It's time for parents to help their kids start the new school year on the right foot. ¶ Re-establishing routines, setting aside a space for homework, checking backpacks and keeping in touch with what's happening in the classroom will set the tone for a successful year. ¶ We asked Ellen Dischinger, kindergarten teacher at Risen Christ School in Minneapolis, Shannon Hebner, a fifth-grade teacher at Risen Christ, and Hannah Scherer, a licensed school counselor at Marcy Open School in Minneapolis, for back-to-school tips.

Kindergarten

Young children thrive on consistency and routine, starting from what time they eat breakfast to who will be picking them up after school. Talking over their schedule with them every morning can help put their minds at ease.

"Children need to know what to expect during their day," said Dischinger, who has been teaching kindergarten for seven years. "Even if kindergarten isn't their first school experience, they can still have separation anxiety and get really shy in a new environment. Knowing what the plan is for the day can be really helpful."

Parents should get into the habit of checking their child's backpack when they come home from school. A drop spot for the backpack will make sure it can be easily found each day.

Many schools send home a folder on the same day each week with important communications from the teacher about what happened that week and what's coming up. Contact your child's teacher with questions or concerns.

A frequent concern for parents of kindergartners is whether their child is making friends in the classroom. "This is a time when kids really learn the language of friendship: how to ask someone respectfully to play with them, how to share, how to be patient with others," said Dischinger. "It's really a process for them."

Middle school

Fifth grade is a transitional year, said Hebner. "There is the expectation of maturation approaching, but they aren't there yet."

Parents can help teachers by encouraging kids to take responsibility for their assignments and turn in work on time -- this will help them establish good habits for high school and beyond.

Help your child set aside a spot at home -- it doesn't have to be anything more than a place at the kitchen table -- where they do homework each night.

"Parents are the ones who know their child and know their child's schedule," said Hebner. "Taking a break after school is better for most kids than just sitting right down to do homework; doing homework in the car isn't really a good choice."

Older kids need a set bedtime -- by getting enough sleep, they will be able to concentrate better during the school day. Hebner contacts parents if she notices a child is falling asleep in class. "What happens at home does affect what happens at school," she said.

Advice from a counselor

Parents should expect kids of all ages to be overly tired and emotional during the first few weeks of school, said Scherer.

"They have to sit still again for the first time in a long time and they are really just holding it together during the day," she said. "At home, they are going to let it all out."

Scherer discourages parents from bombarding kids with questions about the school day. Instead, she suggests parents ask specific questions, such as "Who did you sit by at lunch?" rather than "How was school?" -- to which children will probably reply "fine" and say no more.

Encourage your kids to spend a few minutes outside when they come home from school; a healthful snack and fresh air will do wonders for them.

While both kids and parents might have mixed emotions about the end of summer, consider marking the beginning of the new school year with a simple celebration.

"Having a meal together is always a good idea. Sometimes a family breakfast with pancakes and waffles is easier to do than dinner," said Scherer. "It's all about what works best for the family."

Julie Pfitzinger is a West St. Paul freelance writer. Have an idea for the Your Family page? E-mail us at tellus@startribune.com with "Your Family" in the subject line.