As summer comes to a close, both you and your child are sure to experience a range of feelings about the start of school—a possible mixture of anxiety, excitement, relief, and stress. So how do you go about handling this change? Here are five tips for successfully tackling the back-to-school transition.
1. Get organized
One of the most entertaining (and practical!) back-to-school tasks is school-supply shopping. Reference the supply list provided by your student’s school, and check if you have any materials from previous years that still have some life in them. Then, involve your child in picking colorful folders, pencils, and so on that are required and fit in your budget. Don’t forget about a calendar—while your student will have a planner (often supplied by the school), choose a way to display family and school events to keep the entire family in the know. Lastly, check to see that your child’s student records and paperwork are up-to-date.
2. Ease back into a schedule
If you’re like most families, your child’s bedtime routine and daily schedule have relaxed over the summer. Several weeks or a week before school starts, have your student begin going to sleep and waking up earlier so he gets used to an early wake-up time. Try 10 minutes earlier at a time, for example, so the shift doesn’t feel too jarring. Plan a morning routine together so your child knows what to expect. (Who will get breakfast ready? Will an alarm wake him up? Who is responsible for lunch?)
3. Discuss and work through anxiety
Going back to school can be stressful for a number of reasons, whether your child is going to a new school or simply a new grade. Talk with her about any worries she might have, encouraging her to discuss with siblings, cousins, or friends if she’d rather talk to someone her own age. Discuss any new procedures or situations she might find herself in, like how to use a locker or what to do if she can’t find a classroom. This is a great time for role playing!
4. Prioritize healthy meals and snacks
Summer can be full of treats, like ice cream every night or snacks any time of day. Ease your family into a healthier eating pattern before the school year begins. You might try swapping out the ice cream, for example, with a healthier treat like a fruit Popsicle. You can also plan regular mealtimes in lieu of a relaxed schedule. Anticipate times when it’s easy to make an unhealthy choice, like during the before-school rush or after school when your child comes home hungry. Healthy eating will help your student be more alert, with the ability to perform better at school.
5. Visit your child’s school
Contact the school to see if you and your child might be able to visit before school is in session, as this can help relieve some anxiety about the transition. Familiarize yourselves with the school building (if it’s a new one), the classrooms, gym, and cafeteria. This is also a great way to get a bit of face time with a new teacher (and/or principal) and to map out any confusing routes if your student moves between classes.
Try the above tips while savoring the last moments of summer, whether that means going on family trips or hanging out at home with neighbors. As the season ends, don’t forget to prioritize staying active and spending time together before your child goes back to school.
More posts by Lisa Low
Learning vocabulary is a milestone of reading and writing skills, as well as something kids do daily—sometimes without noticing. Whether your child needs to learn a specific set of vocabulary words or you’re looking to simply expand his vocabulary, here are ways to help.
1. Post words everywhere
In addition to—or instead of—flash cards that your child can keep in her back pocket and whip out during any downtime, try posting the words where your child will see them most often. This could be above her dresser, on the bathroom mirror, on the refrigerator, in the notebook she carries around, on a bookmark, etc. Increasing the amount of interactions your child has with the words will help her memorize and comprehend them easier.
2. Learn word groups
The danger of drills and simple repetitions is that words are isolated from the context in which they function (i.e., phrases and sentences), which makes it more difficult for kids to remember them. Encourage your child to learn the words in groups that go together. For example, instead of crowd, think crowd of people—or, instead of data, think most accurate data. When studying a specific word, have your child list as many associations and connections as he can with the word, including drawing pictures of the word’s meaning.
3. Study context
Similar to word groups, understanding context is an important strategy for your child to study vocab more effectively. Have her consider the word in a sentence. What words often appear with or near it? Consider the context of the sentence also (formal? casual?). Can the word be used in multiple contexts or is it very particular? If you and your child are making flash cards, jot down a sentence from a book, an article, or another text with the word in it instead of just listing the definition of the word. To go a step further, have your child make up a new sentence with the word that has personal connections to her own life.
4. Use the words in daily life
Encourage your child to use the words in his day-to-day routine. You can choose one word, or a few words, per day or week. This might feel stilted at first, but it can be fun! Have your child pledge to use the word aloud or while writing, whether for homework or in his personal life (i.e., in a letter or an e-mail to a friend). If you choose to join the activity, you can model how you’d use the word, which will give him double the practice.
