Helping your child to prepare for a return to school

For parents

It might seem a little early to be talking about this topic, but actually the beginning of the new school year is now fewer than three weeks away. 

How can you help your children to get ready to go back to school, to start on the ‘right foot’ and set themselves up for successful learning in 2013? Here are some suggestions:

  • Consider involving your children in the practical aspects of getting back to school  – making stationery and textbook purchases,  organising their uniform, schoolbag, lunchbox, drink container etc. Children can make and check lists and investigate relative costs online.  By involving them in these activities you encourage independence and acceptance of responsibility – both of which are qualities that you want them to have when they’re at school.
  • If you haven’t already done so, set up a learning zone at home – somewhere that your children can use when they do their homework.  Involve them in planning what needs to be in the learning zone – for example, a wall calendar on which they can note when schoolwork needs to be completed, perhaps a computer, pens and pencils, adequate lighting and shelving and a display board. (If your child is older and has a school diary, emphasise how this is an important tool to help them to organise their learning.  Explain that you want to work with them to check their diary each day and help them to use it efficiently. This is not a punitive exercise.  Rather it’s a way of developing the necessary self-management skills that assist learning.) 
  • Encourage your children to think about what they would like to achieve at school this year.  Use the SMART acronym to help them develop some goals: the goal should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-boundFor example, I will use the wall calendar to mark the dates of spelling tests or I will practise using reading strategies when I am reading. (The reading strategy should be named and a specific time allocated to practising it – perhaps a week or two.)  
    Display their goals somewhere in the learning zone so that they can be reminded of them and revisit these goals each week to revise as necessary.
    Avoid setting too many goals. You want to make it possible for your children to experience success.
  • Talk with your children about returning to school.  Sometimes there are certain anxieties that need to be aired.  Discuss these and ask your children to suggest strategies that they might use to cope with certain situations.  Children can be reassured and empowered by this process.
  • Help your child to feel motivated and confident by talking positively about the return to school.  It’s a new year, full of new opportunities  – rather than an unfortunate end to a holiday period.
  • Resolve to be actively involved in your children’s learning.  A general question such as ‘How was your day?’ or ‘How was school today?’ will inevitability elicit a closed response such as ‘OK’ or ‘’Boring.’  Make your questions specific:  ‘What were you learning in your English/Maths lesson today?’ ‘Do you think you were successful in learning that?’  ‘Do you need more assistance to help you understand?’ Emphasise what they learned, rather than what they did.
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