Starting this school year the right way

August 11, 2000

Starting this school year the right way

Starting this school year the right way

Elsewhere on this page, Donna Messina, the Community Relations Director for the Washington County school system, provides a "where to turn" list for children returning to school. As a veteran parent, I'd like to supplement that with a list of things to do, while you and your children are waiting for school to start again. My recommendations include:

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Chances are your child has gotten away from a normal sleep schedule during the summer. Start now to enforce school-hour bedtimes on the weeknights, so getting up at 7 a.m. won't be such a shock.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Find the list your child was given in June of the things he or she has to bring to start school this year. This will include things like how many pencils, notebooks, sheets of loose-leaf paper to bring and what kinds of binders are allowed.


Some teachers don't want anything that closes with Velcro, so the class isn't distracted with that ripping sound each time someone needs a piece of paper. If you can't find the list, call some parent who's better organized than you are. But make that call now, and not the night before school opens, so you don't embarrass yourself too badly.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Make sure your child has the required vaccinations to return to school. If you feel your child needs medical attention for other problems and can't afford it, plan to see your school counselor about a referral to the health department or other local care provider. Don' forget about vision and hearing checks, either.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Make plans to join the Parent-Teacher Association and to find out when their meet-the-teacher night is held. Decide to attend and assure the teacher that you want to work as partners, and in the absence of extraordinary evidence to the contrary, you will accept the fact that he or she is a professional who has your child's best interests at heart.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Sit down with your child and decide what they'd like to accomplish this year. Look at last year's report card and talk about why a student who got an "A" in Language Arts did so poorly in Social Studies.

Some parents I've talked to say their children just won't work hard for a teacher they don't like. This is a good chance to tell your child that in the working world, they may have to work with many people they don't like, and to a great extent success in life depends on learning to get along and work with such people.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Talk about homework, too, and how it shouldn't be done sitting in front of the television set, unless, of course, the set is unplugged. Resolve to find out if your school has a homework hotline, a tool I found invaluable when my youngest was in middle school.

A volunteer parent tape-recorded the assignments, which were then accessed by parents through a telephone-answering system. And so when my child told me he had no English homework, I could double-check that with a quick phone call.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Consider which activities they'll be involved in after school starts, and whether older children will be allowed to work, and if so, how much. Activities outside school should be conditioned on good performance in school, and if too many nights at the Gulp-and-Go Gas Mart are leaving your child too groggy to pay attention to the day's first class, it may be time to cut back.

The same goes for extracurriculars like sports and clubs. These things have their value, but sometimes those in charge of them forget that children need enough energy the following day to think about school stuff.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Put off back-to-school clothes shopping until after the first day of school, particularly if your child hates to stand out from the crowd. There's no use buying a Pokemon tee-shirt if that particular fad has gone out of fashion, and if your child would rather die than be uncool.

If you buy "the wrong stuff" now, then you'll find yourself saying things like, "You're going to wear it because I paid good money for it."

Besides, the longer you wait, the more likely some of what your child wants will be on clearance, as the stores start to worry about getting stuck with it.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Find a way to encourage your child to read for fun. Whether it's the Harry Potter series, comic books or Mad Magazine, the contest is less important than the act of reading. In the future, everyone who works, even at something like stocking shelves in a warehouse, will have a laptop computer or other device that they'll use to communicate with their supervisors. Readers, particularly those who can read instruction manuals for such devices, will be ahead of the game.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Remember that children are not like pets, who will fend for themselves a great deal after they're out of the tiny puppy or kitten stage. Children need nearly constant attention, to make sure they're staying on track in school and in life. And if you pay attention, they'll do a better job - at just about anything - than if you don't.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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