If widening your child’s vocabulary with no specific word list is the goal, prioritize reading. It’s one of the best ways to increase vocabulary while also improving your child’s comprehension skills and expanding her world view. Encourage your child to read books that are just a bit challenging for her; there should be just enough new words for her to learn, but not too many that reading becomes laborious and context clues are too difficult. In addition to independent reading, set aside time to read with your child. This is a great opportunity to tackle higher-level reading material—you can take turns reading aloud, or you can read aloud yourself.
6. Listen to audiobooks and podcasts
Listening is an excellent way for students to engage with material that they might not otherwise. Choose education-oriented or fun podcasts that you can listen to together or alone, preferably ones that speak to your child’s interests. Try videos as well; there are many videos that might address topical vocab words or that your child can put them into a song and dance routine
For years, flash cards have been touted as the way to learn vocab. This year, see how you might use them differently or even go without them. If your child has a study buddy or tutor, try incorporating some of these strategies in activities they already do.
More posts by Lisa Low
Taking a standardized test is an entirely different beast from the regular day in and day out of your child’s school day. It can feel intimidating to some students, causing worry and anxiety. However, the great thing about standardized testing is how predictable it is! Your child can easily learn what to expect. The following concepts touch on how to explain standardized testing to your young student.
1. Question formats
The types of questions on standardized tests are fairly reliable and usually include multiple-choice, true-or-false, and short-answer questions, and sometimes, longer essays. Depending on the test, you’ll be able to familiarize yourself with it first by asking your child’s teacher about its details. Talk your child through different types of questions, especially ones he hasn’t experienced before on quizzes or tests in his regular schoolwork. Tell your child to read the directions and questions carefully, identifying keywords that will tell him what to look for in an answer or a reading passage. Students should also read all the answer choices before choosing what they believe is the correct one, in case there’s an answer choice later in the list that ends up working slightly better.
2. Time limits
Discuss with your child how timing works for standardized tests; they often are timed by subject and/or section. While the teacher or proctor will more than likely keep time on the blackboard (or if the test is electronic, there will likely be a timekeeper on the computer), students will have to understand how to pace themselves. Talk to your child about how to use her time effectively and wisely, perhaps by answering the easier questions first and coming back to the harder ones later. This will prevent her from wasting a chunk of time on a tougher question that she could be using answering simpler ones. Your child can always go back later to questions that she skipped and make an educated guess if needed. If the test has essay questions, talk with your child about planning her writing in the form of bullet points or a quick outline before beginning to actually write the essay.
3. Changes in schedule
You should receive information from your child’s teacher or principal about the change in schedule for the testing week(s). Discuss this with your child so he knows what to expect. You might also want to figure out whether your child will have any homework due on top of this (it will likely be a light load, but are there any reading assignments or long-term projects your child should still be working on?). Make sure your child gets a good night’s sleep the night before and eats a healthy breakfast the morning of the test.
4. Test prep
The standardized test is likely to align with your child’s regular curriculum somewhat, but not completely. If the test is district-wide, ask your child’s teacher how students will be prepared for the test, or ask for test prep ideas that your child can work through at home. Decide what will make you and your child feel comfortable and prepared for the test. Moreover, some standardized-test companies provide practice tests, which are great resources to help your child become familiar with how the test-taking experience will actually feel.
5. Understanding results
Test results can often seem mysterious and difficult to decode. The positive is they often don’t have any impact on your child’s subject grades. Your child’s teacher or principal can help you interpret your child’s scores, as well as what you can take away from them (perhaps the score report will indicate your child’s strengths and weaknesses, for instance). Discuss with your child the point system and what the percentiles mean, as well.
Standardized testing doesn’t have to be scary for you or your child. Familiarize yourself with the test format itself and ask around if you have questions, consulting with teachers and fellow parents. All of this will help your child get used to this system early on, before encountering it several more times in her school career.
More posts by Lisa Low
Kinesthetic learners typically learn best by using their bodies to help them take in information. You may have noticed that your child has an aptitude for physical activities, often fidgets, and/or likes to act things out—thankfully, such activities can also be translated into study habits and strategies. Here are some ways you can help your kinesthetic learner make the most of this learning style.
See where movement can be included in class settings
Movement is becoming more and more a part of the classroom, but there are still times, of course, when your child will be expected to sit and work quietly. Speak with the teacher to see if your child can possibly be seated somewhere where he can stretch out, swing his legs, or even pace at his desk—as long as he’s not disrupting the learning environment. Let your child know that it’s OK to tap his pencil or his foot—again, as long as he is not distracting others. The teacher may also be able to accommodate your child with objects he could use to tap into his sense of touch, such as squeezing a stress ball or feeling a strip of Velcro under his desk. A cut-up pool noodle can also be great for the feet.
