Anticipation builds as the new school year approaches. Every year my kids become antsy as the stores fill up with new backpacks, fun colorful accessories, and the latest in locker and school supplies. And even though I am not ready to begin the process of letting summer with my kids slip though my fingers, I grudgingly give in and get to work. The excitement of, and preparation for, a new school year can be stressful for the parents and children.
So, what can parents do to make the transition smooth—especially for the child who is attending a traditional school for the first time or going to a new school? Here are some ideas to get everyone ready.
Schedule a visit
Meeting the teacher and walking through the building does a lot to ease the stress of change. If your child’s schedule requires changing classrooms and the use of a locker, take them to school, encourage them to physically walk through their schedule and become familiar with their locker. “We love to have parents bring their new students to the school and wander the halls before schools starts. It helps them feel a bit more at home once classes begin,” says Ben Franklin Middle School Principal John Nelson. This solves two problems: Your child gains a sense of the familiar and you, when you think of your child during the day, can be calm knowing where your child is.
Get the paperwork done
Mark this task off your to-do list early. Doing so allows you the time to address anything that may have been overlooked, like a copy of your child’s inoculations. Make and keep copies in case paperwork is misplaced. Keep a folder at home for each of your children with all required school paperwork, class list, phone numbers, class schedule, and any other important papers. If you need something, you’ll know where it is. Last minute worries and misplaced paper add to stress. You’re working towards smooth, yes?
Take your child shopping
Shopping for school supplies is our annual first step in getting ready for school, part of our tradition for transitioning from summer back to school. In the early part of August, we wade through the aisles with shopping carts and our lists of required school supplies. Each of my four kids has a copy of their list and runs through the aisles, grabbing items on their list and throwing supplies into the carts. I check what is in the carts against my master list. I also adjust supplies to account for the myriad school projects that will pop up throughout the school year and the items that may not go the distance over the course of the school year (extra poster board, erasers, folders, plastic rulers, highlighters, dry erase markers).
If your insurance allows, consider scheduling checkups as early as possible. Seeing the dentist and doctor earlier, especially when inoculations are required, disassociates them with the start of school. Middle and high school sports physicals will need to be completed before your child begins practices for fall sports.
Connect or reconnect
Consider a simple get together or picnic with school friends and families you may not have seen over the summer. Reestablishing friendships and catching up does wonders for everyone. This is a great opportunity for new families to get acquainted as well. If you are the new family, ask for a mentor family who has a child the same age as yours. The mentor family can “hold your hand” as you and your child transition into the new school environment, answering questions and helping you become familiar with the system.
Move the clock up
Summer is time to replenish; to slow down. Even if you work, your child, whether at camp or at home, has been sleeping in and staying up later. Gradually begin moving bedtimes and wake-up times back to school schedules. Changing the schedule should help you get some added sleep, too, since you aren’t staying up as late. The excitement of the new school year, adjustment to class work and studying, and added expectations wear your child out, so make sure they start off rested and ready to learn. In addition to schedule adjustments, Fargo mom Kelli Bourke says she and her husband start talking about the upcoming school year with the kids to get them prepared and excited for school. “This year, Ella will be going into first grade, so we’ll read books about starting first grade. Last year, she couldn’t get enough of the book about starting kindergarten,” says Bourke.
Blended Families: Starting School Right as a Stepparent
By Karen Alley
The beginning of the school year is an important time in the life of every parent with school-aged children, and that includes stepparents. It’s the time when you’re establishing routines that will set the standard for the rest of the school year, whether it’s bedtime rituals or homework schedules, and as with all things in a child’s development, all the parents in a child’s life have an important role to play.
The first order of business is to introduce yourself to all of your child’s teachers and explain your family’s particular situation. A good way to do this is to attend the open house, whether you can make it there with your child or not. Some families might be able to all go together, but if it is better not to have the biological parents there at the same time, it’s OK to go at different times. If it’s not possible for all parents to attend the open house, set up a conference with the teacher as soon as possible to introduce yourself.
Whether it’s at the open house or a conference, the important thing is to let the teacher know that, as a stepparent, you are also involved in your child’s life and care about his or her success. It also helps the teacher be better equipped to work with your child once he or she knows the custody arrangement and any other pertinent information that might affect a child’s attitude at school.
Having a clear line of communication from the school to you is also important. Now’s the time to make sure all parents, biological or not, are listed on the child’s information forms, so both households receive all calls and communications. Multiple sign-ons for PowerSchool are available for blended families making it easy for parents to track attendance, grades, and schedules online. Contact the school for additional information or inquire at registration.
Though getting communication from the school straightened out is important in blended families, even more important is letting the kids know you’re concerned about their success in school. As a stepparent, it’s just as essential for you to help with homework and attend school functions and athletic events as the biological parents. After all, you’re all parenting, and the more love a child receives, the better off he or she is.
Go over expectations
Sit down with your child and go over what you and your child’s school expect of them. Some schools require signed agreements from the student that hold them responsible for their actions, like cheating, turning work in on time, responsibility, and treatment of other students. If these are required by your child’s school, make sure you discuss the agreement and that your child understands what they are signing. If you or your child feels anything needs clarification, get it, and keep a copy of the signed agreement. “Our oldest, Aiden, changed schools last year, so we arranged to have him see the classroom and meet his teacher—who took the time to go over classroom expectations,” says Bourke. “That really helped him with the transition.”
Organize and mark everything
When you are shopping for school supplies with your child, get yourself some new supplies too. I always get myself a new supply of sticky notes, permanent markers, highlighters, paint pens, and notebooks. I purchase storage bins if I need them. Extra supplies go into the bins and are used by my kids as needed throughout the school year. My personal supplies go into the desk drawer, necessary for marking clothing, new backpacks and school supplies. Permanent markers won’t work on every surface, so paint pens come in handy (and they come in white).
Making an effort to prepare your child to return to the classroom helps you and your child get ready for the school year with less hassle and stress.
Judy M. Miller is a freelance writer living in the Midwest with her husband and four children. She is the author of “What To Expect From Your Adopted Tween.”
About the Author: