9 Back to School Pro Tips

This article was originally published on the US Department of Education’s Home Room blog by Dorothy Amatucci. The photo is copyright 2015 by Geoff Livingston under Creative Commons license, provided and modified by Illinois PTA.

Back to school time can be a hectic time for both you and the kiddos. These are some of our best back to school tips to help ensure this school year gets off to a great start!

  1. Visit the school. Walk or ride the route your child will take and make note of school patrols, crossing guards and high traffic areas along the way. Talk to your kids about NOT talking to strangers and find out what, if any, policies your child’s school has regarding early arrivals or late pick-ups. Learn about the school’s entrance and exit policies. Then, if you can, pop in and check out what the inside of the school looks like.
  2. Introduce yourself to your child’s teacher. Introduce yourself to your child’s teacher and ask him or her about the preferred method of communication. (Some teachers are active on email and social media, while others prefer the phone or in-person meetings.)
  3. Make homework a priority. Make homework time a daily habit. Find a quiet and consistent place at home where your child can complete his or her homework. If your child is having difficulty with his or her homework, make an appointment with the teacher sooner rather than later.
  4. Prepare a study area. Set up a special place at home to do school work and homework. Remove distractions. Make it clear that education is a top priority in your family: show interest and praise your child’s work.
  5. Take charge of TV time. Limit the time that you let your child watch TV, and when you do decide to do TV time, make it a family affair. Talk together about what you see and ask questions after the show ends.
  6. Get everyone to bed on time. During the summer, children aren’t always on a schedule, which is understandable. But, proper rest is essential for a healthy and productive school year. Help your kids get back on track sleep-wise by having them go to bed earlier and wake up earlier at least a week in advance of when school actually starts.
  7. Make healthy meals. Let’s face it – no one can concentrate when they’re hungry. Studies show that children who eat healthy, balanced breakfasts and lunches do better in school. Fix nutritious meals at home, and, if you need extra help, find out if your family qualifies for any child nutrition programs, like the National School Lunch Program.
  8. Get a check up. It’s a good idea to take your child in for a physical and an eye exam before school starts. Most schools require up-to-date immunizations, and you may be asked to provide paperwork showing that your child has all the necessary shots and vaccines. So, check your state’s immunization requirements. And, always keep your own copies of any medical records.
  9. Plan to read with your child every day. Make a plan to read with your child for 20 minutes every day. Your example reinforces the importance of literacy, and reading lets you and your child explore new worlds of fun and adventure together.


Parent Guides for the New Science Standards

You may be familiar with PTA’s Parents’ Guides to Student Success, which highlight what your child will be learning in Math and English/Language Arts from kindergarten through high school. During the 2016-2017 school year, Illinois required the use of its new science standards, based on the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)

Now the NGSS developers have created a series of parent guides to help families support their child’s science education. The guides cover what students will be learning in the four key areas of physical sciences, life sciences, Earth and space sciences, and engineering design. The guides also give concrete examples of how the science students learn under the NGSS focus more on hands-on investigation and less on rote memorization. The guides are available for the following grades:

Check out the guide for your child’s grade level to learn more about what they will be learning in science and how you can help support them. Illinois families should also be aware that while the state conducted science assessments in both the spring of 2016 and 2017 for grades 5, 8, and 11, neither of those assessments have been scored due to the lack of a state budget. That means that families in Illinois have not seen how their student is doing in science since the ISAT science assessment given in spring 2014.

Helping Your Child Cope with the First Day of Kindergarten

Photo © 2012 by Lesley Show under Creative Commons license.

The first day of kindergarten is a big transition for your child. Some children are excited and ready to go, perhaps because they finally get to do what their big brother or sister has been doing. Others can find it a source of worry and fear.

Edutopia has an article about how to ease your child’s kindergarten fears. The article addresses five key steps you can take, and has several strategies for addressing each one. The five are:

  1. Practice saying goodbye.
  2. Learn the lay of the land.
  3. Address your child’s concerns directly.
  4. Establish a goodbye ritual.
  5. Keep your eyes open.

The article notes that it is important to watch for an increase in confidence and a diminishment of worries as they become more comfortable with the changes. Check out the full article to learn which strategies might help your child have a smooth transition to kindergarten.

4 Tips for Student Success in Middle School

There are a lot of changes for kids starting middle school—moving between classes, having a locker and combination, eighth-graders who are often much bigger, changing bodies, and more. Getting Smart published an article to help families prepare for middle school by identifying four keys to success.

  1. Middle schoolers need adults to teach them how the world works, but also be conscious of how their brain is functioning. Teenage brains are wired for learning, but the frontal cortex is not well connected yet. The frontal cortex, as noted in Illinois PTA’s report on young adults involved in the justice system, doesn’t get fully connected until the mid-20s. This important part of the brain helps to identify risks, make critical judgements, react rationally, as well as plan for the future and motivate ourselves. It is important for adults to begin conversations at this age to help them understand the role their actions today might have for their future, whether that is choices of friends, things they do, or pictures they post online.
  2. Middle schoolers need to be held to high expectations, but be allowed to make (harmless) mistakes. High expectations for our children are important, but we need to be sure that we aren’t focusing on perfection, but effort. Learning to work hard, do your best, and learn from your mistakes are critical parts of developing a growth mindset.
  3. Middle schoolers need support in thinking about the future, but also need to be encouraged to embrace the present. Coupled with the first two points, we need to help our kids think about what they want to do in life, how to set goals, and how to plan to accomplish those goals.
  4. Middle schoolers need parents to be involved, and they need to take ownership of their learning. Middle school is the age when kids start to pull away from their parents and begin to develop some independence. As adults, we need to support this critical development, if for no other reason than we don’t want them playing video games in our basement when they’re 30. But we still need to be involved with their lives because we know they won’t always make good choices. It’s also a time for us to encourage our kids to try new things and to discover what activities and ideas really excite their passion.

Check out the full article for more on these four keys to middle school success.

Photo © 2007 by GSCSNJ under Creative Commons license.