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Helping children return to school: Simple tips for success

Just like that, another summer is drawing to a close and a new school year is upon us. As a school intervention specialist at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, I see firsthand the stress that school can place on a family. Whether your child has missed school due to an illness or is simply returning from summer break, below are some tips to help start the new school year on the right foot.

In my role, I work with a multidisciplinary follow-up team to help children followed by the Herma Heart Institute improve education outcomes. Not only do I help identify academic, social-emotional and behavioral needs, but I work with families and schools to set long- and short-term goals and put plans in place to help achieve them. I also serve as an “information hub” to make sure there is clear and consistent communications at all times between the family, clinic and school staff. The School Intervention Program is part of our commitment to provide not just expert medical assistance but care that addresses the needs of the whole child.

Get them excited

As a summer winds down, it’s important to talk to your kids about the start of a new school year. Set clear and realistic expectations both for academic performance and behavior. Stress the importance of maintaining an open and honest dialogue to address any problems that may arise during the year. Ask questions about what they are learning and prompt two-way conversations and discussions. Be sure to genuinely listen to their answers — model behaviors that let them know their education is important to you.

The prospect of going back to school is not always met with cheers, so I like to emphasize all of the positive and exciting things a new classroom or school can bring.

  • Seeing friends and meeting new ones
  • Meeting new teachers and visiting old ones
  • Exploring a new classroom … new books, new desks, new activities
  • Buying new school supplies (who doesn’t love shopping for new folders or notebooks that are decked out with their favorite characters?)
  • Learning new subjects or taking new classes
  • Joining school sports teams or clubs

Sleep

Any parent can attest to importance of sleep. Being well-rested is strongly connected to the ability to learn and retain information but the National Sleep Foundation reports that only 20 percent of teens get enough sleep. Children ages 6 to 11 should get 10 to 11 hours of sleep per night, while teens should get at least nine.

As summer comes to an end, establish a reasonable bedtime and start working toward it. In the week leading up to the first day of school, try moving bedtime up 10-15 minutes a night to help ease your child into the new routine. Create a sleep environment that is dark, quiet and comfortable. It’s best to avoid any strenuous activity or screen time for at least an hour before bedtime.

Nutrition

Next to sleep, a proper breakfast is the most important thing to help your child start the day off right. Avoid sugary cereals or processed breakfast bars. Instead, choose nutritionally dense foods such as eggs, whole grain breads or cereals, nut butters, fresh fruit and full fat milk and yogurt to fuel your child’s body and help them feel full longer. Hard boiled eggs with a veggie-rich smoothie is a great on-the-go breakfast that can be prepared ahead of time. Or, make a big pot of steel cut oatmeal on the weekend and freeze individual servings in a muffin tin to make mornings more efficient. Speaking of muffins, there are countless recipes for nutritious muffins packed with nuts, veggies, dried fruits, chia seeds and other super foods that are great for a satisfying meal on the go.

Vaccines

Most schools require certain vaccinations before kids can attend. In addition to the flu shot, standard vaccines for kids of all ages include the Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis), HepB (Hepatitis B), IPV (inactivated polio virus), MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) and varicella vaccine series. All vaccination requirements should be in the paperwork you get from the school during registration.

Get organized

As stressful as getting ready for a new school year can be for kids, it can be just as difficult for parents. Juggling your own work with the ever-growing and ever-changing schedules of your kids can be a whirlwind. But staying organized will help make things go as smoothly as possible.

Write down important information (locker combination, class schedule, important phone numbers, etc.) and tuck it in a safe place that’s easily accessible. Use a calendar, agenda or planner to keep track of assignments, tests, practices, appointments, etc. Organize and pack your child’s backpack and lay out clothing each night (or have them do it, depending on their age) to help keep mornings as stress-free as possible and ensure important things aren’t forgotten.

For additional help, our School Intervention Program put together a handy back-to-school checklist. It can be downloaded here.

Stay involved

All children experience academic struggle from time to time — it may be just a hard course, it might be not understanding the way a teacher explains something, it could be lack of sleep or stress leading up to a big test … or it might be because the student requires special help. All of these are OK. When persistent concerns arise, the first step is always to contact your child’s teacher.

Classroom teachers are the most closely involved with your child’s education and are able to accurately gauge your child’s performance with that of their classroom peers. By raising concerns with the teacher first, a collaborative partnership can be established. If additional support is warranted, ask what formal/informal intervention services may be put in place. Ask questions about the goals of these interventions, the implementation timeline, how student progress will be measured and how parents will stay informed.

A new school year should be a time of excitement, of new adventures and discoveries. And with a little planning and organization, it can be.