Going Back to School: A Guide For Parents

Summer is coming to a close which means it’s time to start thinking about the big return to school! This time of year brings about all sorts of anxieties for teachers, children, and parents.

There is no doubt that you have many questions and concerns as the new school year approaches, especially if you have a little one beginning their journey. Kindergarten in particular can seem daunting, but there are many ways to ensure your child is ready to go!

First of all, let me assure you that these feelings are normal. Therefore, I–along with some other expert educators–have created a “Going Back to School” guide to make the transition from summer to school easier and enjoyable.

If we could tell you only one thing, it would be…

As educators, we know the children who come through our door are from all different places with different experiences. Some children love school, some don’t, and some haven’t stepped foot in a school yet! We are prepared for whatever comes our way. The first month of school is all about community building, developing relationships, and creating structure and routines. We want every child to feel safe, happy, and successful. 

What You Should Do: Establish a Nighttime Routine

School readiness comes from building responsibility and subsequent independence in your child. It is important to let your child know that they are fully capable to help with all the little (and sometimes big) things that go into getting ready for school.  

To make the morning rush a little easier, their backpack must be ready to go the night before. This means that your child makes sure that their folder with any completed homework, signed permission slips, etc. is in the backpack and set by the door you leave from.

Pro tip: Make this part of their bedtime routine. Before they go upstairs to brush their teeth, have them check in with their backpack first!

What You Should Do: Create an After-School Unpacking Spot

Have you ever scrambled at the last minute for picture day, or 100’s day, or a class field trip, or a school project (I could go on and on!) only to find that crumpled-up flyer at the bottom of their backpack? To alleviate such situations, make a designated spot in the house for them to unpack their backpack after school. The designated spot should house all school communication, their lunch bag, and anything else they bring home. This simple action not only keeps you in the know, but it also cleans out their backpack daily.

Pro tip: Have your child do this BEFORE they have a snack after school. Once they sit down, it’s over!

What You Should Do: Build Their Independence

Here is the big one: your child is fully capable of making their own lunch! Yes, you read that right. So let them do it! It takes one big thing offof your plate, AND it gives them ownership over their lunch. Win, Win!

Start small by letting them pack their snack, then gradually add more as they become comfortable with the process. My rising second grader made her own lunch every day as a first grader and I can’t tell you how much it has helped lighten my load. But more importantly, it taught her so many life skills. She now knows how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, cuts up her own fruits and veggies, and loves that she can choose a small special treat to add to her lunch.

Pro tip: Make your own lunch for the next day alongside your child. Play some music and dance. Have fun with it–the more you do, the more your child will too! 

What You Shouldn’t Do

There is no doubt that at some point in your child’s educational journey, you will disagree with their teacher. It may not be this year or next, but someday.

It is okay to not agree with your child’s teacher. We all have our own opinions after all. Keep in mind that as much as you may disagree with their teacher, please don’t talk negatively about them in your child’s presence. When you start to talk negatively about teachers around your child, they will start to feel it and react as such in school. I can promise you that this approach will help no one, and will probably make the problem worse.

In moments like these, it is hard to remember that we love your child and only want the best for them. Even though we may not agree, we are all on the same team, so let’s work together to find a compromise–keeping your child at the forefront of our minds. 

With that said, if you do have a problem with the teacher (friendly reminder that we are human too!), please tell the teacher and work together. Do not go directly to the principal without trying to resolve it at the classroom level first. If the principal is a good one, they will send you right back to the teacher anyhow. (Oh, and the superintendent will do the same!)

Ideal Parent/Teacher Communication

As teachers, we strongly encourage you to be involved in your child’s learning! Attend curriculum night, go to conferences, read newsletters, and get involved with the school. Most importantly though, if you ever have a question or concern, never hesitate to reach out. We are here to help (that is our actual job!), so don’t shy away.

Also, as you would with the doctor, be your child’s advocate. If something seems off that we haven’t brought to your attention yet, bring it to ours. As much as we are in tune with every child’s individual needs, we also have a full classroom of students. So don’t wait if you are concerned about something. 

Communication for all teachers looks different but for most, email is best. The hours in front of my students are precious and I utilize every minute. Therefore, I don’t take time away from them to answer the phone. Most teachers check their email during lunch and after school and will most likely respond within 24 hours.

If your school uses other communication platforms like Seesaw, you can use that messaging feature as well. Some teachers even like quick check-ins during pick-up time. Quick check-ins allow for an immediate response, but please be mindful that the teacher has their own family to get home to, so if you need a longer conversation, schedule a meeting with the teacher. 

When You Should Worry

No news is good news! This old adage still stands for us teachers and as much as we would like to reach out for every great thing your child does (and believe me, we try to share the good news too!), there is just not enough time in the day. If you get an e-mail from the teacher about a concern or a request for a meeting, please take it seriously. While we realize that you know your child best, they could still be exhibiting behaviors either academically or socially that you are not familiar with because they are in a classroom setting.

Another red flag is if your child suddenly does not want to go to school. School can cause stress for some children whether it be academic, social, or emotional. Although it might not be a five-alarm fire, it is still best to check in with your child and their teacher to get to the root of the problem and resolve the issue in the best way possible.

And remember, children might not always have the right vocabulary to express their worry, so look out for complaints of other sorts. As a child, I would worry about “doing math” on the way to school and that worry presented itself as a stomachache.  

What Your Child Should Bring to School Every Day

While educators realize that children come from all walks of life, here is a short list of things that the ideal student would bring with them; all things that will set them up for success:

  • A well-rested body: WebMD suggests that school-aged children need 10-12 hours of sleep a night. The earlier to bed, the better, because most children get up at the same time every morning, especially during the week.  
  • Feeling full from a healthy breakfast: we like Trader Joe’s High Fiber Cereal because it is low in sugar (although still has a slight sweetness to it) and low in cost. Most importantly, it is high in fiber as the name suggests, so it keeps your belly full until that mid-morning snack.  
  • Their backpack, water bottle, and snack.  
  • Their take-home reading bag (if they are provided one).
  • A growth mindset: learning is a process that takes time. If they’re open to trying each day, they’ll find success!

Our final words of wisdom…

It’s normal for children to collapse after school. They held it in all day and now that they are home in their safe place, be prepared for a toddler-like meltdown, especially in the first month of school. This is normal and will get better with time. Give them some downtime that includes a snack and rest, however that may look for you (and yes, screen time is included during this time!).

Pro tip: this is also not the time to ask about their day. But once they’ve had time to unwind and have some food in their belly, go for it!

We love what we do, and your child plus our relationship with you is a big part of that. It’s true that my colleagues and I really do love our jobs. I could talk shop all day every day and I do when I find a fellow teacher in my wake. So just know that we love your children and only want the best for them.

Finally, let your child make mistakes. In fact, celebrate them. It is how they learn!

Are you the parent of a preteen? Stacy shares tips for navigating the middle school transition!


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