Use objects and space
Objects can be great for learning specific concepts as well, as they can help your kinesthetic learner better understand an idea or a skill. Students can tie these objects and concepts to a physical movement; for example, gently tossing a ball between the hands while reviewing an idea can help your student access and reaccess the information, as she can later remember “the idea I reviewed while tossing the ball back and forth.” Have your child use space as well—consider role-playing to act out stories and information. Keep in mind that while you’ll want to encourage the movements of your child’s body, you’ll want to limit too many visual and auditory distractions.
Write and draw
Pen and paper may seem more conducive to visual and auditory learners, but these tools are also great for kinesthetic learners. The simple movement of the hands allows kinesthetic learners to use their bodies and retain information in a deeper way. Have your child make flashcards or draw out ideas, whether in pictures or diagrams. Mapping, for example, how characters are related in a book can be a great way for students to better understand the novel’s events and character actions. Mapping is a critical-thinking strategy that can strengthen your child’s ability to make connections.
Have your youngster take scheduled breaks during homework time. These breaks can be physical, like stretching, dancing, singing, or playing a clapping game; talking with a family member or watching a (short) fun video also works. Use space in this instance as well; if possible, have her play or walk outside. Indoors, she could move to a different place in your house, or change from sitting to standing, and vice versa. As little as five to ten minutes can make a big difference in increased attention and concentration.
Be sure to communicate with your child’s teacher about what’s working and not working for him at school. You may be able to use some of the same strategies at home that will make the learning environments more consistent, and both of you will likely have insights for each other that can help your kinesthetic learner succeed.
More posts by Lisa Low
Around age six, my daughter began to show interest in the upright piano pushed against a wall in our living room. Whenever I would sit down to play, she’d come stand by my side and listen. “Do another one, Mommy,” she’d say. “I like it when you play.”
Certain the attraction wasn’t my (very slim) musical talents, I made a mental leap: time for piano lessons! I signed her up at a local studio and thus began her weekly lessons—and our weekly battles.
“Have you practiced?” I would ask.
“I don’t want to,” she would answer.
“Come on, just 15 minutes,” I would coax. “You have a lesson tomorrow.”
Sometimes she would oblige without a fuss. More often, she’d go into warrior mode…bringing out the warrior in me.
“Becky, sit down and practice right now,” I’d say in my firm Mommy voice.
“No!” she’d respond.
Her face would tighten. Our voices would escalate. Then each of us would persist until one of us wore the other down.
About halfway through Becky’s second year of lessons she gave me a chilling wake-up call. There I was, by the piano, barking, “I said now!,” when she covered her ears and said, “Mommy, I can’t hear you. My ears hurt.”
As I stared at my little girl trying to block out the noise emanating from her mother’s mouth, I finally grasped the obvious: I was being absurd. My child had no interest in piano lessons. None. Why was I compelling her to do this?
Upon (overdue) reflection, I realized that I’d been operating from the well-intended but frail assumption that learning a musical instrument would enrich her life, just as it had enriched mine. I also assumed that she would enjoy practicing once she developed a habit. Like mother, like daughter, right?
Wrong. She’d been telling me as much for almost two years. But trained on my vision of all the wonderful benefits that would accrue as she gradually achieved mastery of the keyboard, I hadn’t heard her.
This was not one of my prouder parenting moments, but it taught me a valuable lesson. No matter what I might think was “good” for my daughter by way of life-enhancing activities, it was one thing to offer her an opportunity; it was another to impose it.
Acknowledging that your child is not interested in the same things you are doesn’t always come easy. If you starred on the baseball diamond and have fond memories of the dugout antics, it’s hard to swallow that your son hates swinging a bat. If you were the kind of kid who could lose whole afternoons curled up with a good book, it can seem incomprehensible that your daughter finds reading b-o-r-i-n-g. We assume that if we once reaped rewards from a certain activity, they will, too. Even as they balk, we cling to our memories of the benefits that come with persistence and determination (including, but not limited to, enhanced musicality, team camaraderie, good grades), so if only they will hang in there a bit longer…
Yes, our intentions are good. But forcing our kids to stick with something they don’t enjoy can have consequences. A once-agreeable child may turn balky or resentful. A child already inclined to proclaim, “I’m the boss of me,” may turn downright combative. And children of any temperament may lose their enthusiasm for sharing their ideas and interests if they feel their parents aren’t listening.
