to be signed up for every activity that comes their way."

As a final capstone to summer, it helps to not look forward, but back, and talk to children about what they learned during the summer and what they can take with them into the school year.

"It helps students of all ages to begin making connections," Gentzler said. "That's what teachers do in the classroom."

Tiffany Gee Lewis is a St. Paul-based freelance writer.

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