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Time to head back to school

Advice on how parents can smooth the way for their children when the school year starts
/ Source: TODAY

As schools reopen around the country over the next few weeks, students and parents alike are getting ready to make the transition from beaches and summer camp to homework, tests and papers. Education expert Eva Ostrum shares advice on how parents can smooth the way for their children when the school year starts.


Some of the biggest challenges revolve around reintegrating structure into children’s daily regimen, as opposed to the more relaxed way they spend their time over the summer. Students need to readjust to a disciplined school year schedule of getting up early in the morning and going to bed at a reasonable hour the night before. They will also need to get back into the swing of spending time on homework, instead of coming home from camp or from their summer job and playing or hanging out with their friends. Timing in general becomes more structured and disciplined once school reopens than it tends to be over the summer.


Parents have to readjust to these changes too. Over the summer you pack your children’s lunch for camp, make sure the sunscreen is in their bags, plan other recreational activities, perhaps even a family vacation. You are more of a cruise director when it comes to your children’s activities.

In September (August in some areas), a parent’s focus shifts to making sure homework gets done, getting to know your children’s teachers, and making sure your children have everything they need to do well in school. You revert back to your role as supervisor, enforcer, and disciplinarian - much more so than you had to during the summer break. That shift can cause a lot of stress for parents as well.


Two weeks before school starts, start putting kids to bed earlier — within an hour of when they will have to go to bed once school starts. This would be this coming week for most of the country.

One week before school starts, cut that window to within half an hour of when they will be going to bed come the first day of school. Don’t worry about when they get up in the morning — this early-to-bed routine will start to adjust their naturally occurring sleep patterns and make it easier to get up earlier on the first days of school.

You’ll also want to start discussing school now. Ask them what they are looking forward to, whether they are excited to see their school friends, and what they think of the teachers they will have. You can even ask them to write something for you on the computer about the most exciting or enjoyable part of their summer, since so many younger children in particular have to write that type of composition in that first week of school anyway. Give them something like this Kidspiration software program (for younger children) or the Inspiration version for older children that will make if fun for them to play around with their thoughts and ideas, and get their brains warmed up for school assignments.

Finally, make appointments to meet your children’s teachers before school starts. Find out what the teachers’ priorities are for their students in terms of learning and academic performance, and ask how you can best stay involved and in touch with them as the school year gets underway. Not only are you letting them know that you are an involved and concerned parent, but this also ensures that teachers will be more likely to contact you immediately if homework starts to slide, your child comes late to class, or other small but troubling developments that can quickly escalate into larger problems.


Most teachers have their own school supply requirements that you have no way of knowing until classes have met on that first day. Parents will save themselves time and money if they send their children to school on that first day with an assignment book and one thin spiral notebook or loose-leaf in which students can write down everything else they need to go out and buy that afternoon or evening.


As far as television, the two best places for it are in the family room and in the parents’ bedroom. Those locations give you maximum control over what and how much TV children watch. Televisions in children’s bedrooms provide unnecessary distractions from schoolwork. The end of summer is a great time to take those television sets out if they’re already in there. Make TV’s in the bedroom a summer treat if you want, but not part of the school year.

In addition to teaching for almost a decade, Eva Ostrum has consulted to schools, education think tanks, and government agencies; has developed curriculum at the school and district levels; and has designed, written successful grant proposals for, and directed teacher professional development programs. Her publication credits include articles in Education Week and Teacher Magazine and she appears periodically on NBC’s Today show as an education expert.