Happy New Year!
by Mary Manz Simon
The calendar doesn’t say “January,” but when I paged through the back-to-school ads, it felt like a new year. The atmosphere spins with nervous excitement during the weeks before school opens.
Questions like, “Which teacher did he get?” and, “What is the best price on graphing calculators?” float through conversations, on and offline. But before blitzing friends and family with that obligatory first-day photo, it’s helpful to take a step back. Pause for a moment to ask, “What do I want from this coming school year?”
Although the focus is appropriately on students, a new school year offers us the opportunity to rethink personal goals and consider new “best practices.”
Are you looking for a new friend? Sign up as a room parent or volunteer for a PTA committee. You’ll have a built-in network.
Do you want to see changes at your child’s school? When I wanted to affect decisions that impacted my kids, I started to attend school board meetings. (Boring, but revealing.) If you ask about openings on the curriculum committee, you might end up with a lot of work, but you’ll directly influence what happens in the classroom.
Although we benefit directly when meeting an individual back-to-school goal, our kids profit, too. Researchers, who are making the seasonal rounds of talk shows, remind us that students do better academically when parents are involved in school. I like bonus benefits like that! Plus, when we’re energized by a new goal, some of that excitement might rub off on others (although middle schoolers still might complain about returning to school).
At the beginning of a new school year, we can look at our child through fresh eyes. Ask yourself, “What can he do now that he couldn’t do several months ago?” After all, he’s matured during the summer and gained new skills. Can he take the dog for a walk? Fix his own breakfast?
Even though a child has watched you make a sandwich, she might not know how to spread crunchy peanut butter without ripping holes in the bread. So before school starts, teach life skills that your child will use regularly. Making a bed, folding laundry and wiping down the kitchen counter are procedures children will use forever. When routines are reshaped to match a student’s new level of maturity, we nudge a child toward greater self-reliance.
As you consider what your child can learn even before school begins, clarify expectations: What you mean by “hang up your jacket” might be totally different than the way a 10-year-old interprets that statement. Sharing baseline definitions now can prevent misunderstandings later.
Of course, not everything changes with a new school year. Your child will still need good sleep to perform well. Gradually work into a school-time nighttime pattern that allows for the inevitable stalls, like saying “good night” to the guinea pig.
Your child will still need good nutrition. A healthy breakfast is the best way to start a good day. Taking each of my kids individually on a “search and find” shopping trip to the grocery store prevented almost-full lunch boxes from being dumped after a day in a hot school locker. I literally walked the store aisles, asking, “What are your favorite fruits? Do you prefer banana or cherry yogurt?” Posting the list of kid-approved potential lunchbox ingredients guaranteed my children ate at least something they took to school. Even young children are aware of socially relevant issues, so challenge your child to help pack a zero-waste lunch.
During this coming year, consider ways to use the “found time” waiting for school dismissal and the end of soccer practice. Scrolling through Facebook naturally fills the minutes, but can you relax during a three-minute meditation instead? Even stress-relieving stretches done behind the steering wheel can leave you ready to face the noisiest carpool.
Before your schedule fills with activities and homework, think through the limited, and oh-so-precious, after-school hours. Every child needs downtime. Discuss screen-free options and weekday phone use now to avoid heated conversations later.
As you think ahead to your daily plan, designate a time for prayer. The bullying, fights and safety issues that make headlines reflect the problems children face in school hallways. Remind your children they can count on your prayer cover each day. Talking about lockdown drills and reviewing crisis intervention plans is essential for children to feel emotionally and physically safe. However, a child who knows he is being lifted up in prayer experiences a level of care that exceeds the best security practices. A daily conversation with God is a reminder that we have done our best to provide a safe send-off for our children.
Like all other school years, 2018-2019 will bring joys and disappointments, successes and failures. But preparing ourselves and our kiddos gives us all the best possible head start.
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