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Ask the Experts: School Readiness

Our Experts

Marie Cassidy MS Ed has been the Family Specialist for the Medford Family Network Family Center of the Medford Public Schools for the past 16 years. Marie has four stepchildren and five grandchildren. Denise Rosa is the Family & Community Outreach Coordinator at the Haley Pilot Elementary School in Roslindale, MA as well as the proud mother of five children ages 21, 16, 12, 9, and 14 months. Patrick Tiernan is the Religious Education Chair at Boston College High School as well as the father of a four-year-old son, Gabriel.

Is there anything parents and/or children should be doing over the summer to keep up with school and get ready for the next school year?

Marie: It’s all about making connections! What your child experienced in the past school year will come up again in September. Think about what s/he learned and build upon those things in fun ways Use the local sites such as parks, lakes, ponds, beaches and pools to notice same and different; to sort things; to count; to name and identify objects; to use all their muscles in balancing and stretching games; to use their imaginations and create stories that add different situations, feelings, and interactions. Go to local museums using library passes and explore different worlds – planetary, electricity, design, music, science – that are as interactive as possible.

Finally, even with more flexible schedules in the summer, it is important to keep the concept of schedule in place. Ask your child to help plan a day or an afternoon. What is the first thing you do? What comes next? What is the last thing in the afternoon? What is the first thing at night? Or, just keep him/her aware that there is a sequence to daily things – dressing, brushing teeth, eating, cleaning up. One week before school starts, begin to practice the new morning and evening school schedule.

Denise: Children who don't read during the summer can lose up to three months of reading progress. Have your child read at least 30 minutes a day during the summer break. This will improve his/her skills and make him/her enjoy reading. The public library is a great place to go with your child to find and borrow books. Play counting games with your child around the house or at the store. Also, younger children can learn about math patterns while playing with Legos or blocks. Cooking and baking are great for practicing measurement and fractions. Many popular board games and card games use counting, adding and subtracting, matching, and sorting.

Patrick: Try to get a copy of a reading list and coursework from the school. Even if your child doesn’t want to “learn” in the summer, it will give you a better sense of the expectations that will come with a new school year; sometimes being clear about increased demands is enough to help with the transition. This also provides an opportunity for your children to get a head start and boost his/her confidence.

What are some tips for parents to get their children ready and excited for school after the summer?

Marie: Set a positive tone for the upcoming school year by reminding your child about how much s/he has learned over the summer and discussing the exciting things s/he will learn this year. Ask both open-ended and specific questions to help your child identify his/her own feelings. Is there a friend s/he will be happy to see again? Is there an adult in the school system s/he really missed over the summer?

Denise: Get your child back on a school schedule. Have him/her go to bed at the time s/he would normally on a school night. Keep all school information such as bus assignment, emergency forms, class supply list, after school information, important school calendar dates in a safe place in case you need to refer to any of these items. Make sure your child has a current physical; updated immunizations, and a dental check up. Get the supplies your child will need such as pencils, notebooks, backpack etc. Check with the school to see if there is a uniform or dress code policy before you go shopping for school clothes.

Patrick: Talk with your child about positive memories from the previous school year as this will excite him/her about the prospects of returning. The new school year can be difficult because both children and adults can overemphasize the negative experiences. Discuss things that h/she is looking forward to and focus on goals for the year.

Try introducing picture or vocabulary cards for younger students into their daily routine while older students can read a required book before school starts.

What advice do you have for parents with children starting a school for the first time or changing schools?

Marie: Transitions are unique to each child. Think about what has helped your child cope with change in the past: how much advanced preparation helps; how much support is helpful. Help your child build bridges between the familiar and the new by creating transitional objects together such as a family photo album or trinket for him/her to bring in the backpack. Through conversation and pretend play wonder together how things might be the same and different.

Most schools have a series of meetings, events, and/or play dates for parents and children to get to know each other. These may begin the previous spring, be held throughout the summer, and be offered in the fall before school begins. Be sure to get involved with as many of these get-togethers as possible. Walk around and explore the building and the playground area while talking about “when you come here…” Read books about starting school. Also think about your own feelings of excitement as well as sadness at letting your child go. Find some other parents to talk to for emotional support, trading ideas, and building some new social connections. Being calm yourself will help your child deal with any stress and anxiety s/he may be feeling. And remember, your child’s new teachers are seasoned professionals at this.

Denise: Visit the school your child will be attending. This is a great opportunity to ask questions, meet the teachers, principal and staff, take a tour, visit the classrooms and get a feel of what the school day will be like. Ask for important school dates such as Parent Council meetings, and mark them down so you can attend. These meetings are important and a great way to get involved, informed and connected to the school and community.