In the wake of my own piano battles, I have little patience for the parents who turn up the noise and pressure to turn out prodigies. Instead, I favor a simpler approach: listen to your kids. They will tell you what they do—and don’t—want to do, if only you’ll listen.
In my case, my daughter decided in middle school that she wanted guitar lessons. That lasted a nanosecond. Come high school, she announced that she’d signed up for a sport my husband and I knew nothing about: crew. When we learned what went into the grueling training, (“The only excuse for missing a practice is if there’s a death in the family!” the coaches announced at their one and only meeting with parents), my husband and I murmured to each other, “Becky won’t make it through the first season.”
Wrong. She rowed for four seasons and walked away with a bunch of national medals.
Jill Smolowe is the author of An Empty Lap: One Couple’s Journey to Parenthood and co-editor of A Love Like No Other: Stories from Adoptive Parents
More posts by Jill Smolowe
In today’s world, gone is the image of the child quietly studying at a desk, not making a peep at home or in the classroom. Both settings have become increasingly more interactive, with a variety of activities designed for students to learn in the ways that suit them best.
This doesn’t mean there’s only one way for your child to learn, however—there can be multiple ways that speak to him the most. Here’s a guideline for some of the different kinds of learners and how to cater to that learning style as a parent.
The visual learner is typically most helped by pictures and images. These can include diagrams, slideshows, colors, and maps. Your child is probably a visual learner if she’s more interested in the material when there’s visual media, like videos or a book with pictures. Visual learners are often interested in art, easily remember visual information, and appreciate observing the world around them. Using flash cards, identifying keywords, and color-coding important information can be particularly beneficial for visual learners. At school, it may be helpful for them to sit near the front of the classroom so they can translate information into visual data (like comics or mind maps).
Physical, or kinesthetic, learners tend to learn best by using their bodies to help them understand new information. Your child is likely a physical learner if he has aptitude in physical expression, like fidgeting and using gestures, and enjoys things like role-playing and acting. Drawing diagrams or using physical objects to identify a concept (like using coins or blocks for counting) can be really great for physical learners. Encourage your child to trace words, and let him know it’s OK to tap a pencil or his feet while working. Physical learners sometimes benefit from taking a break physically, like taking a walk or changing body position or a seating arrangement.
For auditory learners, sound is very important. Elements like rhyming, music, rhythms, and recordings tend to appeal to auditory learners. Indications that your child is an auditory learner include an interest in music, strong verbal ability, and an aptitude for listening. These types of learners may benefit from setting mnemonics to music or learning a song to help recall information. In addition, try
reading material aloud to your child or have her read it aloud herself—this includes assignments, directions, flash cards, and so on. Books on CD or podcasts could also speak to your child effectively.
Your child is likely a verbal, or linguistic, learner if he prefers speech and writing—anything from keeping a journal to writing notes and letters to composing songs and poems. When you read aloud from a book, does your child like following along with the words on his own? If so, he may be a verbal learner. In that case, try strategies that involve both speaking and writing. Your child may benefit from scripting and role-playing, too.
Logical, or mathematical, learners tend to defer to logic as a means for comprehension. Students who are proficient in math, notice patterns, think in terms of the big picture, and ask questions about how things work are often logical learners. These types of learners want to understand the reasons behind what they’re learning. Therefore, it can be quite helpful for logical learners to draw connections, instead of using rote memorization to retain information. Have your child use lists and make mind maps to find patterns within—and better understand—a system of concepts.
In addition to the above five learning styles, your child may be a social (interpersonal) learner or a solitary (intrapersonal) learner, someone who works better in groups or alone, respectively. Keep in mind that your child may be a combination of the different types, or lean toward one or another depending on the setting. Have your child try different strategies to see what might work for her best with certain concepts or material.
More posts by Lisa Low
There are plenty of reasons to get your kid off the couch and onto the field, according to most experts.
Organized sports gives children a chance to boost activity and develop physical and social skills. And OK, the uniforms can be totally awesome.
But now there’s one more reason to consider signing your kid up for fall ball, Little League, or soccer.
In a study, University of Montreal researchers found that kids who participate in organized sports in kindergarten are better at following instructions and remaining focused in school later.
Researchers reviewed data on more than 2,600 children born in Quebec between 1997 and 1998, and gathered info about the kids from teachers and parents.
They found that compared with non-sporty peers, kids who played organized sports once a week or more in kindergarten were, by fourth grade, “identifiably” better at remaining focused and following instructions.
The UM study was published in the American Journal of Health Promotion.
So what’s the link between team sports and academic focus?
"There is something specific to the sporting environment—perhaps the unique sense of belonging to a team, a special group with a common goal—that appears to help kids understand the importance of respecting the rules and honoring responsibilities,” said lead study author Linda S. Pagani, Ph.D., a University of Montreal professor.
“In a sport, children are learning to coordinate their minds and bodies simultaneously,” she added. “They learn to follow directions and pay attention, two skills that are important in the classroom. These skills are hard to master, but sports makes it easier because the children are learning these skills from coaches in a fun context.”
Rick Wolff, a former professional athlete, author, and sports broadcaster, is not surprised by the group’s findings.
The study, he said, “confirms what many coaches, educators, and parents have believed for years—that benefits of playing team sports are clearly evident in how kids learn to balance their hours, work toward goals (like doing better in school), direct their efforts, and learn from a coach or educator.”
While many parents support team sports, however, there are others who feel kids’ athletics have just grown way too competitive. They argue that the time, money, and pressure of playing team sports can overshadow the activity’s benefits.
Of course, finding the right sport (and the level of commitment that works best for your child) may require some searching. But Wolff believes that there is a sport, and a viable schedule, for everyone.
“No, not every kid will want to play soccer or basketball,” he stated. “But as a parent, at least introduce your kids to the rich variety of sports. Maybe they'll enjoy wrestling or cross-country running or swimming on a team.” Keep in mind, too, that there are options—from competitive travel teams to less intense recreational leagues, and your kid doesn’t have to be a star player to reap the benefits.
On the other hand, if your child is beginning to falter from the competition, too many games, or too much pressure, you may need to work out a better balance, even if it means eliminating some activities.
“Kids today are pulled in a lot of directions, and they often feel that they are trying to please their parents. Better to let them know that you're there to support them, not to push them,” Wolff added.
More posts by Randi Mazzella
“Some of the best memories are made in flip-flops,” says writer Kellie Elmore. But, sadly, all good things—even summer--must end. Fall is hinting at its arrival, and already it’s back to school.
As your kids swap their flip-flops for new school shoes and you begin to reinstate bedtimes, try putting daily reading back into your routine. These ideas will not only help beginning readers get their heads back in the game, but they’ll also help you continue to make great memories—with or without flip-flops.
- Everybody loves an audience—especially a furry one. Have your kids read aloud to pets, or even to a captive audience of stuffed animals.
- Let your child help you make a special reading spot—a cozy reading nook where he or she can settle in and read without distractions. Try draping a sheet over two chairs and adding some pillows to the floor.
- Declare it Laugh-a-Lot Day. Dig out the joke books and take turns reading jokes to each other. Use funny voices, or read while holding your nose. Bring out the comic books, and pore over the Sunday newspaper “funnies” together.
- Read aloud together. Take turns reading sentences, or pages.
- Create a reader’s theater. Assign yourself a character. Your child reads the narration, and you read the dialogue. Enlist the help of older siblings if other character voices are needed.
- Use technology to make reading fun. Record or video your child reading a story, encouraging the making of sound effects. Then watch him or her enjoy hearing it or watching it played back. For even more positive reinforcement, share the recording with an appreciative relative.
- Compose the beginning of a story, and let your child make up an ending for it. Add the child’s ending, your author bylines, and a title your child invents. Then sit back and let your child read the whole story back to you.
- For kids who find it hard to sit still, embed some reading practice into active games. Use sidewalk chalk to write sight words on a hopscotch board. Each time your child hops on a word, he or she reads it. Similarly, make a word version of Twister.
- Create a little suspense. Choose a few library books you think your child would like. Wrap each one in a brown paper bag, and write one sentence on each bag that hints at what the book’s about. At various times during the day or week, let your child choose a book. Have fun with the element of surprise.
- Instead of reading a bedtime story to your children when you tuck them in, let them tuck YOU in and read a story to you.
- Extend bedtime by 20–30 minutes—on the condition that your child use the time for reading. For added fun, darken the room and read by flashlight.
Christine French Cully is the editor in chief of Highlights for Children, Inc., where she is responsible for shaping the editorial direction of all the magazines, online content and products the company develops for children and their families. She plays a strategic, ongoing role in the development of the Highlights vision and brand across all markets and channels/around the globe. Cully, a mother of two, resides in Honesdale, Pennsylvania.