Patrick: You can begin by sharing some of your own experiences changing schools and making new friends. While your child may not immediately show interest, s/he will feel comforted by the fact s/he is not alone in making the transition. It could be helpful to make a visit to the new school before school starts to give you and your child an opportunity to explore the area. For some, this may be determining where the bus will pick up/drop off; for others, it may be seeing where the playing fields are. Try to contact someone in the main office and ask if you could see your child’s classroom as this may remove some of the anxiety that comes with any transition.

Working parents often struggle with wanting to be involved in their child’s school, but not having the time. How can parents get involved in small ways, and what are some of the most important ways parents should to be involved?

Marie: Most schools now communicate with families via the internet. Stay connected and use this mode of communication with the teacher and the Principal as needed as your way of staying involved, but do check your school’s protocol on this. Parent organizations are always seeking help, small or large, short-term or long-term. Be clear about what you can do and make sure it is completed, and you will be appreciated.

Clip coupons from cereals and other food products, as most schools participate in this program. Involve your child by decorating a container at home to hold the coupons until it’s time to bring them in. Many schools have Friday evening events such as Movie Nights to include working parents and the school community. You can participate in and even help organize one of these. Send in a set of pencils or stickers you and your child pick out together once in a while - your child will be so proud of your involvement in this way, and every child will be gifted with your thoughtfulness.

Denise: Regular communication between families and teachers give students the biggest boost in their academic achievement. Attend parent teacher conferences whenever possible. Face to face meetings are the best, but not always possible. Talk to the teacher and agree on alternative ways of communication, such as phone or email. Help with projects such as school website, newsletters and translations that can be done at home and on your time. Be sure to review all materials that come home with your child.

Also, keep in mind that the things you do at home, like making sure your child reads every day, talking to your child about his/her day, and making sure homework gets done are important ways of being involved, as well!

Patrick: Look at the school calendar in advance and try to coordinate your work schedule to participate in two to four events during the year; advance notice can be all you need to stay involved. Your children will not feel as overwhelmed by having a parent who is too committed and you will be reassured that your efforts are appreciated.

Take some time to think about your gifts and talents. Maybe you can help make costumes for a class play, or help the school fix something it can’t afford to get fixed. Maybe there’s something you can do from home, like write for the school newsletter.

If parents see their child struggling in the first few weeks, what are some possible reasons, and how should they go about addressing their concern?

Marie: Remember that all children are different. Some will jump right in, and some will take some time. If your child gets easily overwhelmed, keep extra activities to a minimum. If your child is acting out or complaining, find out the reason by talking and listening to your child: is it hard to say goodbye to you in the morning? Does school feel too hard? Is it just hard in school to do things like wait your turn? Did s/he tease someone else? Did someone tease him/her? Is s/he scared of the bus? Is s/he worried the teacher does not like him/her?

Remind your child that you are working with the teachers and others at the school to ensure s/he gets all that is needed to help him/her bring out his/her best. Talk to the teacher about your concerns. School counselors are also on hand to help you answer questions and make decisions. Most importantly, stay positive and open-minded.

Denise: The first few weeks of school are difficult for many kids. It’s a new classroom, new teacher and new students. Children usually adapt very quickly and settle into a routine. If you notice that your child is struggling after a few weeks, make sure to address your concerns with the teacher and/or principal. It may be something as simple as needing glasses if your child doesn’t already wear them or it could also be a sign of a special need. Talk to the teacher – s/he may be able to figure out where your child is having difficulty and offer ways to support your child’s learning. You have the right to request testing if you feel it is necessary.

Also, if you think your child is bullying someone else or being bullied make sure to bring it up with the school and explain to your child that bullying is not ok. For more information on bullying, click here. Communication with the school is extremely important and parents should always feel like they can address any concern with the school administration and staff.

Patrick: Parents should first be clear about what their child is struggling with if possible; social difficulties are not necessarily the same as academic ones. If your child is struggling in the classroom, it may be something as simple as asking the teacher if they can sit closer to the front. There’s also nothing wrong with asking your child’s teacher what they think is going on.

Teachers can become defensive if parents begin the conversation with first-person statements (e.g., “I think he is not doing well because of the children around him”) so try to use second-person questions (e.g., “What do you recommend I do to help with her homework in the afternoon?”).

For older students, parents may even acquire a copy of the textbook and study along with their child during the year. This is a very powerful example of modeling learning and supporting the education of your son or daughter.

Other fact sheets you might be interested in:

Good Study Habits Begin at Home
Listen and Talk about School Every Day
Make Parent-Teacher Conferences Work for You and Your Child



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